Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Interview with Voice Actor/Modder Michael Butchin

N'Wah Edition!

Today's blog isn't a game review or geared towards any-one specific game (well today's blog is centered more-so around the Dunmer of TES series ), but rather an interview I had arranged with a talented voice actor/mod actor Michael Butchin.

Michael is a professional editor and proofreader, and an experienced teacher as well having a strong background in literary expertise and is fluent in Mandarin! One of his many accomplishments is his novel "Medousa", which is a fantasy-themed fictional story taking place in real life ancient Greece. So without further ado I am happy to present my VA blog N'Wah edition just in time for ESO Morrowind, let's proceed to the interview at hand!

Starfang: Hi there serjo!

Michael Butchin: Under Sun and Sky, Muthsera, I greet you warmly.

SF: So I figured for this interview we would do a TES Lore: "Dunmer" edition, because a certain birdy told me that you also love Dunmer culture

MB: Heh. this is true.

SF: So first off, how did you get involved in "Anna Npcs"?

MB: Well, I had done voicework for TES IV mods, and I was looking to hget involved with Skyrim also. A friend of mine-- Old Book-- has been involved with the modding community since Morrowind. He put me in Anna's direction.
I sent an audition recording or two, and she liked it well enough to ask me on board.

SF: What mods did you VA for on Oblivion?

MB: Several, in fact; but the one of which I was most proud were "Heart of the Dead," in which I played two roles. I think I also voiced the Big Bad for the final confrontation in the Stoker Wolf mod.

SF: I will have to check those out, I am sort of new to TES modding (Skyrim being the first one I modded/Morrowind being the first I played)

MB: I have a couple of clips on my website.

SF: So you voiced Darion Fleetfoot and Teryn Meru for Anna NPCs

Azarian Vedrano (Foreground) & Teryn Meru (background)

MB: Yes.

SF: Was there a lot of Lore research involved in voicing the roles?

MB: Well, for Darion, not so much. But for Teryn, both Old Book and I contributed a lot of lore to his character. Some of it didn't make it into the final mod, but that really was a case of, "Let the story come first."
For example, when Anna asked about a Dunmer style wedding, my thought was that it should take place in one's ancestor's crypts, so that the entire family, living and not, could all witness.
But, we thought that might be kinda creepy for anyone not familiar with Morrowind and Dunmer lore.
Alternatively, it could have been at one of the shrines of the "good" Daedra...
But that would've been a bit clumsy, in game.

SF: Now Darion sings sea shanties, and I have told Anna this the "Winged Twilight" is my favorite and is preferred over "Age of Oppression" or the other bland/vanilla bardic songs.

MB: LOL! I'm flattered!
I wrote that one to the tune of "Donkey Riding," an old Irish shanty.

SF: It's nice because I caught most of all the references, like the Focsle from Anvil

MB: Heh. I knew the Lore-Geeks would grok it.

SF: and a Winged Twilight is a daedric servant/messenger of Azura, lady of Twilight and one of the "Big 3" good daedra of Dunmeri religion.

MB: Yes. I thought of it as a Port Telvannis shanty
So I loaded it with Dunmer referents.

SF: So can I assume that from the mod you
*you've done some singing before?
Professionally or just for fun?

MB: Well, *I* sing for fun on occasion. But my family is a theater family. Three or four opera singers, actors, and a few concert musicians.

SF: Oh wow!

MB: I was raised on opera, in fact. And classical orchestral music, from Bach to Prokofiev.
But I enjoyed working with Anna, cos I also got the chance to write.
A little

SF: Teryn sings an ode to St. Nerevar if If I recall

MB: Well, some of that was Old Book, Myself, and Anna clashing creatively. --And I don't mean to disparage anyone involved! You see...
The Dunmer are culturally very arrogant.

