Voice vs. Choice

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Voice vs. Choice

Is voice acting in games really a good thing?

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I can certainly see the point, but,. as games develop further, and they recognise a need for better acting, it will come in time.

It might take some time, but, I think Voice Acting is here to stay, and, will make things better

Yes. It is. I hate silent protagonists. I understand your reasoning, but I honestly think voice acting in games is absolutely essential to sell it as the next step in media that the industry seems to be trying desperately to do. If it comes down to reading multiple dozen option there are a lot of people, myself included, that'll read until something interesting comes up and click on that because they don't want to spend half an hour deciding on these things.

So I respectfully disagree.

In some games yes, but in others, you don't really need voice acting. I for one would never like to see Terranigma with voice acting. It's fine just as it is.

Its not all gone.

I remember in Mass Effect, on Noveria when you were looking for Benezia, there were a lot of ways to get to her. It was fun replaying that part of the game many times.

But yeah, lots of this "freedom of choice" stuff is really only 2 or 3 options. Or in other words, railroading. I would love to see deep RPG's have like the first line of dialog voiced while the rest is text, while more linear games be fully voiced.

In Oblivion and Fallout 3 I just skipped most of the dialog, save for the smooth, buttery words of Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson.

I know not many people would like that, but with the quality of voice acting for some RPG's, I wouldn't mind. Since some are so bad they end up breaking immersion more than text boxes.

As far as RPGs go (and the article was about them for the most part) I fully, completely and 100% agree. Voice acting can enrich an RPG, but is also VERY limiting to the developers in what they can do if they are trying to make the game fully voice acted.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely to change. The average consumer has gotten waaaaay too used to full voice acting by this point. Want an example? Just remember all the crap Dragon Age had to take because the protagonist wasn't voiced.

The only light at the end of the tunnel that I can see is the possibility of voice synthesizing software to get good enough to handle the voices on its own. Then you could once again just write out the lines (and add some data on the tone of voice and such). Granted, it would also likely put a lot of voice actors out of work... :p

Jandau:

Unfortunately, it is unlikely to change. The average consumer has gotten waaaaay too used to full voice acting by this point. Want an example? Just remember all the crap Dragon Age had to take because the protagonist wasn't voiced.

That pissed me off to be honest.

I actually liked it, since I could imagine my character sounding like Stephen Fry.

If the character was voice acted, it would just probably be a generic bland voice. I'm sure it would be well acted, but it would just sound boring.

And to voice the main character would require at least 6 voice actors. Female and Male voice actors for each race. Or they could just go what I call the "Bethesda route" and have 1 male and female voice actor voice all of the male and female player characters. Which wouldn't be much fun.

I always click through conversations as well, unless it's a particularly significant moment or I love the character's voice.

The thinking is that voice acting adds to the immersion of a game. And while that's true during certain epic, plot-centric moments, in general the voice acting can really get in the way during the 95% of the game that isn't driving the main plot. It really shatters immersion when you walk down the street and hear the exact same voice coming from a beggar, the town guards, an aristocrat, a shopkeeper, and a shiftless dock worker.

I don't really understand this comment. Yes, it does shatter immersion. But without 'background' voice acting there isn't any immersion to begin with. A silent city doesn't feel like a city.

I fully agree. I would gladly trade in all the sound effects in a game and play silently, if it was half as epic as Planescape: Torment. In my mind, that was the last great RPG. Oh, I still like Fable and DA:O, but you get more options in character creation in Planescape than you do in the whole of Fable. Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but you get my point.

I also don't like a voiced player character in an RPG. I like Dragon Age because you have so many choices in how you can respond, but in Mass Effect the choices are limited to three personality tracks, in most cases. I have read that Bioware had set personalities for Shepard, whereas the Warden in Dragon Age is meant to be a blank slate, so that might be why. Still, I imagine the cost and the space needed for voice acting played a part as well.

I agree with Shamus. I enjoy coming up with different solutions, more than I enjoy hearing the character's voice. Especially when I play a game more than once, because I then do just skip through once I have read the subtitles. The first time through I might listen to everything, but the second time, not a chance. I think some games suffer because of the voice acting.

