On voice acting in games

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Anyone else here tend to hate video game cut scenes? I know I do. I usually skip right past them as quickly as possible, ignoring large portions of the plot and the characters because I find them unimpressive. My general feeling is that I’m playing a game, not watching a movie, and if I wanted the latter I’d pick up the remote.

However, good voice acting is one of the only things I’ve found that can get me to watch the cut scenes. Most video game characters are still stuck in the uncanny valley visually, but I can always suspend disbelief when characters sound good. Some of my favorite voice acted characters in past games have included Yangus from Dragon Quest VIII, the various worm teams in Worms Armageddon, the cast of Uncharted and Uncharted 2, and just about any Terran unit/hero in Starcraft.

Recently we’ve started playing Batman: Arkham Asylum at the office, and one of the things we immediately noticed was that the game uses all the voice actors from the old cartoon shows; Mark Hamil plays the Joker, and Kevin Conroy takes up his familiar mantle of Batman. As someone who watched the old cartoon shows in the 90’s I thought this was a terrific move, and for the first time in ages I found myself watching cut scenes and talking to characters just to hear what Batman (or the Joker) has to say. While there was a bit of a disconnect with animation styles (see above image) it was still immensely enjoyable listening to the characters, in a way I haven’t heard in quite some time.

Of course, voice acting can go the other way too. The voice acting and dialog of the radio chatter in Star Fox 64 was notoriously bad (especially Slippy) though I like to listen to it just because how else would I know to do a barrel roll? Final Fantasy tends to be pretty hit or miss with voices, with the balance being overall negative. In FF 12 (arguably my favorite of the series) the main character Vaan is a chore to listen to, and only Balthier and Fran have interesting voices.

Do you normally watch cut scenes? How important is voice acting for you in games? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

  1. Chris J

    Story is very important to me in gaming, so I never skip cutscenes (not the first time through, anyway), and sometimes, yes, it is painful. Who can forget the supremely awkward laugh scene from Final Fantasy X?

    Perhaps the problem is due in part to the non-linear structure of games (as compared to TV, film, audiobooks, etc). With these other media, the voice actor can feel the overall flow of the narrative and understand the characters’ feelings and motivations at each point. With video games, the voice actor gets a bunch of disjointed bits of story to read (since games reveal story through gameplay, text dialog, and other means besides voice-acted cut-scenes). How can video game designers better help equip voice actors with a profound understanding of the characters’ through-lines and the context of each bit of dialog?

  2. I agree with James in that game actors probably have much less to work with than those in animated films (and what they’re given is often disjointed etc.). The other issue is often that a single voice actor is used for arbitrary numbers of NPCs in an arbitrary way (RPGs are the worst offenders here), and this can really upset the balance. I think the existence and use of directors to work with actors throughout the entire process is an important aspect here – you need someone who can work with the actors who understands the whole, explain it to them and decide when a recording is good enough.

    I remember a time when cutscenes used to be the reward for playing a game well (Diablo II was a particularly strong example – I kept playing far past where I normally would just to see the next cutscene). I feel that now, developers are trying to make them more of an integral part of the game by using ‘in-game’ footage. Yet cutscenes are always going to be disjointed by their very nature, and if they aren’t the cinematic spectacle they used to be and become less interesting than the gameplay surrounding them, we’re going to want to skip them. Developers are left with the choice of completely integrating story into the gameplay, or not at all (I’d argue for complete integration, but I’m in it for the story, which I feel is served better by utilising gameplay to complement it).

  3. Certain games are more story based than others. Take Metal Gear Solid for example. The entire series has an extremely complex story that rivals most movies and many novels. A plot like that can only be progressed through the use of many different cut scenes, in which MGS is notorious for. In that situation, voice acting is paramount! The terrific voice acting of David Hayter as Solid Snake really brings the series to a whole new level. Think of how unbearable the series would be if Kojima Productions used the cast of Soul Caliber to voice the entire series.

    Oblivion’s voice acting is really hit or miss. It doesn’t help that they recycle the voice actors for entire races and genders of people, but luckily you have a great expansive RPG to distract you.

    I agree mostly with Paul’s response in that cut scenes will always be somewhat disconnected from the gaming experience, however games such as Assassins Creed (1 and some of 2) interestingly incorporate dialogue exchange without hindering gameplay. I think that, given the genre of the game, this effect helps blend the two together, and can only improve over time.

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