SF: (see Neloth ^_-)

MB: We wanted to bring that out of him, but it was hard to do without making him an asshole. Because--
By the time of Skyrim, Morrowind has been essentially destroyed and overrun.
For an old true-believer in tradition like Teryn, it's rather like a Westboro Baptist Church member confronting irrefutable proof that there IS no God.
He felt betrayed by the Tribunal. He once could walk with, and speak to, and touch his gods. And then they tunred out to be false.
It really damaged his world view, and his perception of his own place in it.
If Morrowind had had a Donald Trump, Teryn Meru would've voted for him.

SF: So Teryn is understandably jaded and more-or-less kind of "over it" with religion more or less.

MB: He's THAT kind of Mer
Well, yes and no; The Dunmer actually interact physically with their gods, whether ancestor spirits, the Tribunal, or the Daedra. They know their gods personally.
So imagine the betrayal when you find out that your gods were mere usurpers of Daedric authority, and then were slain.

SF: So what would Teryn's opinion of the Thalmor be?

MB: He would consider them soft, weak, and corrupted by their decadence.
Remember, the prophet Veloth led his people from the Summerset Isles to Morrowind, to stay true to Azura, Boethiah, and Mephala.
The Altmer had forgotten how to worship their ancestors.

SF: I'm not sure if other fans of the mod noticed this, but I realized that you somehow managed to capture the raspy, ash-riddled tongue of Morrowind-era Dunmer and the British-Cockney accent of Skyrim/Dragonborn and sort of juxtaposed them.

MB: Heh. Yeah-- I wanted to revert to the Dunmer voices of Morrowind. Anna, though liked the South London accents used for Skyrim. So we compromised.
I DID get to go full on 'original' Dunmer for another mod, though, so I won't complain :)

SF: I think it was a great idea because In my my opinion it sounds like how Dunmer SHOULD sound.

MB: LOL! Old Book and I joked that you needed the ash of Vvardenfell to sound like a proper mer. :D That's why the Dunmer of Oblivion didn't sound like 'real' Dunmer either.
They weren't breathing in the ash.

SF: Okay so from Anna NPCs and Skyrim can I assume that you enjoy videogames at least as a hobby?

MB: Yes and no-- I have enjoyed the Elder Scrolls series. But I haven't got a huge collection of video games. I've played KOTOR, and its sequel, and I used to enjoy Civilization.
But I have actually had more fun voicing characters, and writing for mods.
I did some work for Qaxe's Questorium of which I am quite fond, in fact.

SF: Have you ever played Morrowind?

MB: Oh, yes. It's my FAVOURITE game of the series even today.
My current install is heavily moddded, of course.
I started playing it back in 2001, when I returned to the United States.
Old Book introduced me to it. He's been playing the series since Daggerfall.

SF: Now have you ever played Arena or Daggerfall?

MB: Not yet. But I did recently purchase the "Legendary Collection" of Elder Scrolls games.
One day, I'll install them.
Alas, my gaming desktop is on the fritz.
But, one day I'll have it repaired, and then I'll have to jump into it all again.

SF: So back to Morrowind, what is it about the game that you feel makes it the best in the series?

MB: Well, the story itself feels far more epic than what came after. Even though, the threat was mainly to Morrowind itself. Dagoth Ur wanted to transform Morrowind, and bring the other provinces under his own Hegemony...

Sometimes, a crisis needs to be a bit more 'local' to help one care. If a crisis is done with huge brushstrokes, like Oblivion and Skyrim, in which the fate of THE ENTIRE WORLD is at stake, it gets a bit overwhelming. ESPECIALLY since you could ignore the main quests with no adverse effects. Now, in Morrowind...