Very good analysis, but I fear that there may be a darker reason behind this diminishing freedom of choice in games:

They cost so much to develop that publishers drive developers to make games that aren't still being joyfully replayed when the premature sequel gets pushed out just in time to capitalise on the marketing buzz of its previous, rapidly consumed, "interactive experience".

I never cared much either way, but I do admit that Morrowind (having text dialog) had a more entertaining storyline for me to go by than with Oblivion and that is probably the case with most games.

Deus Ex did both full voice-acting and multiple choice. I also think a great deal of the problem lies in the fact that every game "must" be localized into several languages at this point, and it needs to be done for the same release date. Translation is expensive and time-consuming. And having to find several sets of voice actors isn't without problems either.

I definitely preferred the way things were handled for Baldur's Gate and Planescape Torment.

Sarevok and Irenicus' voice acting was top notch (and for the companions - Minsc especially!), but the majority of NPCs would have a maximum of a few lines of voice acting.

The small amount of VA sets the tone for the character, and my mind fills in for the rest of the text.

It really is a dual-edged blade. In a game where FREEDOM and CHOICES are the focus, voice-acting isn't really the best way to go, unless you have loads of money. Voice Acting in Fallout 3 pissed me off. A lot. There were too little voice actor for too many people. And when the voice actors did different roles, they didn't even try to sound different, they sounded exactly the same. They should've taken the time they spent dealing with the voice-acting and invested it in level design, especially dungeon design, as they're all generic as hell.

But in a game where storyline itself is the focus, it can benefit from the voice acting.

That's the part when people say: "Storyline is the focus in RPGs!", but I disagree on the matter. Some RPGs give more emphasys to player freedom and interaction than storyline construction itself. Once again, I'll use Fallout 3 as an example. Imagine your Fallout 3 playthrough, from beginning to end, with all the choices you made etc. Now imagine that was THE ONLY WAY to play the game. Imagine there was no choices and the character would always do what he did in your playthrough. Now compare the overall storyline of that one (and only) playthrough to that of some other games that are linear, but have a heavy focus on storytelling.

Say... Final Fantasy VII for example (It's not my favorite FF, but I'm using it as an example because it's one of the most "likeable" RPGs). I've never played a RPG that managed to give me total freedom AND had an impressive storyline, full of plot twists and charismatic characters. When they give you too much freedom, they make the story less deep and more generic, because it's totally conditional to your choices. If FFVII was not linear, if it gave you choices, you could've saved Aeris. You'd never have that emotional moment when she dies. And even if you couldn't save her, you wouldn't have that emotional moment, because you'd think "dang, she died, I screwed up at some point, time to reload and do it right this time". But you can NEVER save her, and the fact that you can't just change the story as you like it makes you really get into the story and not just feel like you're "playing with it".

I'm a fan of RPGs, but I honestly enjoy storytelling more than roleplaying.

Anyway, FFVII could benefit from Voice Acting, because it'd add intensity to the scenes. But it all depends on if the voice acting is really bad or really good. FFX english voice acting is so bad, I'd rather play a text only version of the game.

I dont really care about voice acting that much, I mean if a game has it then it better be good but its much easier to read a bad plot then hear it voice acted to me

You can have both. Bloodlines gives numerous ways around things; even the ending has 4 different routes, with different voices.

And no-one complains about the Stop sign. It always wins. :)

The Witcher was fully voice-acted (including the main character) yet there were many choices to make. The voice-acting wasn't great though (it got the job done), and I don't think there were any famous people so the costs were probably no where near Mass Effect's. I suppose the Witcher is the exception rather than the rule.

Hopefully, Alpha Protocol will give players as much control as the developers are saying it will.

I do agree a lot with what the article is saying. I'd gladly give up some voice acting for more control in what happens in a game.

For games like Oblivion and Fallout 3, I think voice acting is a definite minus. Unless it can be done flawlessly, it is an impediment to immersion, and unless we want to see game prices climb even higher than they are now, flawless voice acting is a long way off. Even if they manage to create a game with a million different paths and voice all of them, you also need good voice actors to make the dialog sound good, and even high budget games don't seem to be able to pull off this last one consistently. Oblivion and Fallout 3 were only able to get one prominent actor in them. You can take the Wing Commander 3 and 4 approach and hire out of work actors who are probably willing to work for less, but it's still a big expense. And like Mr. Young said, if most players skip the voice acting anyway then that's a whole lotta money for no reason whatsoever.

