PAX East 2020: A Chat with Felicia Day on The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk

A long way away and long time ago in the distant, magical land of France there was a writer who decided to have a little fun with an audio play.  It was the year 2000, the start of a bright new millennium filled with hope (and a lively Dreamcast, which has nothing to do with this story), and John Lang decided to have a little fun by posting an audio fantasy skit to his website.  The response was strong enough that it led an entire series, first in audio-only format and eventually comics, animation, novels and coming up soon a video game.  The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk (Na-hool (as in ghoul)-book (as in the thing you read)) has come a long way from its start twenty years back and while the property still isn’t well known outside of French-speaking areas due to not being translated yet that’s being primed to change.  The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos is a strategy comedy-RPG coming out this summer and Felicia Day is voicing one of its seven main characters, The Wizardess.  We (Kyle LeClair and I) got a chance to sit down with Felicia Day during the frenzy of PAX East, talking about her work with the game and voice acting in general.

[Hardcore Gamer]  The first question I want to go with is what is your role in the game and what attracted you to the role?

[Felicia Day]  I play the Wizard… Wizardess.  She’s a redhead, adorable little wizard and what attracted me to the role was that it’s a really funny game.  I was actually familiar with Naheulbeuk because I’d released a DVD of The Guild in France and several years ago I went over to do publicity for it and some of the people who were fans of The Guild said “Have you ever heard of this?”  I said “I’ve never heard of it!” and I went home and I downloaded the .MP3s and I was just so… I felt a kinship to the property because the creator did it himself, he just uploaded podcasts essentially before podcasts and made this wonderful phenomenon.  So it’s an honor to be in it; the fandom is so close to the things that I do as well and I feel like it’s a perfect fit.  And the game is just really fun and funny.

Given your past experience in combining humor and RPGs, like with The Guild and given that video games which themselves spoof video games can be a bit hit and miss, do you feel confident with this game’s humor?

Oh for sure!  There’s another game I thought the writing…  I did New Vegas, Fallout New Vegas.

Oh of course!  You played Veronica.

I played Veronica in that and I felt like the writing in that was so strong and very Buffy-esque, and this one is even more broad, it’s kind of like almost a sitcom inside an RPG.  I love that because that is kind of a similar vibe to The Guild, which I wrote, which is combining a lot of humor with kind of the tropes of what we all love and know.

From what I understand the Naheulbeuk series has spanned audio episodes, six books, several graphic novels.  Does it feel a bit daunting to step into a world this big?

Yeah, I think that this game will be a good entry point if you don’t know the actual overarching world, especially if you’re an English speaker.  I think the flavor of it… Once you get in there you realize the tropes and the characters are so vivid that it’ll be easy to get into.  It really isn’t about knowing the world, it’s just knowing the characters and RPGs in general.

Are there any other voice actors or characters in the game right now that you feel your character works particularly well off of?

You know, there are a couple of characters in the cast, essentially.  There’s an ogre who’s kind of like my buddy and then I’m pretty snarky to everybody else.  I think good writing is when you can read the line and you don’t even have to know what the character is, you know who the character is that’s saying that line.  Does that make sense?  If you covered up the name of the character and you read the line you’d know who said that line.  So this script is very much like that.  You know a line of the Ranger, you know how the Wizard would react versus the Elf.  So that’s always an example of good writing and I think this game definitely has that.

Have you gotten any time to play as your character and how well do you think they do in the game?

I haven’t been able to get my hands on the demo.  I think they’re just premiering it today (ed. note- this was 10AM Thursday, the first day of the show and the floor had just opened) at PAX East, but I have seen gameplay and it’s really nice, it’s very appealing.  It’s really colorful, it kind of reminds me when I first got into WoW, it has those like… vivid fun colors inside a fantasy world.

(At this point the game developer shows up unexpectedly, so we take the opportunity to throw him a question or two.)

What would be your description of the game?

[Nicolas Dejeans] The game is a technicolor RPG, very wacky RPG, where you play a fellowship of seven clumsy characters, and they enter the Dungeon of Naheulbeuk looking for a really precious statuette.  The dungeon is mostly hostile but like a small living world.  You have people working in it like guards and they complain about the wages, you have a tavern, you have a dedicated floor to torture, and you have a depressed executioner who has lost faith in his job.  That’s the kind of crazy character you are going to meet in the dungeon.

Given that the game is originally a French RPG and that it spoofs video game tropes, which have had some difficulty in video games themselves, do you feel that there’s a bit of a barrier?  Is there any challenge in getting humor worldwide?

