It’s no secret that it is possible to fall in love with a video game character. When I was younger my room was littered with posters of the likes of Nathan Drake and Samus Aran; I could tell you everything about them on command. What about the characters you couldn’t get posters of though? Those that, despite their winning personality traits, were the focus of your attention off-screen alone, a voice in your head or mentor guiding from afar.
I think those stars with a physical presence have had quite enough light shed on them already (get it?), so allow me to present to you three of the best characters who spend the majority of their gaming lives behind the scenes.
Charles Goodwin – Crackdown Series
In a strange way, this one is so good that most people don’t know the character’s actual name, instead simply referring to him as ‘The Director’, or better yet, ‘The Crackdown Guy’.
Sort of the original epic voice guy of gaming, The Director suited Crackdown’s action-movie feel by narrating and guiding the player through their larger than life antics. Such was the popularity of his silky comments, come the release of Crackdown 3 this year, the character of Goodwin had abandoned any pretense of being the voice of reason or constraint. Instead of scolding you for performing actions that went against the code of The Agency, he became your own personal cheerleader, validating your explosive force with lines akin to “that was awesome” and “hell yeah”.
Aside from this kind of parodical self-awareness, usually reserved for the likes of a prime Duke Nukem, Goodwin actually spouts a fair bit of useful exposition. He’s often the character responsible for kick-starting the plot, sending you on your wacky missions, so it’s a good thing he’s so damn likable.
Michael McConnohie does a stellar job motivating you to collect those endless agility orbs, or exciting you about the arrival of the latest Agency vehicle. Simply put, these games wouldn’t be the same without him; a perfect capsulation of how badass the early days of the last console generation made you feel.
Wait, didn’t he turn out to be evil at the end of the first game?
J Jonah Jameson – Spider-Man PS4
A lot of what makes Spider-Man PS4 work as well as it does is its ability to craft a superhero world that actually feels lived in. Since the friendly neighborhood hero has been swinging around town for a few years now, most of his relationships have already been formed. Fortunately, this includes my personal favorite within the lore, that between Peter Parker and his former boss, one John Jonah Jameson.
Brought to life by Darin De Paul through various brilliantly titled “Just the Facts” podcast snippets (which I just love that JJ has, by the way, of course, he gets in a room every couple of days and just rants about getting pictures of Spider-Man) which play after certain key events in the story and game world, we see Jameson at his egotistical, self righteous best; or worst, I guess. I’ve no doubt that he will appear in the flesh in the inevitable sequel to last year’s title, probably serving as an obstacle between Peter getting some much-needed information or cash in order to keep webbing bad guys.
This is why the character works so well in the first place, being an excellent antagonist for both of the dual sides of Peter Parker, both extortionate employer and moronic media. With over an hour of Jameson content to be heard in the title, we receive conspiracy theories, explosive rants about tangential things and the odd nugget of wisdom.
Like all good villains, Jonah believes himself to be the hero, looking out for the everyday man of New York City. However, since this is a video game, the urge to swing over to the Daily Bugle and throw your former employer from the top floor window has never been stronger or more tantalizingly close.
The highest compliment I can pay to this appearance is that it holds its own against the note-perfect performance we received from J.K Simmons in the original Raimi trilogy. Speaking of which…
Cave Johnson – Portal 2
Segues hey, aren’t they a thing that just happened? From one fantastic Simmons performance to another, here the actor brings to life the deceased founder of Aperture Science. Simmons brings all his experience in a role which battles with the equally fantastic Stephen Merchant as Wheatley and Ellen McLain as GLaDOS to be the show stealer.
Quite surprisingly, we probably know the most about Cave out of all these more much prominent characters. From his beginnings as a shower curtain manufacturer, to his meteoric rise through the science world (creating literally the coolest weapon to ever exist, sorry gravity gun enthusiasts), all the way to the rivalry with Black Mesa that proved to be his downfall.
His journey tells the story of how Aperture came to be in the dismal state the player and Chell find it in. As he becomes more and more desperate as a result of his illness, his stick-it-to-the-man attitude becomes progressively more destructive, ultimately resulting in the creation of the main antagonist of the series. Simmons walks this line expertly, slowly transitioning from the upbeat salesman that charmed himself into an empire, to a man ready to try anything to save his own skin. From the first word of his many ads and intercom messages, you can pick up on his tone and mental state, no mean feat when the only visual reference the player has to guide them is a handful of Xbox 360 rendered oil paintings.
For a peak example of this, I’d seriously recommend looking up the now infamous lemons speech. I still quote “I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons!” whenever my friends need a motivational kick, although I always seem to forget that it comes from a man on the brink of insanity… oh well, that’s the price of science I guess.
There we have it. I now fully expect that as a direct result of this article that sales of pictures of 2011’s classic character Cave Johnson will go through the roof, and that everyone who has read it will have a framed headshot of his hanging over their bed at night. You’re welcome, one and all.