Interview: Roger Craig Smith Discusses the Zombie Video Game 'Dying Light'

There's been plenty of zombie video games over the years, but Dying Light looks like a whole lot of fun. Not only is it a first-person adventure in an open world that's filled with scary creatures, but it also focuses heavily on free running mechanics, crafting weapons, and the zombies become more dangerous at night. Sure, it may not be based on a comic book or have a comic book tie-in, but seeing as the game looks pretty awesome, you can bet we were all for talking with Roger Craig Smith, the voice of Kyle Crane, the game's main character.

COMIC VINE: Based on what we've seen, Dying Light looks a lot like Mirror's Edge meets Dead Island. How would you describe it and why do you believe gamers should check it out?

ROGER CRAIG SMITH: I would describe it as South Park: The Stick of Truth meets Smash Brothers. Now, maybe I'm a little off with that but no, I think that's really where it's going. No, I can understand the comparisons because you've got the parkour elements like Mirror's Edge. But I've never been more excited for a game in this genre because of this huge undertaking that Techland has taken on; to make a game with all of these different elements. So, you've got all of the parkour, all the open world free running and you've got all the zombie survival elements to it. But you've got this great script that goes along with it and a massive story. There isn't another game like this one because it's got so many different elements going for it.

Coming from the work that I did with Assassin's Creed, the thing that strikes me in this game is the fluidity of the movement and just that open world element of like, if I can see that, I can get over there. They've put in so much work. All it takes is looking for some of those developer blogs and reading some of the articles to see just what these developers were up against. They tried to incorporate so many things that ultimately, some of them didn't even make it into game. To think there's some stuff that isn't in the game when this game already offers so much is just incredible. I can understand there are thematic elements that people are going to draw comparisons to some previous games, but I don't think you're going to find that this game is like those games at all.

CV: You're voicing the main character, Kyle Crane. What makes him unique and someone gamers will really want to play as?

RCS: The thing I like about Kyle Crane is he's a regular dude in a lot of ways. I would think he's just as imperfect as we all are. I've played characters that seem like they're kind of larger than life and that's because in so many ways they actually are and, arguably, we're always making entertainment so we're doing things that are sort of loosely based on reality. But Kyle Crane, as a man, is still trying to figure some things out for himself. What I liked about him is he's not superhuman. I always kind of say like, Chris Redfield was sort of -- all it takes is the boulder punching that goes on in RE5; that's an interesting departure from reality there. Which is also silly because that guy was just walking around and killed infected and all that. You've got to pick and choose your suspension of disbelief there! Kyle Crane, in my opinion, is a regular guy; he's imperfect and fallible. I thought that was a neat element, getting to portray this character.

CV: Since he's an ordinary guy, I imagine you're not slaughtering zombies with ease early on in the game and you have to adapt and improve?

RCS: Exactly. There's some gameplay demos that have been released which show the weapons crafting and the weapon repairs you have to do. And obviously there's a progression. You can level up your skill tree and all that kind of stuff to where he gets more comfortable with the environment as you progress in the game. That, in my opinion, makes any game that much better. Most of the good games do it that way; so you don't just come out as this ultimate zombie killing machine. From the get-go, he's not necessarily all that adept at the ways of zombie killing and parkour. On Dying Light's site, they have videos that show the development process where he goes out with his team and does some of the parkour elements. It's a training process of sorts where everybody in that world is trying to see what Kyle Crane is made of.

CV: Since you were Chris Redfield, this isn't exactly your first time entering a world that's full of zombies and frightening creatures. So what did this role bring that made the genre a little different to you?

RCS: This is based a little more on a realistic environment than say, what Resident Evil was dealing with. What I like about this character as opposed to some others is he seemed more genuine and real. It was a nice opportunity to play a guy that doesn't necessarily always have all the answers. That, to me, is a much more enjoyable character to play because there's more to do with it. Sometimes the leading roles -- while they're humbling and a miracle to get -- sometimes they're the least interesting because they live in a small box. It's a little more rigid for them to be in this performance than, say, the Joker. Even then the Joker still lives in a certain element and you can't push that character too far before it starts to feel like it's not the Joker anymore. But that character can go a lot farther in emotional response and behavior than Batman can. And that's because it's a villain. It's the same thing for most lead roles; you can't do too much before it doesn't feel like a real person. With Kyle Crane, it was a nice touch that I thought, "Okay, this is a believable guy, doing what he's doing." Given all of the unbelievable circumstances, he felt a little more believable in his responses to it.

