The trouble with voice acting…

…seems to be ever present.

A voice acting colleague of mine shared a link to this article on the Guardian Games Blog earlier today.

The first thing I noticed was the screenshot from Heavy Rain, and immediately agreed. While I don’t own the game (or indeed a PS3), I have yet to read a review that doesn’t make at least a passing reference to the occasionally stiff vocal work in the story of the Origami Killer. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to play the game myself in September (thanks to one of my future housemates) and be able to make an informed decision as to whether the critics are right or just finding something to moan about.

I wasn’t surprised by the mention of Final Fantasy XIII either. I have to admit, I was never a huge player of the series; but I do agree that it must have been getting something right to still be making good sales on its 10th, 11th, 12th outing. Though it seems that 13 may be an unlucky number for Square Enix- again, I have read reviews of the game that have been largely complimentary but had to draw attention to a number of flaws. One of which is the vocal work.

Now I’m going to put on my ‘voice actor’ hat.

I’ve acted on stage as well as ‘radio’ work. There is a world of difference between the two; the obvious being that the whole character has to come from your voice rather than physical movements. You end up stopping after a take and going back over things thinking ‘would the character really say it like that after such-and-such has happened?’ Quite often, you don’t even get the full scope of the character you’re playing. The writer has written a brilliant script with these characters fully formed (hopefully) in their mind, then sent the emotionless script off to a group of people they don’t know and asked them to bring the characters to life. Everyone has a different take on the same character, even on the same line- so the version that the actor delivers probably won’t be exactly the same as the writer imagined.

In games, I can only imagine it being even harder. Not only would you have to rely on your voice alone, but you may not know half of what is going on in the story world around the character you’re playing. And as for the sheer amount of lines- wow. 22,000 pages for LA Noire?

Let me try some maths. Good VA practice says make multiple takes of lines- in professional audio dramas this may not always be possible, but it does give the dialogue editors chance to pick out the best recording to fit in with the lines from other characters. So say 2 takes of every line.
Say we take a game like Fallout 3. Every single interaction with a major NPC offers at least 2 options to the player- and would more than likely require 2 different responses from the NPC. In many cases there are 3 options (Fallout‘s system of ‘good/neutral/evil’) requiring different outcomes. That’s a lot of lines.
And let’s not forget that you have the choice to play as a male or female character. Cue an awful lot of multiple takes, substituting ‘daughter’ for ‘son’ and ‘he’ for ‘she’.
I feel sorry for Liam Neeson.

Games are built from a concept upwards, as we know. So maybe taking the ‘start early’ approach discussed in the article could make the casting part of the character design process. With the advances in graphics technology and the level of detail possible through motion capture/facial capture, more and more developers are starting to turn towards these methods to create more realistic character motion. Scouting for the character cast during early development doesn’t sound so bad when you could benefit from facial capture help in building key characters physically- and by giving the actors more time with the script writers, they may help each other in ironing out those pesky script-bugs.

When all is said and done, there does seem to be one thing it all comes down to.
And, as always, that thing is money.

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~ by Tegan on March 20, 2010.

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