In gesprek met Neil Newbon, Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3 [EN]

Selflove als selfcare

In gesprek met Neil Newbon, Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3 [EN]

Over inclusiviteit, acteren in videogames en online Astarion-content

De release van Baldur’s Gate 3 kun je bijna niet gemist hebben. De early access gooide in 2020 al hoge ogen en misschien kun je de viral video teaser waarin een beer en een bleke vampier het wel erg gezellig leken te hebben ook nog wel herinneren. Pixel Vault sprak Neil Newbon, de acteur achter Astarion in Baldurs Gate 3, over inclusiviteit, acteren in videogames en online Astarion-content.

Onverwacht succes en reacties van het publiek

Het door Dungeons and Dragons geïnspireerde Baldur’s Gate 3 van het Belgische Larian Studios is een turn-based RPG die in augustus 2023 op pc verscheen en een krappe maand later ook voor PlayStation 5 uitkwam. De game werd ontzettend goed ontvangen, zelfs beter dan ze allemaal verwacht hadden, vertelt Neil.

“It was a bigger success than any of us realized actually! Well, we knew there was a lot of passion in it. We knew the writing was amazing. I played a little bit in early access, I knew the game was extraordinary, but you never know how these things are going to go. I think all of us really, fundamentally, believed that with the passion and the work, the tremendous work that Larian put into it – I mean the talent that they have, as well as the cast – that it was going to be good. But I don’t think the reaction was anything anyone was prepared for.”

Neil legt uit dat het altijd lastig is om in te calculeren hoe het publiek op een eindproduct gaat reageren. Sterker nog, hij zou het van tevoren ook niet willen weten of voorspellen.

In gesprek met Neil Newbon, Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3 [EN]
Neil Newbon by https://ivanweiss.london/

“My point of view on it is: I have offered up, with the cast, the developers, the writers, the directors: the story. In all of its glory and amazingness, because this is a modern-day masterpiece for sure, we just offered it out to the audience and at that point we took our hands off. It is absolutely the audience’s prerogative to decide how they feel about it, where they are interested in, where they want to talk about, head canon and everything. We just have to go, Neil crosses his fingers: We hope you like it! We hope it was fun! Because that is our job, our job is to entertain, we can’t dictate or guess how somebody is reacting. It is sort of like creating the baby and then handing over the baby and going like please be cool with it!”

Gelukkig zit dat wel goed. Baldur’s Gate 3 sleepte de ene 10 na de andere 10 binnen en kreeg niets anders dan lovende recensies. Heel goed nieuws natuurlijk, maar Neil is eigenlijk vooral blij met alle reacties.

“Ultimately for me, I much rather have somebody with a very positive attitude or a negative reaction to my work. Because that way, they would have a reaction. The thing that worries me always is, I guess if there is a worry, if somebody has ambivalence towards a character that I created or a character that I portrayed. That they go like, meh. You know? That is a killer, that is awful Neil laughs. If somebody hates my character: brilliant.”

Seksueel getinte Astarion-content en inclusiviteit in Baldur’s Gate 3

En gereageerd wordt er. Er is een hele hoop content over Baldur’s Gate 3 te vinden. Informatieve playthroughs, streams, edits en wat nog meer… oh ja: heel veel seksueel getinte content over onder andere Astarion. Het is Neil niet ontgaan. We vragen of hij het raar vindt, dat er zulke content over zijn personage wordt gemaakt.

“No, not really. I think it would have been weird if the character would have been the total opposite of Astarion: quite humbling and not sexualized. Then it would be weird. Astarion as a character is highly sexual, highly damaged, very beautiful and dark and there is an ugly side to him as well. He is intelligent, manipulative. He has these brilliant plays of these diametrically opposed characteristics throughout his entire character, which for an actor is amazing to be playing, and I am very humble that they asked me to play him in the first place. But I am not surprised by the reaction, because you know, it is not like I am not aware of his sexuality, because I helped create his sexuality.”

Neil zelf speelt Baldur’s Gate 3 op zijn eigen Twitch-kanaal. Op het moment van schrijven heeft hij tijdens zijn nieuwste stream een bijzonder *romantisch* moment met zichzelf, Astarion, gehad. Hier moeten we hem natuurlijk wel even naar vragen. We krijgen zijn antwoord in de stem van Astarion:

“I may have romanced myself…. and??? Selflove darling, selfcare.”

Neil Newbon in de High Rollers DnD-oneshot.