...You could ignore the main quest, but things eventually will get worse and worse, the longer you let it go. But you have to play for a loooong time to see it. In the same vein--
Oblivion and Skyrim go on about how little time is left, and you've got to hurry, and we're all DOOMED-- but nothing ever comes of it.
The dragons just kind of hang out  and act like big beasts if you do nothing. The Oblivion Gates eventually stop opening if you do nothing, and Daedra just kind of wander around aimlessly...
Now, the biggest difference is in the game mechanics.
In Skyrim, for example, you're something of a badass right from the get-go.
In Morrowind, when you get off the boat in Seyda Neen, a mudcrab could kill you.
In Morrowind, although there is a sense of urgency, you are also instructed to take your time-- go out and get some experience. join a guild, explore...
You have to TRAIN to become the Nerevar.
By the end of Morrowind, you have slain two, perhaps three gods. And it feels like you've EARNED it.
Cos the journey to that point took real time and effort.
And the varying terrain and regions of Vvardenfell made it feel bigger than either Cyrodiil or Skyrim.

SF: Right and this right here is sort of where I see veteran TES fans complaining of Bethesda catering to the "casual" crowd. Skyrim is too easy, or it's dumbed down, etc. But you can't deny that Skyrim has quite possibly the largest modding community...ever, and has even turned amateurs (like myself) into hard-broiled lore fanatics by making us want to play and research the older games

MB: Oh, I don't denigrate those who love Skyrim. I also like Skyrim-- though I prefer it heavily modded. It's a beautiful game, and some of the mechanics are a lot of fun. But to me, it's not quite as immersive.
That doesn't mean I don't like it, though.
I've had fun voicing a lot of characters in various mods, and I even wrote a character and some in game literature that kind of bring back the lore.

SF: I agree about the modding, my Skyrim load order is heavily modded because to me vanilla Skyrim is just so...bland. What are some of your "must have" mods to make Skyrim more enjoyable?

MB: Well, there is one I love called "Inconsequential NPCs," or summat like. It adds a lot of NPCs with fascinating stories. You run into them at random in inns, on the road, or anywhere, really. Some of them have little quests of their own that you can help with; but they have their own lives and concerns.

I also like Deadly Dragons and Docile Wildlife, or something (I'm bad with the names). One mod makes Dragons truly legendarily difficult to kill, and horrifically dangerous...
Yet, with the docility mod, they won't attack unless you molest them first.
There are some good adventure mods out there, like Icicle Valley, where you can actually become a Jarl and have a jarl's responsibilities...
And, believe it or not, the Lovers Lab website has a lot of lore-friendly mods available. A lot of them are 'adult' in nature, but the guys there are largely forty-something lore-geeks, and they have written some very good stories.

SF: As a connoisseur of Dunmer culture and using a Dunmer through my main playthroughs I used quite a bit of Morrowind/Dunmer-related mods myself.

MB: The vvardenfell glass armour set is a favourite,.

SF: Azarien Vedrano (pictured) simply must have his Ancestor ghost power (found in Morrowind Immersion project) and Bonemold Armor (Bonemold expansion adds the unique Telvanni helmets and weapons)

MB: Yes! And the chitin armor...
from new Solstheim....

SF: Do you mod the hell out of Solstheim like I do, to make it you know...more Morrowind-ish?

MB: Yes and no. I like the more Morrowind-ish mods... But in game history, Vvardenfell is largely destroyed, and Solstheim was always more Nord than Dunmer. So I don't feel that too much change is necessary.
But I do like the Dunmer in game to be more, well, Dunmeri.
And if Master Neloth of Tel Aruhn has survived, I wonder if Aryon, or Divayth Fyr have survived also.

SF: I've always wondered about Fyr, he was a tough nut to crack - killable along with everyone else (but this was before Bethesda made important characters truly essential in IV & Skyrim)

MB: Yeah. I never liked that.
You COULD kill Fyr, but at the wrong time, you'd make the main quest unfulfillable.
But you could do it.
Kinda kept you from killing strangers at random'

SF: Would you consider yourself an aficionado of Dunmer lore?

