One of the most pleasant surprises of E3 week earlier this month was bumping into Jamie Gray Hyder in the halls. Killzone fans should find that name familiar – she played one of Shadow Fall’s stand-out characters: half-Vektan/half-Helghast intelligence operative Echo.
With co-op expansion Intercept out this week on PS4, we took the opportunity to sit down for a quick chat with the actress (who you might also recognise from her time on True Blood, as werewolf Danielle) and Game Director Steven ter Heide.
How did you first get involved with Killzone Shadow Fall?
Jamie Gray Hyder: I auditioned like I would for film or TV. I did my scene knowing I needed to focus on physicality – they called me back and it turned out we were on the same page about what Echo was going to be, so we got to work.
Steven ter Heide: The filming was out in LA and the director we hooked up with said, “We’ve had this amazing performance. Unfortunately she’s under the weather but she really wants the part and we think she’s perfect.” The character is strong – she has to stand up to the protagonist, but at the same time needs to have emotional depth. It’s a difficult character to play and we really needed to have a strong lead. The director said we had to see this person, so we waited, and the moment she stepped in we were like, “Yeah, this is going to work.” She had exactly the presence and energy we needed.
This was your first experience with motion capture – how did you find it?
Jamie Gray Hyder: There’s so much technical stuff you have to be aware of but Tom, the mo-cap director, really focused on making sure it was an honest performance and that the actors were doing everything with integrity. We approached it like we were doing a stage production – we warmed up together every day and ran through our lines. And I also did a few weeks of stunt, fight and weapon training to make sure I had the physicality down. That was one of my favourite parts of preparation for shooting!
What about that suit? Does it inhibit your ability to turn in a believable performance?
Jamie Gray Hyder: You’ve got a camera strapped to your head one inch from your face, and you’re wired up to a mic, and you’ve got this suit on, and you’re trying to be aware of the little boxes on the ground… it requires so much focus and it’s really hard work physically, but I enjoyed both those aspects of it.
All of the visuals given to us by the studio definitely helped us understand our characters. It does take a lot of imagination, and that’s why it’s so similar to stage acting for me. You don’t have a costume or a set, so you have to develop a full character in your mind in order to take this giant empty studio space and really make a universe in there for them to live in.
And it’s your first time appearing in a video game. How did you find the experience?
Jamie Gray Hyder: I think it’s such an interesting avenue for actors these days. There wasn’t so much focus on the cinematic aspects of games in the past but now they’re bringing in proper actors as the story is so important. I was really surprised to find out how much integrity there was in the acting and that the performance is so important to the success of the game. I can’t wait to do another one!
Tell us what it was like seeing yourself in the finished game for the first time.
Jamie Gray Hyder: It’s crazy because everything is so compartmentalised in the process. You do face and body scanning one week, then you do motion capture for a few weeks, then you go and do your voice-over work, and all the while the game developers are off doing their own magic to create this world. It’s not like film or TV where you get to see ‘dailies’ of what you did that day. Seeing it all come together at the end is incredible.
Echo has become a real fan favourite – why do you think she’s got such a following?
Jamie Gray Hyder: Her strength and her resolute nature. She knows what she’s there to do; there’s no confusion. In a world with so much chaos going on, she’s totally focussed. For me, that was such an important part of the character. She’s on a mission and it didn’t matter what was going on around her – she’s a lone wolf.
I’m so glad Echo was so well received, especially when there aren’t a whole lot of strong female characters in games these days. It’s great to be able to set a precedent like that, and to have gamers respond so positively was awesome to see.
She puts in an appearance in co-op expansion Killzone Shadow Fall Intercept too. What’s her role there?
Steven ter Heide: We’ve been listening to the community and seeing what they’ve been asking for and co-op is one of the big ticket items that we really wanted to deliver. The experience is completely different both from the competitive nature of online versus the single play experience which is carried by the drama and the performances. Co-op sits in between.
One thing that immediately came to mind when we started development was that we needed to bring back some of the strong characters that we had in the single player campaign, such as Echo. They appear as boss characters in Intercept. We’ve created an AI commander in the background that strategizes based on how your team is performing. It can throw different types of troops onto the battlefield and issue different orders so the game is continually changing. Then, when the tide really needs to turn, it can throw in one of these boss characters, which is where Echo comes in.