Tin Hearts is the latest release from developers Rogue Sun, and if you like your games puzzle-packed and tear-jerking, it’s one for you. Set in a richly-decorated Victorian home, you play as a troop of toy soldiers on a mission to uncover the personal history of their genius inventor, Albert J. Butterworth. It’s short ’n sweet ’n wholesome – a palette-cleanser of sorts to the recent re-releases of Far Cry and Resident Evil.
Christopher Tester is a London-based voice-over actor, if not known for his astounding 14 One Voice Award nominations, then certainly for his series of viral TikTok videos (seriously, if you haven’t seen these, do yourself a solid and check them out).
We sat down with Chris to talk about the enduring appeal of Zelda, his journey to voice-over, and voicing Tin Hearts’ visionary Butterworth.
Tin Hearts – Chris Tester
TAHLIA: I read you grew up an enthusiastic gamer – starting way back with a ZX Spectrum. Are there any games that have had a particularly profound influence on you?
CHRIS: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That was a huge one because it was the first time I felt that there was a whole world. It was so expansive. That was kind of a revelation to me. It also packed quite an emotional punch in places. It wasn’t all just, ‘How cool are the graphics!’ or, ‘Can you do a 12-hit combo on Street Fighter?’ – which is another of my loves.
It was also the first game – although it was a one-player experience – that I could actually talk to people in the school playground about. I can remember a time when knowing stuff about Ecco the Dolphin and Sonic the Hedgehog wasn’t necessarily cool.
TAHLIA: You graduated from the prestigious Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and then worked mainly in theatre. How did voice-over enter the picture?
CHRIS: Grand Theft Auto IV had just been released by the time I was graduating, and there was this sudden realisation of more open-world gaming – things like the Fallout series, The Elder Scrolls series… These huge worlds where it wasn’t just emotes that were being required. But I still had no idea about how to get involved in it. I think we had about three hours of voice-over training over three years at drama school. We were introduced to a microphone and told, ‘Don’t shout too loudly’. That was about it. It’s improved somewhat since then, but that’s all we got.
My first video game [audition] was for Dark Souls II. I read for a half man, half scorpion, and I remember spending vast quantities of time thinking, ‘I’ve done all this animal study training [at drama school]. What does a half man, half scorpion sound like?’ It wasn’t for a mo-cap role, but I thought about all this crazy physicality. I did one line, and they went, ‘No, no. We just want them to sound like you’. And that’s how my journey started.
TAHLIA: How did Tin Hearts come along?
CHRIS: Tin Hearts has literally spanned the entirety of my purely voice-acting career. I first auditioned for it back in 2017. At that stage, I’d decided to quit my resting job working in a Box Office on a zero-hour contract – because that’s what actors do – and go all in on the voice-over.
Ally Murphy, a wonderful voice actor now based in the US, was already on board to play the protagonist’s wife. They were looking to build the cast through recommendations, which is actually a huge thing in voice acting work that sounds a little crazy coming from ‘straight’ acting because opportunities are so sparse.
It was very stop/start, but we did some mo-cap – myself, Ally, and one of the child actors – which was great, and then the money ran out, and it went to sleep. Two years later, it came back on. They released the first chapter in a kind of short form that sat on Steam. Then they found another publisher for it and were like, ‘Okay, we can actually, finally actualise the entire rest of the game’. It’s been a really fascinating experience.
TAHLIA: Wow… Aside from the stop/start process, did this job present any unique challenges to you as a performer?
CHRIS: It proved a challenge in different ways because we worked in person, remotely with live direction, and purely remotely with no feedback. And so for me, [Tin Hearts] actually marks my journey from being an actor where it’s all about being in rehearsal and being super collaborative to now being more self-sufficient. I don’t struggle in the way I used to where I felt that I needed that feedback.
[Tin Hearts] was also my very first time in a mo-cap suit. So that was a big thing. You can’t get any more in the moment than when you’re in mo-cap suits with another actor and a child actor, all having met each other an hour ago, and you’ve now got to do a couple of key scenes – making sure that your physicality is big enough so that the balls you’re covered in can be read at the same time.
TAHLIA: Do you remember what it was about the story or character that initially drew you to the project?
CHRIS: Two things. First of all, in terms of the character, the first audition scene was one where Albert finds a letter from a doctor about his wife’s condition and then confronts her about it. For me, that immediately chimed because it was very much a scene that could have been in a play or film, as opposed to the vast majority of stuff I’ve been given with video games, which is telling people to go to a place on the map, or subtly giving some background information which might go on a little too long. There was an aspect of, ‘This is a real scene about real people trying to overcome something that’s potentially really heavy’. It was very human and very sensitive in the writing.
Then the other extreme is the actual mechanics of the game. When they were explained, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s Lemmings! I love Lemmings!’ I mean, radically different iconography and everything, but that same type of puzzler which has a distinct personality and uses the environment as an essential tool. It sounded like a game I might actually want to play.
TAHLIA: Lemmings! What a throwback! What’s a piece of advice you’ve received during your career that you still carry with you today?
CHRIS: Get good at going in [to auditions and recording sessions] cold. Get good at improvisation and just taking the moment and running with it. The vast majority of the time – at least 50% of the games I work with – I get the script at the beginning of the session, and that’s it. You can ask some questions to begin with, but the clock is ticking, darling. You need to be able to make strong, instinctive choices right from the get-go. It’s that cliché we all hear, but it’s true: make the big choice because you can always be reined back in.
Tin Hearts is now available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.
Special thanks to Chris for his time. You can follow Chris and his work on TikTok and Instagram.