MB: I think so. Though I flatter myself.
If you ever play the Icicle Valley mods, there is a character, Voryn Dreleth....
He's a scholar of some note, among other things, and he has written several books that fall heavily into Dunmer lore.
In fact, I think Anna published a few just as stand alone in game books.
But the character himself and more of his works are out there.
Titles include--
"The Political Destabilization of Morrowind Under the Nerevarine,"
"Dwemer Tonal Architecture,"
a collection of Velothi hymns....
and a translation of Boethiah's Pillow Book.
Oh, and "The Complete Spellsword."
along with his personal journal.
and a few letters.

SF: Ah I think I've seen the name mentioned at TES Lore Reddit and on the Imperial Library

MB: Yeah. I contributed a couple of items. Not much interest was shown, so I kind of just let it slide.

SF: Well now that I KNOW about these books, I will for sure be looking for them in-game or elsweyr.

MB: Heh.

SF: Have you played any other series besides Elder Scrolls, Fallout? Dragon Age? What is your favorite gaming platform?

MB: I have played a little Dragon Age, and I did mention KOTOR...
I like PC games, cos of the possibility of modding....
And I prefer the wide-open radiant AI type games.
Although, the more closed worlds do have more intricate storytelling. It's a trade-off, I suppose.

SF: Are you now or have you been involved with the "Beyond Skyrim" project?

MB: I'm not sure I've heard of it before. What is it? Is it  like Skywind? or Morroblivion?

SF: Well Beyond Skyrim is a HUGE modding event bringing together several teams of modders to recreate basically the whole of Tamriel in the Skyrim engine. So far I know that Morrowind, The Iliac Bay (Daggerfall), and Cyrodiil (Oblivion) are being worked on. Beyond Skyrim Project

MB: Oh! Is that Tamriel Rebuilt, then?

SF: I think so unless they are different projects

MB: I don't code or anything, and although I write, they're just recreating Tamriel. So I have nothing to do on that face of it. However...
I remember sending in some audition tapes for Skywind...And I didn't like the way the creators were working...

SF: That's a shame, I know your voice would have made the mod that much more interesting.

MB: They had selected people to voice particular characters, but then later, if someone auditioned whom they liked BETTER, they would tell the people who had already come aboard that they would be cut.
That's a horrible, underhanded thing to do.
So I decided not to pursue it.
If you select a voice actor, you stay with him/her.
You can't just toss them out on a whim cos you suddenly like someone else better.
Stick with your commitments.

SF: That makes sense, especially when these people are basically volunteering (doing it for free) the least they could get is to see the fruit of their labors in the game. So do you have any hopes or expectations for TES VI?

MB: Well, it might be interesting to go to the Summerset Isle and overthrow the Thalmor, freeing the Altmer and giving Cyrodiil the chance to rebuild.
Or, maybe Elsewyr would be a fun place to go....
TES IV already had some great mods that took us to Valenwood.

SF: I might be in the minority but I am kind of hoping for a Highrock/Daggerfall & Hammerfell/Sentinel (Iliac Bay) setting

A view from atop of Azura

MB: That'd be cool! They might not do it, though, just on the argument that Daggerfall already covered that. Still.

SF: So I don't have too many questions left, I just wanted to ask you what was the process of voicing a mod like "Anna NPCs" like?

MB: Well, first, of course, she'd send me the script, along with a few notes describing the situation in which they are to be spoken-- You know, so I know what kind of emotion to put into it...
And them for the recording, I have a fairly simple home 'studio.' I use a Rode podcasting mic, and Audacity software...
I will practice the lines a few times myself, and then record.
Sometimes might have to hang blankets, to baffle the sound, and keep out ambient noise.

SF: How did you all handle disagreements/misunderstandings with scripts and lines?

MB: Well, I would make my feelings on the matter known, but in the end, I always defer to the author of the mod. It's HER project, after all. There were a few things about Teryn Meru, for exaample, that we clashed on. but Anna was very good about taking my thoughts into consideration, and compromises were usually worked out.