CV: Since there's a lot of free running, are you moving around a bit while recording? Obviously you can't do action rolls in there, but are you somewhat imitating some of the movements as you record them?

RCS: Yes, to the best of my ability without making so much noise that it would ruin the take. Usually I walk out of these things with sore abs and a sore throat because so much of everything you're doing will come from your chest and stomach and diaphragm. You can't really flail your arms too much. You know, everybody's always laughing about how we're so casually dressed while doing voice overs, but it's both by choice and by necessity. If I wear a lot of layers of clothing or stiff fabrics it makes too much noise. If I shift my weight, it makes all this noise in the microphone. Usually we're dressed in a t-shirt and jeans and for me it's a t-shirt and shorts. It allows me to move somewhat but I still need to be centered behind the microphone. There's a challenge in all of that but the challenge comes in having to kind of theater of the mind your performance. I'll do my best to try to replicate the sound of someone running while also making sure I'm projecting that all into the microphone so that sound can be put into the game.

CV: You're spending so many hours each day telling your brain that you're running from zombies or struggling against them. Does that ever add up and you find them invading your dreams?

RCS: No, if anything the nightmare is that I live in Los Angeles and so getting to the studio can feel like the zombie apocalypse sometimes -- to try to get through traffic and get through the crazy people that are wandering the streets! There's times where I get to do things that I would never ever do in real life and it's kind of cathartic; it's a release. The release is the job itself but I don't take it home. I've never thought the Joker was coming after me or that one of the Templars was going to murder me in my sleep or that there was a zombie creeping up or Wesker's on my tail. And Doctor Eggman... I'm not too worried about that guy anyway.

CV: So no dreams about punching boulders?

RCS: Nope! Well, it would be fun to try. I don't think it'll go as well for anybody else as it does for Chris but, you know, hey! Usually if I play Call of Duty too late with my buddies, I'll get kind of cracked out and have a hard time falling asleep; you're all paranoid. But this game, in particular, with first person perspective and the notion of these zombies coming right at the screen... it kind of freaks me out. There's a couple times where I'm cringing watching some of the gameplay videos. If I get that on my TV, it's going to be a little frightening.

CV: Do you have a favorite zombie movie?

RCS: Not really. As far as the zombie apocalypse movies go, I've never been that big of a fan of them. Some of them are so far-fetched that you kind of go along for the silly ride. I thought World War Z was really interesting and kind of frightening in its own right. That's such a cheap answer because it's one of the more recent ones. 28 Days, that whole series is pretty cool. Yeah, I guess I'll go with World War Z and fans can tweet me that's a lame answer.

CV: No way, that's an acceptable answer. So, you've been a lot characters who are either from the comic book world or have comic books and I'm wondering -- aside from Chris since we've already seen this -- how do you think the characters you've previously voiced would fare in Dying Light's world?

RCS: Not very well! Yeah, I think Sonic would be hamburger meat in no time. Even with the spin dash attack, I don't think he's fast enough for the nightcrawlers. You can punch boulders all you want, but that doesn't really mean you're going to handle yourself in this environment. Maybe Ezio because he's got the blades and that would give him a fighting chance. I think even players are going to realize it's not going to be the easiest of games at all because it's not too cartoonish in its approach. I really don't know. You know what, Ripslinger would stand the best chance, from Planes. He'd just fly above it all, so there you go! Let's go with that. Yeah, I'll go with that Disney character in this adult video game would probably fare the best.

CV: They blend together so well.

RCS: Exactly! An animated talking plane flying above a city in ruins and zombies everywhere. That makes sense. It's a good crossover!

