Interview with Peter Barto
Superball? Flint Paper? Peepers? All voiced by the same guy – Peter Barto. He’s been working as a voice actor for 15 years and has lent his voice to both seasons of Sam & Max, along with other games (the PA announcer in NBA 2K, for example – a true anti-Peepers voice), toys and cartoons.
Peter was generous enough to answer my questions about himself and how he became involved in the games. Read on to find out how the recording process works, what he thinks makes the series click and how his family react to his voice for Peepers.
Hi Peter! For those who don’t know you, please could you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Among many other things, I’m a San Francisco Bay Area-based voice actor. I’ve been creating voices for games, toys, cartoons, etc., for about 15 years now.
How did you find yourself in the voice acting industry? Was it something that you’d always wanted to do, or did it just naturally progress from something else?
Like many people, I was insecure in grade school, so I naturally took the traditional path of becoming the class-clown. I’ve been doing crazy voices and imitations since I was in elementary school. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned you could actually make money doing this stuff. I signed up for a night course in voice acting, and started learning the craft, and began having a lot of fun.
How did you get cast for your roles in the Telltale games? Did they approach you, or did you audition with others?
I got the audition through my agent, the Stars Agency, and was lucky enough to land multiple roles.
Did you know anything about the Sam & Max series before you were cast, or was Telltale the introduction for you?
I was vaguely familiar with the Sam & Max story but by no means an authority. I was anxious to work with Telltale as they were born out of the Lucasarts folks, whose games I’ve enjoyed.
You’ve worked with Telltale right from the start on Sam & Max – what do you think makes the series and games as popular as they are?
The writing and the music, and the sophistication that they bring to the series. I’m not sure Telltale wants to use the word “sophisticated” to describe any aspect of Sam and Max, but I really believe there’s a level of class to the writing and music that distinguishes the series from others. Plus, it’s just damn silly and addictive.
Do you play through the games once they are out?
I’ve watched my daughters fool around with them but I’m not clever enough to make it to the end of any computer game.
With Telltale producing episodic games, I assume this means you can’t record all of your lines at the same time. How does this work?
The recording is done at Studio Jory in Fairfax, California. When gearing up for a new episode, the various actors come in individually, and we work with the writers and directors on getting the appropriate vibe for each line of dialogue. It really is a lot of fun coming up with some of this stuff.
You voice a few characters in the series – Peepers, Superball and Flint Paper to name the main ones. Is it hard for you to change between these voices? Do you have a favourite character to perform?
Those particular three characters have unique enough voices to keep me from sliding into one or another at the wrong time. Both Flint and Superball are much fun – not sure it’s in my best interest to let people know I’m responsible for that awful screech of Peepers.
Where does your inspiration come from for the voices? How did you decide on the voice of each character?
The writers and directors pretty much have the sounds they’re looking for in their heads before we get to the studio. At that point, it’s getting the basic idea of how the character should sound, and then playing around with it until we nail it.
What are your thoughts on the Soda Poppers? There is split opinion of them from the fans. Are they as annoying as people say they are?
Peepers is an enigma wrapped in a mystery and soaked in some weird secret. I believe he’s a closeted opera singer. My kids like his voice. My wife could do without him.
How aware are you of the context in which your lines take place? Do you ever record with some of the other voice actors or meet with some of the Telltale crew?
The context of each line of dialogue is pretty well explained by the Telltale crew so we know what we’re getting into. So far, I’ve recorded all my lines by myself. I’ve worked with other actors on projects and there can be great energy in the recording booth, but sometimes chaos can ensue.
How flexible is the script? Have you ever adlibbed anything, or do you stick tightly to what is written?
The script is pretty solid by the time it gets to the actors. Sometimes we’ll change a line here or there but otherwise it’s fixed. The only adlibbing sometimes comes at the end of a session and things start getting punchy. Not sure what happens to that recording.
Do you have any memorable stories while recording? A favourite scene to record? Perhaps some lines that were particularly hard to get out?
In any project there always seems to be a word or phrase to stumble on, and after a while it just sounds like nonsense. Usually you take a drink of water and try to muscle through it without dropping too many “F-bombs”. I’m sure there’s some recorded dialog out there of Peepers swearing maniacally after repeatedly messing up a line.
Thanks for the interview, Peter! Can we expect to hear you again in season three?
I’m hoping so. I’ve heard they’ve killed off Peepers but perhaps he’s only been temporarily transported to another dimension?…