People say that voice acting makes a game more immersive, but there are plenty of ways to do that without it. One of my favorite games of all time, Star Control 2, did a wonderful job of this. There are a lot of alien races in the game, and each one has a distinct personality and mindset. To bring this out they had a different "theme song" that played when you talked to each alien race (they held a competition between independent song writers to write each race's theme song, and they got them absolutely perfect!), and each race's dialog was written in a different font. It seems simple, but that was all you needed to make each race feel distinct, and to immerse you in the situation. The version that is available for download now has voice acting, but it is really annoying, and the game is a million times better if you just turn it off.

I've seen other games--usually very Japanese games--that, rather than have full voice acting, they have each character say a short phrase or make a distinctive sound each time they say something. Their dialog is all text, but it is preceded by a few words or sounds that give you an idea as to their character. You really don't need much to get the idea.

In a game the emphasis is on the actions of the player, not the NPCs you talk to, and voice acting feels like the NPCs are hogging the spotlight. Instead of being able to concentrate on the substance of what they're saying and how it applies to the personal narrative that I am forging with my character, I'm focusing on the poor acting and emoting. Voice acting makes it feel more like a movie. When are gamers going to get it into their heads that movies and games are different things? The reason game publishers like them to be similar is so that it's easier to do a movie adaptation of the game later on and wring more money out of you! Stop falling for it!

With a little creativity on the part of the designers, and a little open-mindedness on the part of the consumers, we could have games with much more freedom that cost much less.

Shamus Young:
Shamus Young is a toothless old codger who is always muttering about how things were so much better in the old days before videogames were ruined by your newfangled joysticks and your decadent color televisions.

Ha!!! Join the club, we even have t-shirts!

It's true that I, myself, will click through voiced dialog, but only if I've heard it before. Other than that, I will go through the trouble of listening to the entirety of the voice acting. This article does raise a good point, however. Have we indeed lost some of the versatility that he had in games such as Planescape: Torment? I believe so, and it's perfectly illustrated here. Back in the old days, we had the assassin's way, the warrior's way, the mage's way, the diplomat's way, the thief's way,... we had the lawful way, the neutral way, the choatic way, the good vs. evil,... and the list goes on. Now, we have Paragon vs. Renegade. I may be oversimplify a bit, but not by much. Does this mean that today's games are less interesting? Unsubtle? Too linear? Not necessarily. We have to remember that today's game aren't necessarily better or worse than yesterday's games, they *are* different. Things change, the gameplay changes, the voice acting makes its appearance and changes how you perceive a game.
Of course, that doesn't mean that us old coots can't wax nostalgic from time to time!...

Maybe it's not just storyline, but increase in complexity of game scripting, animations and overall technology. In fallout you can script NPC to go at point (x; y) and then initiate a dialog, while in modern RPGs like Mass Effect 2 designers have to take care of camera, different animations, facial expressions, lighting etc. And then debug it all.
Just remember how messy and full of bugs were Troika's choice-rich games like Arcanum and Vampire: Masquerade - Bloodlines.

So it's not just voice acting, but tech complexity and players' expectations of production values. I'm more than ready to play Fallout: New Vegas with 2D 1998-level tech if it had as much freedom as original Fallouts, but most gamers aren't so forgiving, sadly=(.
A friend of mine said he won't play Alpha Protocol 'cause its graphics sucks. I'm, afraid he's not alone.

But if you look at it from different perspective, something as cool as Mass Effect 2 just couldn't be achieved without those expensive profuction values. It's not better than Fallout 2 as an RPG, but it's not pure RPG either. Times change, game design changes, but it's still great fun to play all these new games with different ideas in mind than 10 years ago. Embrace the future!

Blueruler182:
Yes. It is. I hate silent protagonists.

In the two examples, the protagonists themselves speak only in text...

Personally, I think most games could chuck away voice acting. It annoys me alot even without the limitations in choice and scope in games, the voices are stupid and wrong, tend to not sync with the characters properly, seem out of place when you look at the characters, and mean I can't make up my own voices based on the character themselves. It also means that RPG protagonists lose their ability to speak full sentences, or have to speak only in text when everyone else can speak normally, and means you have to choose between not being able to name your character, having noone say their name, or only getting to choose their first name and have it not be refered to at all.

