Voice vs. Choice

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Yet another reason why modern graphics (and in this case) are a curse, rather than a blessing, for good game design.

Well as long as games like Uncharted 2 get praise for their voice acting, then other developers will see that as a point to compete with. It's not necessarily a good or a bad thing, it just is what it is. I don't see that voice and choice are mutually exclusive, especially with how much data can be stored on BluRay discs, there could be an extensive web of choice.

Someone needs to work more on text-to-speech synthesis. Our current levels thereof date back to Windows 98 or thereabouts; yet if someone was able to develop a quality voice engine - that sounded natural - it would fix so many problems with budget and open-ended design.

I like your thinking. I sometimes just listen to the voice acting and pretend it's a movie but often, I skip if possible. I never played that Planescape game but it sounds like they did a really good job with it. Text is great, and a little bit of voice acting maybe also add full on voice acting if there's any important cinematics or w/e. Could be fun!

Yep, I end up skipping almost all the voice acting (in story driven RPG's, anyway). And then frequently end up skipping the next cutscene or going with the default option, as I press skip at exactly the moment the choice appears (damned mass effect, with the dialogue wheel appearing whilst the subtitles are still on screen.

Maybe the lines just before cutscenes/choices should be unskippable to prevent that from happening?

And I suspect it's more expensive than just voice actor costs to have that many choices - the programmers have to make each choice viable, new graphics may be needed for a different route, different sound effects might have to be used, this new route has to be tested for glitching... and all this for a series of choices that most players may well not take. And then this has to be done for every quest with variable methods of completion!

I agree 100%. There is no need for the amount of voice acting in RPGs. I have thought about it quite a lot before this article. Certain important characters might get a voice, maybe even just for their first few lines, apart from that scratch it in RPGs. Freedom is always more important, especially if it leads the game to feel more in-depth and intuitive in the quest design. To be honest, I think it might even lead to some immersion, because once you're absorbed into the game (if that crucial immersion does happen) the brain has no problem in making up for the text with your own voices. It adds to your own view of the world, similar to reading lines in a book.

What's even worse is that bad voice-acting can contribute a whole lot to lack of immersion or outright game breaking situations. I have never encountered text that really broke the game for me (unless you have no imagination or soul it won't, maybe unless you don't speak the language), but plenty of voices have done just that.

It's astonishing to play old 90's RPGs and realise how much more complex they are compared to our modern material, I'd rather go back to the old days without the fancy voices.

Ravek:
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.

Mr. Fallout 1 and 2 would like to talk to you.

dragontiers:
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.

This.
Planescape is the pinnacle of RPG game design. It truly baffles me how ten years later developers still haven't learned anything from it.

By the way, that's not nostalgia talking, I played Planescape for the first time during the Spring of 2009. It's that damn good.

Voice acting has ruined more games for me than it has enhanced.

Brotherofwill:
Mr. Fallout 1 and 2 would like to talk to you.

I'll grant you that, but that only works in 2D oldskool games.

I would have to agree. Voice acting might help with immersion some, but eventually I always end up skipping the talking. At the beginning of a game I will let the npc speak, then I just say fuck this you're too slow (maybe I'm just impatient). I think it would be good to only have voice acting for important characters, or maybe just use cut scenes for important dialogs.

Experienced Points. Spot on, as always. Shamus, you definitely know your stuff.

Well, it worked in Arcanum; the voice acting was hilariously fantastic - especially when playing with a dumb character - yet you still have the trademark flexibility of an old school PCRPG, and still have Virgil yelling at you for being a complete moron.

"...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."

..and then the nostalgia factor kicks in.

Funny that you mentioned Morrowind, seeing as how it has THE EXACT SAME PROBLEM. I can't walk past an NPC without having to hear "hello, Outlander" spoken by the same fucking voice actor OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

Morrowind suffers from the same problem as Oblivion, even failing in comparison to Oblivion when it comes to AI, collision detection and Topics.

Unrulyhandbag:

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.

Thats the point, the beggars all talk in a over-the-top manner when they ask you "to spare a coin for an old beggah" and then if you give them a coin they will revert back to a more normal voice when they give you information (for the thieves guild quests), because its all just an act to get sympathy.

voices make it easier to connect emotionally though

Voice acting is good, but it limits how a RPG can be played.

First run through a game I will listen to all the dialogue (unless its of a particular actor whos voice grinds on my nerves).

Ravek:

Brotherofwill:
Mr. Fallout 1 and 2 would like to talk to you.

I'll grant you that, but that only works in 2D oldskool games.

