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A Holistic Approach to Game Dialogue Production
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A Holistic Approach to Game Dialogue Production

October 29, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

[How do you organize and structure the creation of dialogue for video games, "perhaps the single most important aspect of video game audio"? Game audio veteran Bridgett (Prototype, Scarface) examines the key issues and possible solutions.]

Dialogue production for a large budget, cinematic video game can often be an intense and often brutally challenging process. Getting an actor in the booth and reading a script is in itself a monumental achievement that requires solid tools, pipelines, and communication.

While there are a great many articles written about the voice actor's process and performance, there is a dearth of information about the technical process and steps that are taken prior to and after the recording session, and it is these processes, planning, and techniques "behind the scenes" on which this feature will concentrate.

There is a wide spectrum of different approaches to dialogue tools and production process throughout the industry. It is fair to say in fact that almost every developer has a totally different way of working, and there is certainly no rulebook -- as long as the job gets done to the desired quality.

However, working on an integrated dialogue database solution from beginning to end of production can speed up process, reduce organisation and administration time both in and out of recording sessions, and remove a whole slew of duplicated work and a mess of multiple scripts from various members of the dialogue production team.

The desire and benefits are clearly there for a tightening up of the production process and integration of dialogue through a single master database. Sadly dialogue is one of the areas that audio directors and audio designers can be less passionate about, and the lack of investment in solid tools, process and pipelines is probably due in some part to this.

Dialogue, it can be argued, is perhaps the single most important aspect of video game audio, in that it is often the only element of the audio that a reviewer will mention, and poorly implemented and badly directed dialogue can completely ruin an entire game.

Dialogue production also has very deep dependencies stemming from within mission design, story architecture, and it's anchored at the heart of cinematic production dependencies. To this end it needs to be one of the tightest and most organized and "locked-down" elements of audio production, yet remain completely fluid and open to change all the way along the chain.

To further understand the bigger picture of game dialogue production, it is helpful to look at the broad stages from the beginning of production to the end.

Stages of Production

  • Design (characters / AI categories / reactions, naming conventions and folder structure etc)
  • Content Creation (Writer(s) fill out pre-assigned dialogue categories, or create story scenes and dialogue)
  • Casting (describing character to casting agents and potential actors with sample lines)
  • Recording (requires export of character script for actor to read) - (notation of required takes) (changes to lines due to improvised performance etc)
  • Editing (editors cut the required takes from the recording)
  • Implementation (files are placed in relevant pipeline path to be built into game)
  • Tuning (in-game tuning of frequency of playback, volume of playback, ducking mixes etc)
  • Iteration (critical in adapting the performance and script to changing game design and story changes and often loops production back to the 'Content Creation' stage)
  • Quality Assurance (all lines are tested in the game)
  • Localization (various language files are made available in pipeline so language can be switched)
  • Mastering (all dialogue files are mastered, given same overall level, then replaced in pipeline)
  • Mix (dialogue is mixed at a consistent and clearly audible level in final mix of game content along with music and fx, dialogue ducking is implemented and tuned)

Because the stages of dialogue production are somewhat linear in nature, it can be envisaged that a single database can be created and maintained from day one, right through all stages of production. Such a database can be updated at every stage of production and can export the exact required information for each of the various 'clients' along the way. A further breakdown of each broad element of production will help define what is required and by whom at each stage.

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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