Gaming

Laura Bailey talks Starfinder, Amazon's sci-fi mashup of audiobooks and RPGs

"People are realizing that nerdy things are fun. Everybody's a nerd for something."

Laura Bailey has loaned her voice to almost every major franchise out there, from Marvel's Avengers to Dragon Ball. But one of her most impressive feats is making 20-sided dice cool. Since 2015, Bailey's been part of the super-popular webseries Critical Role, which features a group of professional voice actors — including Bailey's husband Travis Willingham and Last of Us Part II co-star Ashley Johnson — playing Dungeons & Dragons.

She's recently drawn loads of attention — some of it, unfortunately, unwelcome — for her portrayal of Abby in the critically acclaimed PS4 game The Last of Us Part II. Bailey's latest project, Starfinder, marks a return to the role-playing scene she's helped to popularize. It's a multi-part interactive audio adventure game for Amazon Alexa devices, which transports players to a futuristic science-fantasy world. You'll choose from one of six characters, interact with a voice cast of more than a dozen actors — including Bailey and Nathan Fillion of Castle and Firefly — and make decisions that will determine all the unique twists and turns of a 13-hour story.

The pilot and episodes 1 to 3 of Starfinder are now available on any Alexa-enabled device.Amazon

You don't need a bunch of supplies, or even a willing group of friends. All you need is an Alexa device and your voice to advance the story. Bailey tells Inverse it's a mashup between audiobooks and tabletop role-playing — no previous experience required.

"People are so interested in coming back to an intimate interaction with friends right now. That's what RPG's can do — it gives people the opportunity to have a group experience, or even just a one-on-one experience with a friend, that is mutual and imaginative," she explains. "A lot of the barriers that people have found with things that are quote-unquote nerdy are breaking down. People are realizing that nerdy things are fun. Everybody's a nerd for something."

More and more users are turning to Alexa as a source of entertainment as well as information, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Amazon says engagement on Alexa has nearly quadrupled over the last two years, with more than 100,000 skills available.

"I am excited about this new take on entertainment. Voice command has become such a normal thing for us now as far as task-oriented things, and it's exciting to be able to use it for entertainment now," Bailey tells Inverse. "I think this game will be one of many."

Bailey and Travis Willingham participate in the Puerto Rico Comic Con at Puerto Rico Convention Center on May 21, 2016.Gladys Vega/WireImage/Getty Images

The entertainment industry has been forced to get creative amid the public health crisis, and Starfinder's a testament to that ingenuity. Bailey says all her dialogue for the project has been recorded remotely.

"We've been in quarantine for all of my recording sessions. I've been in my home studio. But it's great because I'm in a lot of the scenes with Raya [the player's companion, introduced in Starfinder's free pilot episode]. If we have dialogue between the two of us, then both of us will be on the line, and we'll get to interact and play off each other. It still keeps it incredibly intimate," Bailey adds.

Starfinder feels like a 21st-century spin on the classic radio drama, offering plenty of opportunities for nuance and depth while allowing the player to determine the outcome of every scenario and interaction. Bailey plays hard-edged android mercenary named Claire 247, who first appears in the second episode. She says she gravitated toward Starfinder's thoughtful handling of the inner world and emotions of synthetic life.

"What I loved about Starfinder is the unique way they look at androids and their emotional availability. It's a really unique perspective I hadn't seen before," she explains. "Through the story, you get to like, break down those walls and see the reason that she is the way she is and maybe get to see her vulnerabilities. She's just near and dear to my heart. I love her so much."

The pilot and episodes 1 to 3 of Starfinder are available on any Alexa-enabled device, including Amazon Echo, Fire TV, and the Alexa mobile app. Those with multiple Alexa devices can resume playing on any device. The pilot, which takes about 30-40 minutes to complete, is free to play. Each episode can be purchased for $1.99, or the full season for $9.99. Three more episodes will release in October.

Episodes 1-3 of Starfinder are out now.