Yes, the challenge was to open the game to the Anglo-Saxon market, in fact, and I think voice acting is the best way to open it at first, and then we will rely on the quality of the game itself.  But to make an appeal I think we need the voice acting, the quality of the English voice acting is very outstanding.

(At this point Kyle, who’s asked all the questions so far, switches over to playing the game with the developer and I switch in, picking back up with Felicia Day.  It took a minute because she saw her character for the first time on the banner behind us and had to get a selfie, which you can see in the header image to this feature.)

When I was looking you up on IMDB to make sure I had smart questions to ask I was kind of blown away by the sheer volume.  I didn’t realize it was quite that much.  You’re busy!

I am a busy person!  I like to do lots of different things so I just can’t stop.

Felica Day’s Guild Wars 2 character, Zojja.

This is not your first video game but you’ve also done a lot of voice acting in other cartoons and such, and of course regular acting in a whole lot of TV shows and movies as well.  How do you find video game acting?  Does it differ substantially from cartoon voice acting, for example? 

It’s more of a stamina game.  When I do a voice-over for a cartoon it’s usually one four-hour session at most, usually it’s an hour or two, but for a video game it’s a week at least, you know?  So you’re recording like five hours a day for five days in a row, that’s what I did for this game and it’s just a lot of lines.  For this one it was particularly challenging because I was dubbing over the French version, so I needed to fit my lines in the time the French person would say the line.  So not only did I have to perform well, but I had to do it within a very narrow time-frame.  So it would be like “Oh no, faster!  No, slower!  Now faster, now slower.” and so that was a little bit challenging, but it’s amazing, you just get used to it.  I consider myself very good at dubbing now. (laughs)

So they had the translation ready for you and you had to figure out ways to stretch out or compress what you were saying to fit the time?

Yeah, so when we were recording the Pro Tools would show the length of the recording in the Pro Tools for the French version.  So I would look at that and try to fit my performance of the line, and sometimes we’d have to re-translate it or like cut words out, so it was really a creative process all the time.

Ok, so that was pretty much my next question.  Did you have to do any editing on the fly, but have that covered.

I didn’t have to do it; it was not my job.  The director and I did have to edit words.  Sometimes the translation wasn’t like very smooth, but for the most part everything was really wonderful and it made me laugh.  A  lot of the lines are very funny.

You basically seem to be a fan of… I won’t say everything but a decent amount.  I’ve seen you in Guild Wars, I saw you in Fallout: New Vegas, and now Dungeon of Naheulbeuk.  Are there any other games you’ve been wanting to get your hand in on?

Oh boy!  I mean I’d love to be in one of those big, sprawling Naughty Dog games.  I’d love to do a voice in WoW, I’ve never been asked to do anything in WoW.  It’s a little disappointing!  They have a lot of voices, so… It’s never happened.  I haven’t really taken voice-over as seriously in the past, it was more just people knowing who I was, but now I really do study it.  I do it on a daily or weekly basis, I’m fishing for things, and working, so it’s become a passion for me.

How do you divide your time up between voice acting and regular acting, on-screen acting?

You know, I recently had a baby a couple years ago so my schedule doesn’t permit me to travel as much so voice acting really filled the void where I was kind of cutting back.  So now I’m doing a little bit more live-action acting.  The great thing about voice acting is it’s very flexible; if you can’t record with the other actors they can just find another time.  They don’t have to have the sets ready.  It’s not as much of a to-do, so it’s a lot more flexible.

Do you find it more natural when voice acting to record with other actors present or do you just get by singly and it’s ok?  Do you find a major difference in that?

I think there is an advantage when you’re kind of working off other actors.  There’s a cartoon that I’m on now where we group-record.  But again, sometimes people just aren’t there and people have to kind of read in.  I don’t think there’s a big difference because the director knows how people are reading lines, and they always have the producer there, and they kind of know what to do.  I don’t think it’s that big a difference; it’s more fun a little bit when you’re working off other people.  Also, when you’re working alone you kind of get to do it over and over again, so it’s almost like an advantage there.

Ok, and I think that kind of fills in my questions.  That was really interesting, thank you!

Thank you very much!

While this was the end of the interview there was still time left before the next appointment, and rather than walk off we sat and chatted for another five minutes.  Felicia Day was only in town until the evening and her schedule was booked but you could see the show floor calling to her.  I really hope she was able to sneak away for a while and look around.  Her enthusiasm for everything was obvious, and I’ve no doubt she’d have had a blast checking out everything the convention hall had to offer.