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The Problems With Video Game Voice Acting 251

The Guardian's Games blog explores the tendency of modern video games to suffer from poor voice acting, a flaw made all the more glaring by increasingly precise and impressive graphics. Quoting: "Due to the interactive nature of games, actors can't be given a standard film script from which they're able to gauge the throughline of their character and a feel for the dramatic development of the narrative. Instead, lines of dialogue need to be isolated into chunks so they can be accessed and triggered within the game in line with the actions of each individual player. Consequently, the performer will usually be presented with a spreadsheet jammed with hundreds of single lines of dialogue, with little sense of context or interaction. ... But according to David Sobolov, one of the most experienced videogame voice actors in the world (just check out his website), the significant time pressures mean that close, in-depth direction is not always possible. 'Often, there's a need to record a great number of lines, so to keep the session moving, once we've established the tone of the character we're performing, the director will silently direct us using the spreadsheet on the screen by simply moving the cursor down the page to indicate if he/she liked what we did. Or they'll make up a code, like typing an 'x' to ask us to give them another take.' It sounds, in effect, like a sort of acting battery farm, a grinding, dehumanizing production line of disembodied phrases, delivered for hours on end. Hardly conducive to Oscar-winning performances."
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The Problems With Video Game Voice Acting

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  • Wing Commander II (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tangent3 ( 449222 ) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @07:11AM (#31506506)

    Wing Commander II was the first game I recall that had some sort of voice acting. Now that I think about it, the voice acting was crap... but back in those days where most PC users were probably still using PC Speaker and do not have Sound Blasters, having voice acting in the first place was consider OMGWTFBBQ awesome.

    How times have changed.

  • Final Fantasy XIII (Score:2, Interesting)

    by My Iron Lung ( 834019 ) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @07:26AM (#31506584)
    For a game that was out in Japan 3 months previously, I am astounded at the quality of the dubbing and voice acting of FFXIII. Even previous titles in the franchise had acting that made me wince (FFX most of all, the first in the franchise to attempt it). There's a heavy cost for this sort of quality, however, and if anyone has the money to throw at this kind of thing, it's Square-Enix on their flagship franchise.
  • Hey now... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @07:43AM (#31506704)

    I see Mass Effect 2 has been listed as a game with good VA, which is cool; how about The Legacy of Kain series? Without a doubt, that's the bar for voice acting-- possibly even storytelling for the interactive medium.

    I'd be interested to hear Cam Clarke's take on this issue (primarily known as the voice of Leonardo).

  • by illaqueate ( 416118 ) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @07:46AM (#31506720)

    They spent an extra month recording and re-recording voices but even then I'm not too impressed. It's nowhere near as good as the Uncharted series which has a fundamentally better process, including the casting. Bioware uses a traditional process afaik and it turns out decently but they are spending money to hire working actors who are quite good at acting in tv/movies and have a range, not just voices who go way over the top reading lines.

  • by delinear ( 991444 ) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @08:34AM (#31507048)
    XIII is a great example of why TFA is wrong - it contains hours of dialogue where your characters are completely on rails, they know exactly what level you will be, what choices you will have made, who is in your party, what interaction you've previously had with the NPC, etc and yet it still sucks. Considering how much effort they put into the visuals it just shows up the voice acting even more, what they need is good actors (not necessarily expensive actors) a solid casting process and most of all a director who knows the format and how to get the best from it.
  • by Logical Zebra ( 1423045 ) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @09:10AM (#31507306)

    ... Unless the game is totally on rails, a fair bit of the voice acting will basically consist of delivering lines used to fill out obscure corners of some dialog tree, or to be shouted pseudo-randomly by NPCs of various flavors. Cartoon voice acting may well, particularly in lower budget stuff, be done on the cheap; but it is much more likely that the voice actor(s) will have access to something resembling a script, which will allow them to inject some degree of plausibility into what they are doing.

    That's why Final Fantasy X had decent voice acting. It was, perhaps, the most linear of all the modern Final Fantasy games.

  • by fish waffle ( 179067 ) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @09:12AM (#31507322)

    Games have improved tremendously in this respect over the last few years. Using the narrative context more so it's not just a collection of spoken phrases cut-and-paste together would help a lot. But you know, there's some even more basic problems remain:

    1) Use the same actor for the same character. Always. If you need to re-record or add more dialogue, and your original actor isn't available, then live without or re-record everything.

    2) Record the sound in the same place, or use a standard background sound. It is disconcerting when the recording quality and background noise changes between sentences.

    3) Tell your voice actors not to replicate the errors in the text. Convince them they are voice actors, not just fleshy text-to-speech translators.

    4) If your voice actors attempt to mimic strong accents of any form, beat them.

  • Legacy of Kain (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MoNsTeR ( 4403 ) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @09:47AM (#31507692)

    Which of course is why basically linear games can have excellent voice acting. And by this of course I mean Blood Omen, Soul Reaver, and their sequels, which to this day have the best voice acting in any game ever made. I mean, just watch the intro to Soul Reaver, and play the first 10 minutes of the game, and compare that to more recent rot like Final Fantasy 10 and up, the Metal Gear Solid series, and even Modern Warfare 2 (which is good, but not the equal of, say, SR2).

  • by Tekfactory ( 937086 ) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @12:30PM (#31510042) Homepage

    Of course I also don't understand people who say "Babylon 5 has lousy acting"

    Many of the actors in B5 were theatrical stage performers not TV actors, you get some things like Delenn's visual shorthand of biting her knuckle whenever she was concerned, worried, distressed because in the theater people can't see you make a concerned facial expression from the back row. In TV-land and the movies, cameramen will do closeups so you get that shot, but some of the B5 actors hadn't made that transition.

    I expect the actress was better by the time 'Lost' came around, but I never watched.

    Sinclair (can't remember the actor's name) is cut from the same Oak as Kevin Sorbo where wooden acting is concerned. On balance I'd put JaKar (Andres Katsulas) and Londo (Peter Jurassik) up against Alan Rickman and Kenneth Branagh for scenery chewing and watchability anyday.

    And no, B5 (Casablanca in Space) was no worse off than Star Trek TOS with its two-fisted Captain and strong Western influenced (Wagon Train in Space) themes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @12:46PM (#31510416)

    And the ridiculous German signs stating “ACHTUNG! VERBOTEN” (Attention! Forbidden!), but no other text explaining what it is that is forbidden. Which makes no sense at all!

    I don't know about the reaction in Germany, but among my peers in the USA at the time we just assumed it meant the same as "Authorized Access Only". As far as signs go it makes at least as much sense as, "This door must remain closed at all times [manythings.org]".*shrug*

    The enemies literally say things like “Hey du da mit dem Hemd! Dich mach ich fertig!” (Hey you there with the shirt! I’m finishing you!) Which is about the lamest possible thing you could say in German.
    That, out of the face of someone looking like a real evil soldier grunt... is incredibly silly. I always had to laugh my ass of when I heard it. ^^

    Yeah, you'd think that with the commitment required by even informal German to state anything meaninfully, native German speakers would invest more thought into what they say.;)

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"