My wife likes Randy Hahn. In fact, she's a big fan of Hahn and Drew Remenda--who together are the television voices of the San Jose Sharks. She's such a fan, in fact, that she'll sit there and watch a Sharks game with me, even though she's about as big a fan of hockey as I am of The Rachel Ray Show. I related this fact to Hahn during a recent interview in promotion of 2K Sports hockey game NHL 2K10--released today for Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii--for which Hahn and Remenda returned to provide announcing duties.
"[San Jose is] one of those markets where, for whatever reason, our female fan base is really high. I think almost forty percent of Sharks season ticket holders are women, or at least the season ticket account involves a woman that goes all the time."
Hahn should know. He's been with the Sharks for more than 15 years and, before that, helped to bring the NHL to the Bay Area with a grassroots, non-profit organization known as Pro Hockey San Jose. He's also used to broadcasting in cold climates--before his long career working with clubs like the Sharks, L.A. Kings, Vancouver Canucks, and Edmonton Oilers, one of Hahn's first broadcasting gigs was a dogsled race in Whitehorse, located in Canada's Yukon Territory.
"I was going to high school there, and my family lived there. There [is] a winter carnival there every February called 'Sourdough Rendezvous.' One of the main events of the carnival… is a dog-sled race on the Yukon River. And you know, at that time of the year, it could quite easily be 25, 30 below zero. This is cold winter racing on frozen ice.
"My job was to be the sort of the mid-course color commentator. They positioned me up on this bluff overlooking the river valley, and I had binoculars, and my color commentator was a local Native Indian chief, who apparently had some good dogsled knowledge.
"And, you know, I'd basically say, 'And there comes Number 6 with Joe Martin mushing the dogs.' And then he'd say, 'Yeah, that dog Number 6, Sparky, she really eats well."I don't know whatever he said. And so this was my first gig of any kind doing sports. And my good friend Bob Miller who's the Hall of Fame Play-by-Play voice of the Los Angeles Kings, he said it wasn't 'play-by-play.' It was 'paw-by-paw.' That's where I started, and I figured it could only get better from here.
Hahn is no stranger to videogames either, as I found out during my interview.
GameSpot: You and Drew were in NHL 2K9. Can you tell me about how you guys came together with 2K Sports?
Randy Hahn: We were actually approached through an agency, through Creative Arts [Agency]. I think it was CAA in New York, and they contacted us individually to ask us if we were interested in being involved in the game. It wasn't my first video game experience. I had done some others. We expressed interest. Then it was explained what would be required, and then negotiation, and then we actually signed on to do the game. So, that's how it came about.
GS: I didn't know that you had done games before. Had you been in hockey games previously?
RH: Yes. You'll recall Blades of Steel?
GS: Oh, yes, yes.
RH: Which, when it came out in 1999, was actually a resurrection of the old [game for] the original Nintendo. It was like those big, fat players and the big fat puck. But it was always popular because I think it was the first hockey game where you could body check. And that would go back to the early 1990s, and then they resurrected it in 1999. It was Konami, which I think was at one point the ESPN games people. But anyway, they did NHL Blades of Steel 1999, and they hired me to voice that. And that was back in the day when you had to track it. At that time we did it for the original Sony PlayStation and N64. [The PlayStation game was] on disc at that time, and N64 was still on that cartridge, the memory capacity for PlayStation was so much greater that we had to track it in two completely different ways.
GS: Oh, no kidding.
RH: So, we had to track it for N64 in kind of choppy, very quickly read sentences because they had memory capacity issues, whereas Sony PlayStation wanted me to take my time in my calls and put more content in. So, I think the way it worked it was… the first two days we did N64 and then for the next three days after that we did PlayStation. But it still only took five days. And now you compare that to [now] I think, when we did NHL 2K9, I ended up spending awfully close to 120 hours in the studio, and that usually averaged about five hours a day of actual recording. So, I mean, it's just changed so much from when I did that Blades of Steel game.
Then I did FIFA 2000 for EA [Note: Hahn also has soccer broadcasting experience, having called games for ABC and ESPN during the 1994 World Cup]. There may have been one somewhere in between, right around that time. But, yeah, the one for Konami and then the one for EA.
GS: One hundred and twenty hours. That's almost like a full-time job in the off-season.
RH: Yeah. It was. You know, when you start out on a project like this, you're really pumped up and you're really excited, and then about 88 hours in, you're going, "What the hell did I get myself into?" There's a certain amount of the recording process that's just tedious. I mean, you have to recite name after name after name, scenario after scenario in just a slightly different way so that for gameplay it's not repetitive. I mean, that's the most frustrating thing I think for a player is to have a favorite game but constantly hear the same commentary. I mean, at some point you want to mute it because you're tired of hearing the same thing over.
GS: Yeah, exactly.
RH: To get around that obviously you have to change it up and have all the different permutations of the different scenarios. And then the other element, which makes it great for the player too is, you know, in a sport like hockey, everybody knows that the playoffs are more intense than the regular season. So, the commentary for a playoff game has to be more intense than the commentary for a regular season game. That has to be reflected in the way you voice the game too.
