INTERVIEW: Joseph Balderrama talks becoming Diablo IV’s Sorcerer
Diablo IV brings with it change for the hellish franchise, but equally, it brings opportunity.
The next instalment in the top-down obsession-simulator franchise promises to be one of the very biggest games that Blizzard has ever been able to muster, and for a company that oversees World of Warcraft, it's a bold stance - but we believe them.
We've known for some time that Diablo fans are ones that aren't quick to peel themselves away from their desks when they get too heavily involved in the infectious gameplay loop that the games offer, but as changes to narrative, characters and consoles are on the horizon, there's plenty of fresh opportunities to get stuck in once again.
Yet, no matter how deeply involved they become in mending the severance between Heaven and Hell in Diablo IV, there are few that can know the game quite as intimately as those actually in it - and veteran voice actor Joseph Balderrama has seen what's to come from a uniquely magical perspective.
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Welcome Diablo IV's Sorcerer - Joseph Balderrama
Diablo's playable character classes are, naturally, pretty forward-facing in the game, being a presence that you'll never be able to shake, always leaving their comments on the unfurling narrative around you and reminding you that, actually, you do need to wait to use your dodge again. Creating a character that is both engaging and unobtrusive is no doubt a difficult task - and this is something that the game's male Sorcerer voice actor, Joseph Balderrama, had kept in mind.
"You're trying to find something that is both truthful and also something that's not gonna irritate the player, 'cause they're going to hear your voice an awful lot," Balderrama tells GGRecon on his visit to Central London. "And so that was part of the challenge I guess."
Balderrama has a pretty stacked list of credits, especially if you've been engaged in gaming for the last few years. Beyond stepping into Diablo IV and even ignoring his live-action appearances in the likes of The Batman and Heartstopper, he has a past in critically acclaimed titles, stepping into the shoes of the campy guidebook Dr Hakim and protagonist Cody in TGA Game of the Year award winner It Takes Two.
While Balderrama agrees that it's a pretty far cry from trudging the wastes of Sanctuary, it turns out that becoming the Sorcerer wasn't that far away from the Book of Love when it comes to having a character built around him.
"I was very immersed in [It Takes Two's] experience because I was also doing the mocap as well as the voice [for Cody, one of the game's playable characters], and another character [Dr Hakim] just the voice. And Diablo, with the exception of the motion capture, felt somewhat akin in terms of just the length of time too. It's a long time that you have these four-hour recording sessions that you kind of go in and go back into this crazy world and this character who you pick up and revisit. "
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It's tough out there for voice actors
Even for actors who have simultaneously taken to the microphone and the screen, voice acting isn't all fun and games. As evidenced by recent dramatics from Futurama, with original Bender voice actor John DiMaggio taking his pay disputes public, attitudes are only now beginning to turn to equal respect for actors that aren't seen immediately on the screen.
"[Voice acting] is by far one of the most enjoyable things that I do, but it's also one of the most demanding things that I do," Balderrama says of voice acting at large.
"You have to commit to your character even regardless of whether you are playing a really serious Sorcerer or you're playing a hedgehog, do you know what I mean? Even if you're a big movie star, for example, it doesn't necessarily mean you're gonna be a great voice actor. I think everyone should be awarded and rewarded and afforded the same level of respect."
While it can feel a lot like a kind of lucky dip when it comes to picking up gigs in voice acting, it seems that Balderrama feels he's hit the jackpot with Diablo.
"I've done a few games where I've seen the IMDb credit and I've gone 'oh, that's what that game was,'" he laughs. "It's very cloak and dagger, some of it, so it was only once I got into it all I knew, my agent said 'it's a big game,' and I was like 'okay, cool.' When they said it was [Diablo IV] it was just very exciting to be a part of a franchise that has such a massive fanbase and also, you know, such a pedigree. There's something about the world-building that they've done with the game that is super impressive."
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Diablo IV's voice acting is crucial
Though many moments peppered throughout Diablo could just as easily have opted for text only, it's performances like Balderrama's that tie everything together. The world of Sanctuary is one that is designed to immerse and engulf the player, and oftentimes, when you're so deep in Ghoul viscera, you actually do need the reminder that you don't have enough mana for that spell.
Immersion is key to Diablo, and Balderamma is able to supply it in droves with his sorcerer. It's a long way from his work on Peppa Pig: World Adventures, that's for sure.