The hotly anticipated release of Dying Light 2 Stay Human is just around the corner, and it’s set to be one of the biggest games of the year. With five years of additional content promised, and a game that will already take 500 hours to fully complete – or 20, if you stick to the campaign – the parkour-zombie mash-up will keep players running for a long time.
Ahead of Dying Light 2’s February 4 release date, we got a chance to talk with voice actor Jonah Scott, who will be playing Aiden Caldwell – the game’s protagonist. He took us behind the scenes of the game, the character and his decade-long career.
The casting of Aiden was actually up in the air for some time, as after doing some scratch vocals for the character – which are a sort of reference used before a full casting – Scott was unsure if he had even landed the role.
“There was like this six or so month period where I was in casting limbo,” explains Scott. “And then I booked an agent. First thing I did, I was like, hey, so Techland is making this game and you’ve probably seen trailers for it. I may or may not have voiced the main character and I don’t know, can you send them an email?”
Despite being unsure of his guarantee for the role almost half a year down the line, Scott had already shown his commitment to voicing Aiden, by going further than anyone would’ve expected.
“When I was doing those [scratch vocals] I had this, like, bar in my closet where I would hang my clothes,” Scott began. “I really wanted to impress the producers of Techland. So in my idiocy or genius, either one, when I was doing these in-game efforts I would grab onto this bar and I would have the mic in front of me and I would actually hang from this clothing bar having real physical exertions. As I was doing it I turned on my camera for the dialogue editor, just to show him how dedicated I was.”
Scott knew his muscles were going to hurt the next day, but he wanted this role more than anything he’d ever worked for. After his agent sent that email, Scott was recording script lines within a week.
As a voice actor for ten years, Scott has found success in both anime and video games, bringing the character of Legoshi in Netflix’s adaptation of Beastars to the screen, and now getting his first sole protagonist role in Dying Light 2.
“As I was in production for this game, I considered all of that anime my training arc,” says Scott, laughing at the absurdity of the sentence. “That’s me going in the hyperbolic time chamber, training with the weights. When I finally go into Dying Light 2 the weights come off, it’s time for me to do this first-person action RPG protagonist. That’s my dream, I’m so humbled and honoured.”
Scott’s dream began to take real shape when he moved to Los Angeles to start his voice acting career after getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater, and as though it was fate, the first game he played when he arrived was the original Dying Light. Experiencing it on his PS4, Scott became intimately aware of Roger Craig Smith’s performance of Kyle Crane – the first game’s protagonist – so he decided to bring some of that to his performance, as a little nod to fans.
“I read a few lines in the similar style that you know, Roger would read as Crane. I had a few reads for some special scenarios that are directly inspired from the fun mimetic reads that Roger was able to give,” says Scott, jokingly reassuring me that he isn’t copying Smith, even if people tell him they sound a lot alike.
Aiden Caldwell is Scott’s fourth major video game role, and the first time he’s portrayed the main protagonist of a game. “Aiden is me,” Scott said with conviction, “I’ve been Aiden, since he was a, you know, twinkle in Techland’s eye.”
From very early on in the creation process for Aiden, Scott said he didn’t want the character to just be the kind of “white bread, milquetoast protagonist” he’s played for many years, on the other side of both the microphone and controller. Whilst he does want to pay homage to those types of roles, Scott also wants to bring a “filmic grounded read” to the character, where “it feels almost like a little bit like a comic book, everything’s a little bit more saturated, everything’s a little bit turned up to like 11.”
The characterisation of Aiden thus came out less like a lighthearted Spider-Man and more like a gruff Nightwing, according to Scott. He was able to work with Techland throughout to mold Aiden into the character he thought he should be, not just the one written on the page.
Part of this ongoing creation process came down to balancing Aiden’s character as one who lives in a world that’s collapsed, and as someone who’s been surviving in it for years. According to Scott this was done to make Aiden feel like he’s actually lived in this world, and adapted to it.
“Aiden can’t be all grimdark, because he’s lived in this world for 15 years. This is just how it is for him,” explained Scott. “He’s experienced remorse, and he’s good at watching people die. It’s just something where he’s got to say, you know, “I’ll take my 20 seconds and I gotta move on”. Unless he’s very much attached to the person of course, but this is just how this world works.”
To live in the world of Dying Light 2, Aiden’s also had to adapt in other ways: running across rooftops and doing parkour that could put Mirror’s Edge to shame.
As one might imagine, bringing parkour to life as a voice actor can be difficult. Scott told me that video game voice actors do this by reading a list of exertions and actions they are given on a spreadsheet, doing three slightly different takes for each.
For actions (also called “efforts”) like jumping, climbing, weapon swinging and getting hit there’ll end up being a few versions recorded of the noise the character makes. “I didn’t feel that it was being effective,” says Scott, “and the dialogue editor was feeling the same way.”
To remedy this problem, Scott suggested Techland get two ten minutes videos sent in. One of someone doing parkour, and the other of someone doing combat moves. “Techland would then just show me the video, and we did these 90-second chunks of me just chasing the video, you know, as you would for a film. It was exhausting.”
The idea being that the in-game efforts match real life as closely as possible. Scott and I talked about this, and how having to constantly run, jump, climb and then fight someone to the death can’t really be fully conveyed just with a stamina bar going up and down.
“Do you know how difficult it is to kill somebody?,” added Scott, in a conversational turn I definitely wasn’t expecting. “That’s a rhetorical question, but it’s an incredibly hard, physical, laborious thing to kill somebody. And so after a fight where you’re fighting for your life, you are exhausted, completely drained.”
Only having around three seconds to record an effort makes condensing the emotional and physical weight of the character in the strenuous moments extraordinarily difficult, Scott explained.
It’s these efforts then that Scott is most proud of in his performance, “usually that’s the type of thing you spend the least amount of time and effort on for video games, but I spent the least amount of time and the most effort on my efforts”. In a game like Dying Light 2, the efforts are integral, they sell the fact that the player is not supposed to feel like Aiden is exerting himself, but just know he is.
Along with voice acting, Scott is also a Twitch streamer and YouTuber, and he uses these platforms to interact with fans, play games and pull back the curtain on his profession. Nobody asked him to do any of this, he just wants to share his dream job with people who would be interested to hear what he has to say, and help them understand how games are made.
“I feel like a lot of the public’s commentary on video games is informed of ignorance,” explains Scott. “And it’s not because they don’t know video games, if anybody knows video games, it’s gamers, especially gamers who are younger. It’s just ignorance of the process.
“So that’s why things like the Techland, you know, videos where actors are recording themselves, like recording the actual product, people really engage with that. So I feel like that’s something I can bring as well.
“I’m not this closed off, magic behind the curtain kind of guy, I want you to experience what I do,” Scott adds.
To live up to that promise, Scott’s videos range from quick tips for up and coming voice actors, to whether or not you can actually pet the dog in Dying Light 2.
Don’t worry, you can.
For Jonah Scott, Dying Light 2 is the actualisation of a dream. One that he’s been working towards for years. As soon as he got the role confirmed, Scott bought a Dying Light snapback, and when he went to Poland and met the development team, he got as many of them as he could to sign it. He enthusiastically searched for it when I asked to see it, and made it clear he still can’t believe he’s playing Aiden Caldwell.
“I’m the dude on the cover. It’s kind of wild to think about.”