Peter Dinklage’s voice performance in Destiny as the AI companion Ghost was roundly criticized by fans and critics, some of whom are now singing a different tune.
In August, Destiny fans learned that Peter Dinklage would be replaced as Ghost by Nolan North, a veteran voice actor known widely for his role as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series. Update 2.0.0. for Destiny was released yesterday, and among the changes was Dinklage’s replacement by North. Polygon published yesterday on YouTube a comparison between the performances.
The differences in terms of lines that work and lines that don’t are not pronounced, such that what Destiny fans are taking away from the exercise is less a debate about the quality of the voice work, and more a reminder about the quality of the script.
Dinklage’s voice performance as Ghost was uneven at best. His work may have been doomed to criticism after the infamous line “That wizard came from the moon” was leaked from a playable alpha test, but Dinklage’s Ghost was flat and often sounded disinterested, which led to accusations that Dinklage had phoned the performance in.
Ghost’s existing dialogue is placed mostly within the story campaign of Year One of Destiny, i.e. content that Destiny veterans have long since completed. Update 2.0.0. has converted the original story into quest lines and players can earn experience by returning to those old missions, however, so veterans have a reason to go back and replay the campaign.
Fans on the Destiny subreddit are mixed in their reaction. Popular opinion is that where Dinklage sounded disinterested, Nolan sounds overly earnest, such that some of the lines are as awkward as they ever were.
Blaming Dinklage’s replacement entirely on the quality of his performance doesn’t take into account the logistics of video game production. Dinklage is an even hotter actor now than he was when Destiny was released a year ago, and the quote for Hollywood actors is a constant, upward climb as long as the actor remains popular. Dinkage would arguably cost Bungie more, now, than he did when he was first contracted for the role.
North is also arguably easier for Bungie to get into the studio to record new lines for Destiny expansions in the future. Bungie stated in the run-up to Destiny’s release that it had a ten-year-plan for new content, and unless Ghost is killed off, that will amount to a huge amount of new dialogue to be recorded for years to come.
What feels clear, however is that the commonality between both performances—the script—may have been more responsible for any of Dinklage’s awkwardness than the quality of his voicework. And Nolan’s replacement of Dinklage has brought with it a new interest in the behind-the-scenes story of how Destiny Year One was written, and how massive the changes to its story might have been.
Joseph Staten, the writer and director of cinematics for the Halo series, was also the writer and design director on Destiny before leaving Bungie in September 2013. Conspiracy theories built around pre-release footage and supposed insider disclosures argue that Destiny’s tale of humanity teetering on the brink of extinction had a much darker tone before Staten left the company.
The terms of a recent settlement between Martin O’Donnell, the co-founder of Bungie who composed music for every Bungie release from Myth in 1997 to Destiny, and who was fired from Bungie in April 2014, confirmed the fact that Destiny’s story underwent a massive rewrite shortly before release. In fact, according to details revealed by the settlement agreement and as reported by VentureBeat, Destiny’s story underwent a substantial revision in August 2013, the month before Staten’s departure.
The switch from a darker Ghost to a happier version of the character jives with the fans’ understanding as to how Destiny’s story changed from a dark tone to a more palatable, lighter mood, in the year between Staten’s departure and the release of the game.
Update 2.0.0. has already brought remarkable improvements to some of Destiny’s core systems, and Bungie has promised a renewed focus on narrative. The current Dinklage vs. Nolan debate will likely be eclipsed by interest in the new expansion on Tuesday, and the setting of a new norm where quality of both vocal performance and script are concerned.
Screengrab via destinygame/YouTube