Dabe Alan / Supergiant

The voice of Bastion and Transistor: how Logan Cunningham gives life to gaming’s best narration

The voice of Bastion and Transistor: how Logan Cunningham gives life to gaming’s best narration

You can hear Kermit the Frog lurking in the background when Jim Henson speaks. Porky Pig was easy to recognize in Mel Blanc’s speaking voice. You can hear very little of Logan Cunningham’s performances when he speaks to you. I kept straining to hear any hint of Rucks, Bastion's narrator, in Cunningham’s voice, but in person the voice actor simply sounds like… well, like Logan Cunningham.

A few years ago Cunningham was a struggling actor in New York, working in various low- to no-budget films and bits of theater. He was, as he described, someone who usually acted as a favor to friends. That’s how he got the text asking if he’d like to take part in a video game.

“I’ve known Amir [Rao, the studio director of Supergiant Games] since I was 14, we met playing soccer together in ’93,” he told me. Cunningham became best friends with Darren Korb, who handles music and sound for Supergiant, in high school. He was vaguely aware of Rao quiting his job at EA, moving back into his father’s house, and beginning work on the game that would become Bastion.

Bastion was made in the very room I had my first drink in,” Cunningham said, laughing. There was very little money to go around during the company's early days. Cunningham was told they needed some voice acting, and he was the only actor the team knew. Even with little to no pay, who didn’t want to be in a video game? Bastion went on to become a major hit on a variety of platforms, and the rest is history.

Finding a new voice for Transistor

Finding the voice for the sword in Transistor has proven to be much harder than the voice for Rucks.

“It was very different than Bastion, and it’s been a much harder thing,” Cunningham explained. “The challenge of doing Rucks was just making sure he sounded like Rucks. He says everything the same, Rucks is basically a caricature that becomes a character. Rucks was a technical challenge, but [Transistor] is more of an acting challenge.”

I've embedded a video of 15 minutes of game play, recorded by Totalbiscuit, so you can get a sense of both the voice and the innovative version of turn-based strategy in the game.

It took a large amount of experimentation to find a voice Supergiant and Cunningham liked. “The voice itself changed so much. We were doing different accents, there was a British accent, he was South African at one point. What was nice about Rucks was that the sound of the voice immediately told you a lot about the world, and we were asking ourselves if we could get a similar flavor into this? The clear indicator,” Cunningham said.

He slipped into each accent as he named it, which was disconcerting.

The role of his voice work has also changed between the two games. “People have been asking if I’m narrating again, and I say kinda… it’s not that past-tense omniscient voice,” he said. The character of Rucks told the player a story, giving the illusion that he was narrating actions that had already happened, when in fact he was responding to your actions.

The character in Transistor is often just as confused as the protagonist Red, and can sometimes sound confused, if not scared. He’s much more of an immediate presence in the game, a character who can give you information, but is also dealing with things as they happen. This performance was much harder than the monotone voice of Rucks, and it took many more takes to get each line right.

“We usually have Greg [Kasavin, the writer and designer of Transistor] on Gchat if he’s available in case we have a question,” Cunningham said. “What we have a lot is a line that looks fine written, but when it gets to me and I say it, it doesn’t sound good. It can be as simple as an extra word. There’s a lot of grooming and trimming.”

Recording takes place in Darren Korb’s apartment, in the closet attached to his bedroom. “Open the closet and that’s where I sit. He drapes blankets over the doors, and he just runs a cable through the length of the apartment to the studio,” Cunningam said. He warns me not to ask Korb about the “new microphone,” a subject that Cunningham says Korb is able to describe in great, exhaustive detail. I heed the warning.

Internet fame

Cunningham helped work the Supergiant Games booth at PAX East, where lines to play the game often stretched for three hours or more. He was smiling and friendly each time I saw him on the show floor, which is quite the feat after spending hours demoing a new game for curious fans.

The voice actor always seems to be having fun when promoting a game or just talking with the press or fans, and has even taken the time to narrate a wedding for two fans of Bastion.

His success is oddly localized to the world of gaming, and people are often skeptical of the games on his list of credits when he auditions for roles. Still, Bastion has improved the actor's life in the best way possible: He has been able to focus on what he loves, not paying the bills.

“I have Twitter fame, and I’m an Internet minor-celebrity. Which is fun. In my day-to-day life, the only thing this has changed is that it got me out of my day job. Now I can act 100 percent,” he told the Report. “I never thought it would happen this way, that it would be a voice acting job for a video game, and it would be my best friend who put it together.”