CV: Okay, time for a hard-hitting question. If the zombie apocalypse ever happened, do you think these roles have made you more prepared for it?

RCS: No. As actors go, it's like "I'm not a real doctor, I just play one on TV!" I would probably be one of the first to go because, in my mind, I would be thinking, "Oh, I know what I'm doing! I've been Chris Redfield or I've been Kyle Crane. I could easily handle myself in a real world zombie apocalypse!" And I'd step outside with like, a baseball bat hooked up to a 9-volt battery with duct tape and I'd be eaten alive in probably a matter of hours. The ego would get to me at that point; that actor's ego. I'd step outside thinking, "Hey! Do you know who I am! I've played these guys in video games, so I know what I'm doing!" I'd rather be a Navy SEAL. Those guys probably stand a better chance.

CV: When you step into the shoes of these characters, do any of their traits stick with you a little bit when you finish recording and you have to shrug them off?

RCS: I'd always crave Italian food after all the Assassin's Creed sessions, that was a weird thing. No, not really. I want to be as honest to the character as I can when I'm in that booth, but this is a job. My approach is always one where I'm part of a production team. My skill set happens to be talking out loud into this microphone, but it's not necessarily the writing or producing or directing or making the characters. I'm a part of this team, so I look at it like it's this massive collaborative effort and we're all part of creating not only the character, but the game itself. So many other people are responsible for creating what we see and what we play in the end other than the voice actors. We go in and, because we have a voice that's recognizable in the game, sometimes I think we get a little more attention than we deserve in comparison to the people who are actually making these characters.

I don't take it with me all that much. I don't think I could do what I do in a day if that stuff stuck with me, because I'll leave a session for Dying Light where I'm getting slaughtered by and then slaughtering zombies, and then I have to go play like, a cartoon duck for the Cartoon Network or something. If I'm still holding onto the Kyle Crane element, that duck might have a bloodcurdling scream to it and that'll scare children. It's kind of like football. You're a member of the team, you guys all huddle up, you decide what it is you're going to do, the quarterback calls hike, and you execute that play. Once it's done, you go back to the huddle and say "okay, well that didn't work, we just lost yardage" or you go "okay, we just got a first down, we've got another shot to keep going." That's kind of like voice over video game production. For me, I like to rely very heavily on my director to give me the feedback. "Hey, you pushed it too far" or "hey, you sound like you're reading." I rely very heavily on the rest of the production staff to help me conjure up the character. When I'm done, I think "Hey, we did our work! Good job, everybody!"

CV: Is there a sound effect you had the most fun recording?

RCS: We'll call it battle chatter or effort grunts or onomatopoeias -- it's all the grunts and efforts for the game. We usually save that stuff for the very last session because you will blow your voice out; you won't be able to work the next day. The one thing I'm terrible at doing is fake coughing. What's funny is I always get the hiccups if I cough and then it doesn't sound very tough. There was a very funny situation working with Kris Zimmerman on a Metal Gear Solid game. A smoke bomb goes off and I had to cough and, at one point after the cough had happened, I realized, "I think I'm going to get the hiccups." And the next line was as like, this badass military guy kicking down the front door and telling everybody to get down on the ground. I went to go yell "EVERYBODY GET" and halfway through the line it was like [makes hiccup noise]. It was this massive hiccup which doesn't sound very tough at all. It didn't go so great.

I remember telling the gentlemen who's directing me for Dying Light that I wanted to save the coughing for the very end but I also wanted to make it very realistic. There where points when I was darn near gagging to the point where I thought I might have a little burp -- a little something coming up. I remember going, "I can't wait to play the game to see if that turned out well." I certainly suffered on that one because I was trying to not hiccup, so I kept coughing and then I had these weird spasms and stuff. That doesn't reveal too much. It's just a character coughing. Who knows why!

CV: If you had to promote the game in 5 words or less, what would you say?

RCS: There is no boulder punching. Does that do it? 5 words or less? Man, that's really tough! I've got "robust zombie apocalypse survival horror" and then for the 6th word, it would be "game."

CV: Thanks!

Dying Light is available January 27 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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