One Hell(bender) of a Woman!

by Anne Doyle

Going from the Magic School Bus to one of Microsoft's most popular action games was a cinch for Alex Shapiro. That school bus got her foot in the door at Microsoft in their "Kids Group." Now, three years later, she's a member of the Action/Adventure/Strategy Group team and that suits her just fine. Working on Hellbender proved to be an eventful experience she'll not soon forget.

"I worked with writer Geof Miller pretty closely on Hellbender--casting voices, making script changes, and suggesting art changes for the animated sequences," Shapiro says.

When it came time to find voices for the characters of the game, marketing guru Chris DiCesare suggested Gillian Anderson. She seemed to have the perfect voice and attitude--a mix of sexy intelligence and appealing to the same audience as her popular TV series, The X- Files.

"We wanted to use her in the storyline originally," Shapiro notes, "but it had been recorded already, so to have her in the game, we developed EVE (Enhanced Virtual Entity), the on-board computer that the main character could interact with."

Shapiro and the rest of her team bit their nails as they anxiously awaited Gillian Anderson's answer. When Anderson did reply, her first remark was, "Are you sure you don't want Pamela Anderson?"

Everyone had a good laugh over this, especially after Anderson said yes, she'd love to be EVE. The character of EVE was busily written into the game's script. Team members had to play the game from start to finish for over 50 hours to get the target names correct so that Anderson, as EVE, would know what she was describing as she read the script. In Anderson's words, the character of EVE is described like this: "As the Hellbender pilots battle through the game, EVE is the player's companion and tells the player the status of their craft and what they've destroyed and when they've completed a mission or an objective. She's like a co-pilot, I guess in a way, a vocal co-pilot."

Shapiro and some of the other team members flew to Vancouver, British Columbia to record Anderson's part in the game.

"Although we only spent two hours with her, it was comfortable, yet professional on a fun level," Shapiro says.

Anderson likes to work early, so recording began at 6:00 a.m. While waiting for Anderson, Shapiro and another team member showed the sound engineer Hellbender and even played it for him so that he could see all the cool graphics and action. Anderson walked into the room quietly while they were playing the game.

"Looks like you guys are having fun. It must be a good game!" Anderson said with a huge smile on her face.

"We were kind of embarrassed, but she was truly interested in the game," Shapiro remembers. "We played around with voices. We wanted something sexy, cool and smart, yet it had to be distant-sounding. When we found the voice we liked, Gillian began reading the script. She didn't flub up at all and was absolutely great!"

After the recording session, Shapiro shyly asked Anderson if she'd autograph some postcards and glossy photos for her. Anderson graciously signed them, putting Shapiro at ease with her warmth.

"When we left there, I thought to myself, 'I'd like to know [Anderson] as a friend,'" Shapiro says.

Anderson, on a recent online chat, related a humorous incident: "I was at a party the other night and someone walked up to me and said, ‘Hey! I bought this computer game today and I was playing, and I was thinking, 'Who is this voice?' and I looked on the box and it was you!' It was so wild because I had just received my own copy of Hellbender that day and it was so wild to meet somebody I'd never met before who heard my name through a video game! It's pretty cool."

Cool, indeed! Hellbender has done well both in sales and popularity, which means if there is a Hellbender 2, Microsoft would like to try to get Gillian Anderson back to play EVE once again.

If that happens, not only do I hope to get to review the game, I also expect an autographed photo of Anderson and Shapiro standing next to each other. Hear me, Alex?

Read a review of Hellbender by Anne Doyle

Anne Doyle is a regular contributor to Compute. Visit her web site at Shiba Hill.

Return to Compute Me Reviews main page