A Star Wars fan from Orange County, California, Cory Yee grew up playing video games from the likes of Blizzard and Bungie. After cutting his teeth as a voice actor on projects like an Overwatch machinima series, he eventually landed work in video games — including Hi-Rez Studios’ Smite, in which he voices Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
On Tuesday, November 10, Yee got to announce that he’d recorded his first SAG-AFTRA role back in April: Shaw Han, the brand-new tutorial character in Destiny 2. I called him up at his L.A. home to chat about his breakout part in Bungie’s space epic.
Alex Kane: You said you’re a bit of a Destiny fan from before the role?
Cory Yee: Yeah. Unfortunately, my Destiny lore’s not as good as it should be, probably. But I’ve played since Taken King; I bought a five-hundred-dollar Destiny machine to play with my friends — a PS4 — back in the day. But once it came out on PC, it was like, “Oh, here we go.”
Kane: Nice. So you’ve played both games here and there a little bit.
Yee: Destiny 2 was a lot of fun. Love everything about the game. But there’s also other games that have always taken my time, as well [laughs].
Kane: I think Smite was the other recent project I’ve seen in your bio. How’d you kind of get started in the games world?
Yee: For the Destiny side of things, I actually just auditioned for it. But, that said, I did make a connection with the casting and voice director, Kevin McMullan, in a voice-over workshop. And 2019 was my year of just trying to become the best actor I could. I wasn’t really going out on auditions; I didn’t have an agent yet. I was just focused on trying to become the best I could be, because that’s extremely vital to the whole thing. Rob Paulsen always says it’s a big A, the word actor, on the voice-acting side.
That was basically what I was doing. And trying to make connections, of course. But I’m not really that good at schmoozing, so it was just like, “All right, I’ve gotta be the best I can.” So Kevin thought of me for this role for Destiny, which was amazing. They weren’t sure exactly the direction they wanted to go, but they did have an idea for — this Asian guy [laughs]. And I’m Asian, so that helps. But they liked what I did in the audition, so they brought me in on it, which was amazing.
As far as the Smite stuff is concerned, a friend of mine, Nicole Gose, actually referred me to an audition list. And so I was able to audition directly with the guys who do Smite and Paladins and some of the other Hi-Rez stuff. So I’ve been very fortunate, and got a couple of roles there.
And just got to be Splinter Hachiman, which is like a dream come true — to be able to play someone who is a character from my childhood, through and through. I was a nineties kid, so the Ninja Turtles are very near and dear to my heart.
Kane: You’ve got that sort of nineties-cartoon-character voice, now that you mention it. I didn’t realize you were in the most recent content that just came out. That’s awesome. So you’re staying busy.
Yee: Yeah, no, it’s been good. November’s been a good month. Not to get political, but the beginning of the month was a relief. I’m about to be able to talk about Genshin Impact, as well, which I got to be a part of. Unfortunately, I wasn’t any crazy characters on it, but I got to play a bunch of NPCs. Which is also the dream come true when you grew up playing World of Warcraft and saying things to your friends like: “King’s honor, friend!”
Kane: That game really exploded out of nowhere.
Yee: Yes, it did. And it’s a really good game, so that’s why I love it even more.
Kane: With the process of recording right now — I think Lance Reddick, who plays Zavala, has tweeted videos where he’s recording out of his closet or something. How’s your setup working at the moment?
Yee: Actually — it’s not exactly the best low-budget solution. But I had some extra funds to spend, and because Destiny was such an important project to me, I had a setup at home that had a temporary wall, and audio blankets in a corner of my room, so I had kind of a dedicated space.
But there was some construction that was starting maybe a few houses over from me, and every day it was jackhammering, starting at eight a.m., for at least four hours. They’d take thirty minutes for lunch, and they’d come back and keep jackhammering. That was a nightmare. So I very quickly rushed L.A. Vocal Booths and was like, “Hey, what can you do for me in this amount of time?”
And so, by maybe three or four a.m. the night before I was recording for Bungie, my dad and I were finishing building this booth in my house. We got this double-isolation booth; it’s got extra-thick walls, which means it’s extra heavy and that broke my back, but it’s fine. We got all this covering inside of it.
So it’s basically professional-level broadcasting at home, in this box that’s in this room over here. But it was extremely important to me to have broadcast-level recording for something as big as Destiny, and something as near and dear to my heart as Destiny. I was like, “There’s no way I can screw this up. I have to do this as best I can.”
Because, for me, it wasn’t just the game itself; it was my first union gig. So it means so much to me to be able to do such an important thing, emotionally, and for my career and everything. It was an honor to play with the Bungie guys and do some good work with it.
Kane: Were you a Halo player growing up?
Yee: Not in multiplayer, but I loved playing co-op. That was the coolest thing — playing co-op in the campaign. Playing with my brother, playing with a friend. I remember my buddy Tim would come over, and he’d bring his Xbox, and we’d just play through the whole campaign in Halo 3. Like, “All right, I guess we’re just doing this today.” And we played Destiny together, too.
Actually, that was the best part about getting the part in Destiny — telling all the friends I’d played the game with about it. It’s like, “Oh, my God, this is such a surreal moment.” And turning from being this sniper who also has a sword and Shadowshots for unlimited orbs — to someone who’s actually in the game, and who happens to be a Hunter, as well.
Kane: So you were kind of a Hunter main, originally?
Yee: Big time. I was an alt-aholic, so I had all three, but it was always about support and bringing orbs to the team. And Shadowshot just always had some kind of screwy method of giving eight orbs, so someone else would be able to chain a super off, and then I’d do a super off of them, and it would just go back and forth. The only problem was when we didn’t have enough bad guys to kill.
Kane: When you were crafting the character, and they were giving you direction, was the idea to kind of have Shaw Han feel like just another player that you’d meet online?
Yee: There’s probably an aspect of that. I think the primary thing we were going for with Shaw was to have this guy whose — I’m assuming you’ve played it, so spoilers or whatever [laughs]. But he faces loss fairly quickly, right? It’s one of the game’s first moments, and you think you might save these people. No; they’re effed. And Shaw has this immense guilt to him.
So while he’s kind of a veteran, he’s also someone who immediately loses people under his command. And since you’re playing this new character, he wants you to be safe because you’re, like, a newbie. He can’t lose anyone else. But you prove yourself as awesome right away, because you’re the player, and he respects that immensely. And learns through that.
I think that was my favorite part about it. He goes from — he’s not a dick about it, but it ends up being like, “I should have trusted you from the beginning.”
Kane: They’ve kind of revamped the beginning of the game twice, now, and so you’re the new tutorial in place of the original Tower and stuff. How does it feel seeing the start of this game evolve — and then suddenly you end up sort of at the center of it?
Yee: That’s amazing to me. Anything where a bunch of people will see my character, and hopefully like him, right from the beginning — every game that I play, if it’s multiplayer and there’s new players, I always try to help people. To some extent.
Obviously there’s a limit to that patience, but I play World of Warcraft, and if there’s a new player who’s got questions, I usually take time to answer. If they ask in a non-douchey way — because that does happen. But I like to help new players get into a game as long as it’s one that doesn’t have a crazy learning curve, like League of Legends.
And I’m glad to be the guy in the game who also does that.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.