So, a lot of things had to be done in two different levels of intensity. And to some degree we even did them at three levels of intensity because there's a Stanley Cup Championship mode in the game, which obviously is the ultimate for the game player, and so you want special levels of enthusiasm and overtime goals or penalty shots. For the average person out there that's playing the game or doesn't know how all this comes together, there's a lot to it.
GS: What's it like working with Drew Remenda in this context? How much of the dialogue that you do in the game is scripted and how much is sort of improvised between the two of you?
RH: Well, as far as the parts of the game where Drew and I interact, those were the best days in the studio, because now you have somebody to play off. There's ad-libbing. You goof around and the producer and the audio engineer both like what you just did, and it might end up in the game. They've always been really good here in encouraging a lot of that because you want that natural byplay that comes between a play-by-play and a color guy.
It was, in some ways, very similar to when we work a game. I mean, I always say my best two-and-half-hours of the day are when the game is on because Drew and I are working together, we're interacting. I mean, he's really quick and clever--I'm not tootin' our horn too loud to say that we have some pretty good chemistry, and you know that's what you hope comes into the game. And usually that comes into the game when you ad lib.
So, I would say it was 60/40 or maybe 70/30 in favor of scripted, but we still got a lot of ad-lib material in there as well. Until I actually play 2K10 myself, I won't be sure what actually made the final cut as far as the ad-lib, but I know they've always tried to put in as much as they could. There's also a mode in the game, I think it's a pause mode or if you just walk away from the controls for a while, where we start taking e-mails from the viewers.
GS: Oh, cool.
RH: And those are some of the best ad-libbed parts of the game, because we have to answer these e-mails or these letters, and some of our answers are pretty funny because we were just goofin' on that, and you know we were even making up the questions. So, some of that stuff is embedded there.
GS: I'm going to have to listen for that. That sounds like fun. It sounds like you're a big game fan. Can you tell me about your experience with videogames?
RH: Well, you know, when you have a 16- and a 14-year-old son in your house, you're going to be exposed to a lot of that stuff. But you know, it even goes back to that original Nintendo. I bought one of those back… sometime in the late '80s maybe, or whenever it came out. It was such a cool, neat thing to be able to bring Pong into your own home. That's how far back I go, so I'm dating myself. Or sitting in a bar playing Donkey Kong on one of those smoked glass tabletops, because that's the only place that the game was. So, I go back to those kind of things when it came out.
So my kids were kind of born into where video games were--when they were old enough, they were already there. For me, it all sort of was invented and marketed in my lifetime, so it's kind of cool to think back to. We thought Pong was such a great big deal to be able to play a video game like that. I was always somewhat into it, and now with my kids we play all the time. I mean, they kick my ass. That's the disappointing thing. You know, my reaction and my twitch muscles aren't what they used to be. There's a couple, like [Wii Sports] bowling right now--I'm very strong on Wii bowling--and they haven't quite caught up to me on that, but it's only a matter of time.
GS: You've got to take your victories where you can.
RH: Oh, exactly. I mean, that's not a glamorous sport, you know. The Wii bowling Hall of Fame--that's not going to get me many kudos. But like you said, you got to take it where you can.
GS: Did you have broadcasting heroes as you were coming up?
RH: Oh, you know, I definitely did. Growing up in Canada, which, I lived in Canada until 1982, your broadcast heroes tend to be the ones that are Hockey Night in Canada. And for me, that was Danny Gallivan, who was the voice of Hockey Night in Canada when I was there. And then when I got my first radio job in a big market--I was in Vancouver--Jim Robson, who for almost forty years was the voice of the Vancouver Canucks; I got to work in the same studio as him and listen to him and learn from him.
And interestingly but Jim Hughson, who has now become the primary voice for Hockey Night in Canada, he and I worked at CKNW in Vancouver at exactly the same time, and he was just kind of breaking into his first big radio station, and so was I. We both worked there at the same time, and we had some involvement in the Canuck broadcasts doing interviews and things like that. And of course, he would later go on to broadcast the Canucks. I ended up going on to the Sharks, and now he's at Hockey Night in Canada. [Note: Hughson has videogame experience too, having served as the play-by-play voice of EA's NHL series].
GS: Okay, final question: Do you have a favorite San Jose Sharks player, either present or past, to interview or interact with?
RH: One of my favorites, without a doubt, would be [former Detroit Red Wings and Sharks center] Igor Larionov, one of the classiest guys I've ever met. [He is] one of the most forthcoming as far as talking about the game, talking about his history of leaving Russia and how tough it was growing up playing for the Central Red Army and playing for [former Soviet Olympic Hockey coach] Viktor Tikhonov, the authoritarian coach there and how secluded they were from their families and treated like dogs and dirt even though they winning gold medals for their country.
I love talking to Igor and he's so eclectic. He has a little winery. He loves talking about soccer, and I'm a former World Cup broadcaster as well, so we always had that interest in soccer. And the other one would be [former NHL center] Jamie Baker, who's our radio color commentator now and still has, in my mind, scored the biggest goal in Shark's franchise history in 1994--the winning goal in Game 7 at Detroit when the Sharks were the eighth seat and they knocked off number one. That was a great memory, and Jamie's continued to be a friend, and now he's a colleague. Those would be two of the favorites of all time for sure.
GS: Thanks for your time, Randy.