The decision to axe Michael Ironside as the voice of Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell: Blacklist in favour of Eric Johnson has been controversial to say the least, but creative director Maxime Béland has reiterated that the veteran actor simply wouldn't have been able to bring enough physicality to the performance capture.
Performance capture simultaneously records movement, facial expressions and dialogue in order to tie performances together. It's increasingly used in videogames, but requires actors to be able to physically go through the motions as well as read their lines.
"Basically, before we would use motion capture," Béland explained to IGN. "So we would hire an actor to play the body of Sam. Then we would have Michael Ironside play the voice of Sam, and then we would have animators animate the facial of Sam. So you kind of had this thing where you have three performers - you had Michael Ironside for the voice, the animator that's doing the performance for the face and then you had another body performer.
"So on Blacklist we knew that we wanted to raise the bar of our scripted events, of our cinematics, and to do that we knew we had to go to performance capture. The difference between motion capture and performance capture is that with performance capture, you're capturing everything at the same time. So we had one actor doing the body, the voice and the face. We have a camera that's recording all the facial animations so right there, because you're capturing a true actor's performance, and the level of quality is raised instantly.
"The problem that we faced was that we needed someone to play Sam that was not only the voice but also had the physicality that Sam Fisher has. That's why we had to go with an actor that was able to do that, so we found Eric Johnson."
Similarly, Grim has also been replaced by a new actor, but you don't see anyone complaining about that.
I recently got hands-on with the first two hours of Splinter Cell: Blacklist along with the Spies vs Mercs multiplayer mode - and yes, the lack of Ironside's charisma does take more than a little getting used to. We'll have some detailed impressions for you next week ahead of its launch next month on PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U.