Blueruler182:
Yes. It is. I hate silent protagonists. I understand your reasoning, but I honestly think voice acting in games is absolutely essential to sell it as the next step in media that the industry seems to be trying desperately to do. If it comes down to reading multiple dozen option there are a lot of people, myself included, that'll read until something interesting comes up and click on that because they don't want to spend half an hour deciding on these things.

So I respectfully disagree.

Umm, the protagnists at least in the games mentioned in the article (Torment and Fallout) -weren't- silent. They 'spoke' through dialogue like everyone else, I do get what you're talking about, but that really only applies to a certain RPGs, mostly JRPGs I've noticed where, you simply have others talk at you and occasionally get to press yes or no.

So no, I don't agree that voice acting is essential, as written text can do just as good a job, if not better than vo work. Although for preference, I rather enjoy a mixed bag of talking heads and dialogue, which is what Planescape Torment and Fallout had incidentally. Mainly dialogue but with key characters voice acted at certain points in the game.

No voice acting is just an unnecessary expense. And even the best voice actors can't do anything with the crap that passes for most video game dialog.

Anyone old enough to remember what happened during the transition from Floppy based games to CD based games? A ton of great older games were put on CD with decent voice acting instead of written text. System Shock 1 was notable for that period because of the goodness of the newly voiced audio logs. A good idea would be to release a game with text first, then if it looks like the game is a hit re-release it later with voice and an expansion. Almost no additional development cost but you get nearly a full sales cycle.

And games don't need full voice for it to be useful. The great Planescape didn't have full voice but you read the text in the characters voices in your head throughout the whole game. It made the parts that did use voice even more meaningful because if the character was talking you knew it was special.

Another excellent example of what Shamus suggests is Borderlands. All quests are given via text as are major plot points. But the characters still say a one line greeting and you get audio logs as well. It works well although it does mean I do some quests without really caring for the reasons why.

Irridium:
I would love to see deep RPG's have like the first line of dialog voiced while the rest is text, while more linear games be fully voiced.

I came here to post this exact thought.

I was much more connected to the story in Final Fantasy X than I ever was to VIII or IX.

I also think that more linear RPG's should use Mass Effect's conversation whell, minus the choice. It will make a quest description move much more fluidly if your next question is fired off right after the first answer you receive.

That is assuming of course, that future linear RPG's aren't like FF XIII, and more like Suikoden or the older FF titles. Plenty of diversions and interaction with the world you're observing, even if you can't change how the story unfolds.

When you were talking about the knick-knack quest, I thought were referring to Fallout 3, because in my experience there are many ways to do most of the quests in that game, not just the standard good and evil versions. If you go to the fallout wiki and look for information on quests you might be surprised to see that there are many choices which you overlooked.

I think a big issue is in that literacy levels are not as high as they should be, some people are dyslexic, others have poor eyesight and text is becoming harder to read if you have a none HD TV for your console. Voice acting makes the game accessable to more people which can increase sales. Add to this that developers feel the need to prove games are "art" and voice acting is here to stay.

Personally I don't need all NPCs to have a voice, this is doubley true when you are making the one voice actor voice 15 charecters. I also don't need my games to be art, just make it enjoyable and engaging.

Blueruler182:
Yes. It is. I hate silent protagonists. I understand your reasoning, but I honestly think voice acting in games is absolutely essential to sell it as the next step in media that the industry seems to be trying desperately to do. If it comes down to reading multiple dozen option there are a lot of people, myself included, that'll read until something interesting comes up and click on that because they don't want to spend half an hour deciding on these things.

So I respectfully disagree.

You do realize that you won't actually get all those nine choices listed like that.

1) Sneak or scam your way into prison and free Nancy, claim the knickknack.
2) Murder your way into prison and free Nancy, claim the knickknack.

Those two for example, are both done by telling the king you accept his mission. The difference between those two is how you actually proceeds with the mission, not what dialog choice you pick. You don't have to tell the king you will murder the guards, you just have to do it.

Some of the other options also aren't dialog choices at all. To find and free Nancy without even having gotten the mission from the king in the first is obviously just something you do. The "get Nancy killed" option also sounds like something you don't tell the king in advance.

