Interview: Back 4 Blood's Simon Mackenzie & Barbara Crampton

WB Games and Turtle Rock Studios are on the verge of releasing Back 4 Blood, as the game is set to be released for PC and console on October 12th. Ahead of the game's release, we got a chance to chat with a couple of people involved with the project, as we chatted with the Lead Writer for Turtle Rock Studios, Simon Mackenzie, and voice actress Barbara Crampton who is the voice of Mom in the game. Plus, you can check out the latest trailer for the game down at the bottom.

Back 4 Blood interview
Photos courtesy of WB Games

Bleeding Cool: Hey everyone! First off, how are you and how have things been going for all of you during the pandemic?

Simon Mackenzie: Pretty good surprisingly, though it was strange writing a game about a killer pandemic during a killer pandemic. The one small mercy, no Ridden!

Barbara Crampton: None of my family or friends have had a severe bout of Covid and pretty much everyone I know is vaccinated so we are getting along ok. In addition to doing the VO work for the character of Mom in Back 4 Blood, I filmed three other projects and released a movie as a producer, so I've actually been surprisingly busy during the pandemic. My youngest just went off to college, so I'll also add empty-nester to my resume.

What was the process like in writing up the story behind Back 4 Blood to make it both familiar but brand new?

SM: [Back 4 Blood] is very action-focused as anyone who's played so far can attest, so the plan was always to have great dynamic characters that spoke to the situation and appealed to the player. I really drilled down into who these people are and what they are fighting for.

Back 4 Blood interview
Credit: WB Games

What are some of the nuances you've thrown into the mix that make Back 4 Blood feel original?

SM: A lot of the zombie genre deals with a ragtag group of survivors always on the run, beaten down not just by the infected, but by the world and other survivors. From day one we wanted our Cleaners to stand tall and take the fight to the Ridden. It's a grim situation but they meet it with a sense of purpose and hope.

What was the process like in making these characters and helping find their personalities within this world?

SM: All our Cleaners are fighters and not just in the carry the gun sense. Whether it was during the collapse or when the world was what it was, they have persevered and triumphed over adversity. The world has made them tough and they're not going to let it bring them down.

Back 4 Blood interview
Credit: WB Games

Barbara, how was it for you to hone in on the right voice to fit Mom and her style?

BC: It was a combination of things. First of all, I received a very well-written character description of Mom with some history and backstory on her from Simon Mackenzie, the lead writer. There were some key elements that I won't reveal yet which helped me tune in to the bigger picture of who she is. She's been through a personal crisis and now a war on civilization and I thought she should have a well-worn deeper voice than my own. I also decided she smoked until just recently, it's difficult to find cigarettes during an apocalypse! So, her voice needed to be grizzled.

She's not only a real mom, but a sort of mentor figure for all the Cleaners and she needs to be forceful, commanding yet calm. When I put all those thoughts through my brain something happened vocally. She's from Kansas and is completely foul-mouthed. I added in a hint of neighboring Oklahoma for fun. They have a bit more of an accent in that state and I thought the swearing would sound cooler that way, thinking perhaps she came from Southern Kansas! For a visual in my mind, I thought of Linda Hamilton in The Terminator who as Sarah Conner is both tough and smart and has lived a hard life with a strong vision and mission. I believe it was my second recording session, when the game developers showed me some artwork for Mom, and then wow, it all came together with a bang!

Back 4 Blood interview
Credit: WB Games

What were your sessions like recording her lines and helping define the character?

BC: There were a lot of recording sessions for the entirety of [Back 4 Blood] and we had time to play around the first couple of times working together. We talked a lot in between line recordings about Mom's history and how she feels about all the other Cleaners, the world she finds herself in, fighting the Ridden and fighting for mankind. I was surprised and delighted at how deeply defined Simon had made all the characters. Since this is my first video game, there were a lot of things I learned very quickly. "Efforts" for climbing up a hill or out of a hole or pulling someone out of a ditch all should sound different. A blow to the head or stomach or a fall to the ground all have different sounds vocally. On a few occasions, we had a sound engineer on audio giving me a crash course in sound diversity, and I can say unequivocally, it is quite thrilling to work on sounds and efforts alone without thinking [about] what your body is doing.

I did a lot of vocalizations for getting hit, pushed around, and fighting back hard and forcefully in various threatening situations. The Cleaners have a lot of weapons and ways to engage in combat and using different bits of arsenal gave way to different feelings and tones while imagining using them. I enjoyed being in the recording booth and actively miming my body doing exactly what Mom would be doing and also hearing what sounds from my own voice would just happen in the moment. Some lines for character moments we really worked hard on to get just right, some just came out spontaneously. There was a lot of surprise and laughter during our time recording Mom. She has some of the best one-liners. Mom is tough and a badass and definitely the bravest character I've ever played. I'm excited for everyone to finally experience her in Back 4 Blood.

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About Gavin Sheehan

Gavin is the current Games Editor for Bleeding Cool. He has been a lifelong geek who can chat with you about comics, television, video games, and even pro wrestling. He can also teach you how to play Star Trek chess, be your Mercy on Overwatch, recommend random cool music, and goes rogue in D&D. He also enjoys hundreds of other geeky things that can't be covered in a single paragraph. Follow @TheGavinSheehan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vero, for random pictures and musings.
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