Neil moet lachen: “We coined it ‘Astarbation’ in a stream. Which is me romancing my character, which is just weird on every level, it is just weird. But you know, people want to see it, I guess. I do think that Baldur’s Gate 3 has a really mature, adult and very sophisticated way of presenting relationships and sex in a videogame. It is also great that Baldur’s Gate 3 has so much representation. Not just sexualities or genders but also ethnic backgrounds as well. They have a really interesting cast of different people and it is really nice to see that in a game where not only do we have representation, we also see relationships irrespective of the combinations of genders, sexualities being normalized. There is no big thing saying: o wow you have now dated a man or slept with a woman or something, it is like: that is the person you are attracted to and they happen to be whatever. This normalization of what relationships can be is needed across the board. Whether they are purely sexual, whether they involve relationships and love and all that kind of stuff. I think normalization is really important. Because then, one would assume, players can identify with the story: ‘Oh that is me! That is how I feel about this person or that person’.”

Inclusiviteit is iets waar Neil veel aandacht aan besteed, ook in zijn eigen online community op Discord en Twitch, waar hij wekelijks online te vinden is.

“My friends are a whole bunch of mixtures of male, female, non-binary, gender fluid, trans male, trans female, gay, straight, bi, pansexual, asexual, everything. We, myself and Tom, especially my good friend Tom de Ville, he is an amazing writer and director as well. We created the stream on Twitch as fun, but when we realized the community was forming, we wanted to show what we hold dear and what we believe in our private lives. We wanted to show that and represent that in the community. Because I think it’s awful to have a situation where people feel marginalized or not included or bullied. I also don’t get it, I don’t understand it, I mean I get it on an intellectual level, but I don’t really understand why people have issues with other people’s lives. We wanted to create a community that was open to anybody. The only people we said that are not invited are Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Donald trump and Putin. They are not allowed, I am sorry. It’s a permaban for those folks.”

“I may have romanced myself…. and??? Selflove darling, selfcare.”

Neil Newbon
In gesprek met Neil Newbon, Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3 [EN]

De verschillende verhaallijnen van Astarion

Baldur’s Gate 3 kenmerkt zich onder andere door de vele keuzes die je gedurende de game moet en kunt maken. Het heeft gevolgen voor je verhaal, maar ook voor de ontwikkeling van je medereizigers. Het personage Astarion kan zich dan ook op verschillende manieren ontwikkelen en zijn verhaallijn heeft verschillende eindes. We zijn nieuwsgierig: Is het niet uitdagend om al die verschillende versies van Astarion te acteren?

“I think it is more accurate to say multiple endings of Astarion, instead of multiple versions. There is substantial change that can happen to the character but that never changes the core, as it is still Astarion. Just with different situations, opportunities, obstacles and different resolutions. The character is still the same with one major change that is still sort of him, but is now amplified in a very specific way. So, I think ultimately, for me, it was very interesting doing this kind of narrative branch. I have done quite a few now (ea Detroit: Become Human), but for me it is always fascinating to develop the character over time. We have worked for four years on Baldur’s Gate 3 and the story is massive. When you know the character that intimately, it is remarkable, rewarding and fulfilling. You know the character so well and you can jump in on the scenarios because the writers are so good, Stephen Rooney among them. The characters and their journey, it all makes sense. Because of that I get instincts or impulses and know how to do a line. It is not difficult because it was the same character, just in different circumstances.”

In gesprek met Neil Newbon, Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3 [EN]

Een podium voor de makers van videogames

De schrijver van Astarions personage, Stephen Rooney, was onlangs te gast in Neils stream, net zoals een hele hoop andere castleden van Baldur’s Gate 3 (o.a. Tim Downie (Gale), Tom Solomon, (Wyll) en Devora Wilde (Lae’zel)). Ook is de cast te zien bij de recente afleveringen van High Rollers DnD. We vragen Neil wat hij ervan vindt dat er steeds meer aandacht komt voor de mensen achter de videogames. 

“I think it is great! I think it is wonderful that actors are being seen as actors, it is a full performance, whether it is voice only or whether it is a full performance like in Baldur’s Gate 3, where we did everything in the volume apart from additional dialogue. I think it is interesting for people who play as us, I think they are really interested in how it all works. I also think it is great that we can spotlight the developers and spotlight the writers, the directors and all the many, many animators and all the sound and music and everything that goes into making games like this. Because that is the big thing about any production whether it is film, television or games, it is not just the actors, it is everybody around that is pulling together to make this amazing thing. I mean Baldur’s Gate 3 is a great example of something where the gameplay is absolutely awesome and the narrative is absolutely epic and incredible and heartfelt and things really congeal well together. That takes hundreds of people, 248 actors, and over 500 in Larian Studios alone – in terms of numbers. So, I think it is great to have the spotlight on as many different people as possible.”

Neil zelf deed meer dan alleen acteren in Baldur’s Gate 3. Hij is blij dat hij er, na lang geheimhouden, nu wat meer over mag vertellen.