Despite those nine option, when you talk to the king you only need four dialog choices (accept the mission, don't accept it, attack the king, bribe the king).

And here I thought it was going to be about voice chat in MMO's, you know, that thing that if it's in the game and you don't use it you get tossed from groups and raids.

I dunno. I seem to be in the minority here, but I'd far prefer a game with no voice acting. With the exception of cutscenes and the like, I've (almost) never listened to the full text of voice-acted speech. Usually I'm just irritated by the voice acting in games, often to the point where certain (sometimes oft-repeated) phrases become the subject of mockery.

I feel as though there's an undercurrent of thought in games that says that if a line isn't delivered with a voice, nobody will be able to tell what the speaker's attitude is. This is not only false, it's a sad road to see ourselves going down. Everything can be derived from context, if it's written well. If we spent more on writers and less on big-name voice actors, we'd probably have better games.

Helmutye:
some text was here.

You, sir, are spot on. Bad voice acting is the single most annoying feature of oblivion. worst example is when a beggar steps out of character voice to spout nonsense about the courier in an upper class style voice.

I personally can't wait until voice synthesis reaches a point that you can ignore actors. Even if it can't do emotion it'll be as good as oblivion with a lot more variety and some solid dialogue.

second: Star control 2. Possibly the best space based game ever (Master of Orion holds it's corner well.) The only thing I dislike about that game is the Spathi music but it does get the point across just as well as any voice acting.

I double take every time I see SC2 on these boards until I remember that peeps are on about Starcraft 2 these days.

Right now I'm going to download Ur-Quan masters for some free SC2 replaying.

I think Shamus is right. I'm so incredibly fed up with voice acting that doesn't make sense and quest-lines that get truncated into "either-or" scenarios.

Take Fallout 3, for instance, in "The Replicated Man" quest (assuming you can get past the idea that the whole idea of this quest doesn't make sense and has nothing to do with the fallout setting to being with), the cyborg AA-23 was voice acted by a competent, but overused voice actor. I only actually listened to his lines on the first playthrough and, even then, you've got to struggle through the immersion because the SAME actor is used for a bunch of other guards and random townsfolk throughout the game. After that first playthrough, I didn't even give a crap anymore and was just skipping his dialog wholesale.

And what about Three-Dog? I can't NOT accept his quest to go get the new radio dish? WTF is that about!? No matter how much you insult or try to bribe him, nothing works. It all comes back to the same one or two dialog choices that will actually move the quest forward. Again, whoever did Three-Dog is a pretty good voice actor. He was given some poorly written lines and maybe some bad coaching, but he does alright as far as faces with names go in video games.

What happened here? I liked Fallout 1 and 2's "talking heads" idea. Most of the mooks just spout one-liner floats over their heads. You can read these quickly and get a feel for the atmosphere of the game. They're not worth full dialog interaction. So, there's no need to voice them and, thus, no need to hear the same actor do 20 different characters. But for a few of the really interesting characters, we get fully-animated faces and some really good voice acting like Michael Dorn. Yeah, Michael Dorn! Who doesn't love his characters? And even the lesser known actors like Jeffrey Jones did very well. I will forever associate him with President Richardson. Having that one actor do just that one character really puts the cherry on it, you know.

*Apology: Sorry. I should have known there would be another thread up about this. :/

You know what I liked? The voice acting in Pirates!! (Yes, that is an exclamation mark of my own in addition to the one in the title.) Everything was spoken in gibberish. There were only two possible variations on gibberish, one for the person, who was either French, Dutch, or English, and one for his mood, which could be delighted, disapproving, or scalding. That makes nine soundbits, which are adequate for every governor in every town in the entire game in every language. It's so easy, why don't more games do that? You just give the impression that everyone is speaking a foreign language, and put everything in written text. All you need to do is set the mood, and you can endlessly tweak the exact words if you want.

Snacksboy:
Deus Ex did both full voice-acting and multiple choice.

Deus Ex' voice acting was also hilariously bad. I mean, it's probably one of the best games ever, but it had some of the worst voice acting ever as well.

On topic: I really don't care about voice acting in videogames. It certainly helps immersion, but especially in menu-based conversations like most videogame RPGs it's completely unnecessary IMO.

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