Voice over is one of the most rapidly evolving disciplines in video games. Where before one could expect an average title to end up on Audio Atrocities, projects such as Heavy Rain, Assassin’s Creed and Drake’s Fortune, in addition Cameron’s mocap+voice acting techniques in Avatar shows a merging of technology and the bar for dramatic presentation of story getting set much higher in games.
But where music and sound design are typically more cut and dry, voice has a few considerations that are misunderstood all too often, and as with any discipline, if you aren’t aware of these considerations they can come back and bite you.
As a co-chair of the Game Audio Network Guild’s Voice Acting Coalition, I work with the other co-chairs to disseminate such information and this blog post is one of many steps to make that happen. If you’re a producer this information will help you and your team provide a better product with less headaches.
One of the things that often goes unnoticed during the script writing process is loud / yelled voice lines. If such lines are scattered throughout a script you can end up with a mixed bag of overall takes.
Louder voices, particularly exertions and reactions in combat scenarios, can lead to overtaxing of the vocal chords and a hoarse, gravelly, lower pitched tone, and even possible infection and sore throat afterwards. Save these lines until the last part of your sessions to ensure more continuity.
Above all, if over 5-10% of the lines are stressful lines, it is best to inform the actor or your casting agent as early as possible before a session so they can adequately prepare.
As an audio director I’m well aware of the dynamics of game teams and realize lines can well be written and changed on the day of the session itself, but it is most definitely possible to get your ducks in a row at least a few days beforehand, and the time and trouble you’ll save overall is worth it.
Just as important as saving an important voice for a future session that might come soon afterwards is the actor’s familiarity with the lines before they get in front of the mic.
Atmospheric voices is a relatively new term incorporated by acting unions to indicate what we in the industry call “standard bark sets” for RPGs / MMOs with large character counts. A standard set will include greetings, simple AI responses such as being attacked if they are a friendly NPC, goodbyes, exertions and reactions to injury from various sources, and death vocalizations.
There are union rules on using atmospheric voices that can save a bundle from the regular rate, head here to read about them, my reference in this case is specific to AFTRA’s specifications on page 3 of their interactive agreement. SAG and AEA each have their own specs:
Aside from the specifics on Atmospheric Voices, it is important for any producer working directly with casting of roles in a game to become familiar with this agreement well in advance of booking sessions on a union project.
There will be more tips to follow in future posts. Watch this space and may you be blessed with riveting drama in your next game!