But, again, if there's any real conflict, my policy is to voice my objection, and then do what the author wants.

SF: Now back to Morrowind, what was your favorite quest from the game?

MB: H'mmm.
That's a really tough one.
I think that Oblivion had THE BEST side quests....

SF: We're in agreement there (and with Guild quests)

MB: But I think that in Morrowind, my favourite quest was actually the main quest itself. There were so many different things to do, and you were sent all over Vvardenfell....
and many things tied in to guild and faction quests.

SF: Who was your favorite member of the Tribunal?

MB: Well, until I played Tribunal, I liked Almalexia. Then, of course, I found out that she was as mad as Dagoth Ur.
But I also always had a soft spot for Sotha Sil.
Do you remember a Twilight Zone episode about a guy who was constantly tending and working on some weird complicated contraption in his apartment?
And he said that if he didn't tend the thing, the world would come to an end?
I kind of imagine Sotha Sil like that. That in the end, he retreated into his Clockwork City, constantly tinkering, and going slowly mad, thinking that he was somehow keeping the cosmos running properly.

SF: It's funny because I always liked Sotha as well, despite the fact that we never got to speak to him when he was alive I guess the fact that he was the aspect of Azura speaks volumes about his personality. Being a Dunmer spellsword, I also liked to think Azarien looked up to Sotha who was once a teacher at the Psijic Order on Artaeum, and possibly mentored Divayth Fyr

MB: Yes.
Sotha Sil was the one, after all, who discovered how to visit each and every realm of the Daedra, and did so in order to negotiate agreements with them, regarding the Tribunal.

SF: Lastly I want to touch on a project you recently released, a book entitled: Medousa, about the classical Greek character but from her point of view.

MB: Ah, yes--
In fact, I am working on a revision/second edition. Just tightening up the story, trimming it down a bit. If I'm very lucky, I might even get the one and only Ulorin Vex to illustrate it.

SF: I read the preview and it sounds interesting, the details that you give to the surroundings (rocks, sand, wildlife, etc) is really on point.

MB: Ah, well, I did a bit of research for this one.
Mind you, I didn't pay much attention to real "chronology," if that makes sense.
But apart from the mythological elements, I wanted it firmly set in its own time and place.
I didn't want it to feel like modern actors just throwing on togas and saying "We're in Rome now!"
My website is serializing the first two sections of the book, and there are some blog entries on my writing process, and well as a copy of the Afterword.
This is what I want to leave after me. This book.

SF: It sounds like an enticing read, I know that ancient Greece and Roman cultures are a favorite of mine (aside from the 1930s/Dustbowl era) so I like reading about those and you can't go wrong with Greek Gods/Goddesses.

MB: You may enjoy this one, then. It is a retelling of Medousa's story, from HER point of view. Something like the novel "Wicked."
Also, I had fun turning the myths upside down without actually changing any of their content!
You'll get to see aspects of ancient Sparta, Athens, the legendary Amazons of Themiscyra....
There are a number of cameos from legendary and mythical heroes and heroines as well.

SF: Sounds like it will be a great read for anyone who loves Greek Mythology or Hercules. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or voice actors?

MB: For writers? I would say the most important thing is get everything down on paper, no matter how fragmented the ideas, and no matter how good or bad you think it. Cos once you have everything written, you can edit.
Just keep writing. Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman have great advice in that vein.
As for voice acting, just get involved with the modding community. Participate in discussion boards, and make it known that you're willing and available to contribute voice-work....
Be fast and efficient, though. Honestly, voice actors are a dime a dozen; most modders want people who can code and create things in game....
So you have to be good. Also, there are far fewer women than men doing voice-work. So if you're both a game enthusiast and a woman, GO FOR IT.

SF: Excellent advice! Well Michael I would like to say it's been a pleasure drilling your noggin for Dunmeri lore  :)

MB: It's been a pleasure being trepanned!

Contact Michael:

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