“I was hired as a director, I was a voice and performance director, working with many of the cast. I was having an amazing experience because the cast was incredible and so it was a joy to do that. I also worked in the motion capture side for the in-game cinematics and in-game movements and also some in-game locomotion’s as well. I was very lucky that I got to work as a motion capture, doubling up people, I actually got to double up all the origins for their introduction videos, when they all say ‘Hi, o what is this, this is a strange thing’. I had to copy everybody’s movements. It was funny and I was texting each of the cast saying: ‘I am playing you now!’ It was very funny. 

I also got to work with other actors who weren’t necessarily doing voice work. I worked with amazing actors in the motion capture stage. We really got to do some amazing work. It was a good vibe and a good time. I also worked as a consultant, so I also went around internationally to different Larian Studios and helped animators get into their suits and with their performance, which was with my company Performance Captured. I was very blessed with this job. They gave me so much love and so much support and opportunities and I will be eternally grateful to Larian. They are an amazing company to work with.”

“I think it is great to have the spotlight on as many different people as possible.”

Neil Newbon
In gesprek met Neil Newbon, Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3 [EN]

Wat moet je zelf doen als je in videogames wilt acteren? 

Met Performance Captured adviseert Neil film- en game-ontwikkelaars als mentor en oprichter op het gebied van pre productie, casting, scouting en meer. Ook onderdeel van zijn bedrijf is de Performance Captured Academy, waar je trainingen en workshops kunt volgen: van mocap tot voice acting en gevechtstraining. Mocht je hier zelf over nadenken, dan heeft Neil eerst een tip voor je: zorg dat je acteerervaring hebt.

“Learn to be an actor first. Don’t skip the craft of acting. I get a lot of wonderful people that reach out for advice, but they sometimes tend to be like, I can do this and that and I love to get into mocap. And I am like, cool, your competition also knows how to act, also knows how to do tumbling or whatever. So, that is cool, just bear in mind that you are going against other people that have some skill in acting. Even if it is only a small amount, they are still doing that. So, I would urge anybody that wants to get into acting and voice work or acting and motion capture or performance capture: learn acting.

Also learn how to develop your voice and how to sing, even if you sing badly, it doesn’t matter, they will teach you how to train your voice properly and breath properly and all that kind of stuff. Learn theater techniques and film techniques on camera and learn how a frame works and how you can use the frame as a performer. Try and learn as much as you can before you head into motion capture. And even if you get a lucky break, keep learning new things, keep working your craft. I am still learning as an actor; I still consider myself a student. It is a wonderful craft, but it is still a craft.”

En dan nog een laatste vraag…

Het is tijd voor een laatste, afsluitende vraag. Neil zelf is een echte Dungeons and Dragons-nerd en we zijn benieuwd wat hij van het concept vindt: je eigen verhaal bepalen, maar toch afhankelijk zijn van de nummers op de dobbelsteen.

“I think it is actually how life is, isn’t it? We go about our life, knowing things, not knowing most things. We have impulses to do stuff, we try ideas that may or may not work, we have conversations and interactions with people that may or may not aid us or try to dissuade us. If we are unlucky, we come against conflict and if we are lucky, we get companions. Luck sometimes is a big factor in all these things. Life is not fair, it just is. People can be fair though. But sometimes the luck of the dice is not with you, sometimes you have more luck than you may even feel like you deserve. You just don’t know. So, I think the shared storytelling experience of roleplaying, of tabletop roleplay, is very similar to life, because you just don’t know what is going to happen and that is kind of the beauty of it. You don’t know where the story is going to go. It could be heartbreaking; it could be exhilarating. It can be a combination of everything, you just don’t know, until the journey is over and you have to reflect back and go, was that a worthwhile life spent? Was I lucky to be able to spend it in a worthwhile way, did I take the opportunities that came or do I have my regrets? Do I have a life that I lived fully? And I think that is a very lovely thing to carry with you if you are a tabletop gamer, to remember your life is like that. These are the opportunities, the dice may not go your way, but that is just life. You can’t predict that, but if you take it, and run with it and try it and if you go in with bravery – which is to possess fear but to carry on regardless – I guarantee, it will be interesting. Do you know what I mean?”

Kun jij geen genoeg van Neil en Baldur’s Gate 3 krijgen? Houd dan onze website, socials en podcast in de gaten. Er komt namelijk nog een hoop gave content aan.

Geschreven door

Esther Bolt

Redacteur sinds maart 2020. Esther leest meer boeken dan de rest van de redactie bij elkaar. Al zou ze die boeken zo opgeven als er daardoor een nieuwe Splinter Cell komt.