So why can't it work today? I don't get the argument of "yeah but that's how games USED to be, so we can't do it anymore." Old games did a lot of things right that I think the industry could look at to improve their methods. Planescape was text heavy and dialogue light, but that just made the dialogue better for me. I still LOVE the exchange between Ravel and The Transcendent One in that game, but removing the choices in that game would have taken away a LOT of its appeal. Also, Oblivion was a great example of when dialogue should and shouldn't be used. Patrick Stewart was great, but he didn't have many options because he dies before you leave the first dungeon. The rest of the dialogue was so badly done that I would have preferred the Morrowind methods of "Hello, here's what my voice sounds like, now learn to read." I hadn't really thought of it before, but I agree that the voice may be restricting choice quite a bit. Mass Effect 1 was great, but you could either be Sheperd the valiant, Sheperd the puppy-eater, or Sheperd the emotionless arbiter of blind justice. No Sheperd the sarcastic, no Sheperd the blissfully ignorant, no Sheperd the condescending, no Sheperd the innocently infuriating. I think for me it boils down more to not quest choices, but the ability to impose different personalities on my character. That for me is what makes or breaks a ROLE-PLAYING game (let's not forget what that "r" and "p" stand for.)

P.S. Tony Jay died in 2006. There is no more reason to include voice acting ever again :'( (Yes, I'm in the toothless codger club too.)

One way to solve it would be to offload the voice acting to the players.

Now hear me out:

Have the script (with all branching paths) available and have a recording utility built in to your game.

Players will be able to upload dialog for a whole character which will be able to be added to an optional patch that adds player voice acting.

If you do not want to download all the dialog and only want a startup phrase then you could download the 'lite' patch that will only include the startup phrase for each character.

Lip syncing will probably not be available (Probably just some up and down mouth movement).

All of this will have to be approved for official use of course (Also don't expect a Patrick Stewart level performance).

So as the game ages it will get better... Hopefully after a year the game will get it's GOTY edition which will include all the voice acting in it (Assuming the game isn't crap).

Slightly off topic should also use the integrated uploading system for uploading mods for approval to be added officially.

Anothe reason why voice-acting is a negative... lack of naming by players. As I've emphasized multiple times on the Bioware forums, the reason Mass Effect can have voice-acting and Dragon Age can't is because Mass Effect's protagonist is a military officer, a position where it seems appropriate to address one by their surname. Dragon Age doesn't have that luxury; Wardens actually DROP their surnames upon joining the order. If Dragon Age had a fully voiced player character, they would require A) a set player name for ALL possible characters, B) probably only one voice set for each gender in order to cut down of voice-acting expenses, and C) fewer dialogue options for the same reason as B.

I used to love how in older RPGs like Final Fantasy VII-IX how the player could name practically everybody... or at least, however gets you join your party. One could invert Garnet and her alias of Dagger, call Barret "Mr. T", allow Rinoa to use "Anal Cannon", and so forth. Voice acting locks names in place and strips the player of creativity.

Imagine the outcry there would be to a fully voiced Pokemon game where there were a limited set of generic nicknames one could assign to their Pokemon, or worse yet, no nicknames allowed at all...

I liked how morrowind handled the voice acting, and despite not liking the original fallout, noticed I barely listen to the dialogue being spoken in Fallout 3, skipping it all. However, In dragon age I listen to all of it, because it really is quite good quality, even though I skipped most of it in Mass Effect.
(when I say skipped I mean skim read)

Also nice to see your Spoiler Warning experiences slipping into your column :)

I like voice acting, even when it's not famous people I tend to listen to everything that gets said for the precise reason that it increases my immersion and enriches the experience as whole. There are only three games in the world that I am fine reading text for, and that's FFVII, VIII and IX.

So yeah, I don't really agree with this, but then again I know I'm likely in a minority. I do think it's funny though that people are asking for more story and more of a cinematic experience in their games, and when the devs hire big name voice actors, spend months drafting out hundreds of lines of script (Remember, DA:O has nine novels worth of text in there!) and then the same people who were asking for all the story and cinema get bored and skip through it. You can't have it both ways people.

Of course, I think the worst way to do it is to make it like Half Life, which I find very annoying when they still let you control everything, but you're expected to sit there and listen to dialogue anyway. Even an FMV would have been better.

To me, it depends on how the dialog comes out. In a game like Uncharted, where a ton of it is spat out during actual gameplay, the voice acting is incredible and it's key to helping the experience be as good as it can. Just reading text during those moments would be a bother, even if it is sometimes an aid to also have subtitles.

I like the way the newer Zelda games and others like it have done, where you hear them grunting or murmuring which is just a loop or a byte you'll hear many times throughout the game, but accompanied with the text there it works really well. However, this obviously wouldn't work as well in a game like Uncharted.

My favorite game that I think applies to the situation is Star Control II, though I've only ever played the Ur-Quan Masters version. The voice acting is excellent, but there are still hundreds upon hundreds of choices for you to make. You can play the game just about any way you want, and there's always an appropriate line regarding your situation--sometimes a handful of lines. The depth of that story is extreme, each alien race feels unique, and even though your part never is given a voice, you still feel entirely immersed in the story and want to go out and kill stuff and save people. It's a great experience--one I'd recommend to anyone who hasn't already been there and done that.

0HP:
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. :/

What are you talking about? You can totally skip Three-Dog's dish quest with a few choices. I honestly didn't know he had a quest until a few playthroughs in. It's a simple speech check, and it involves saying something about how the vault dweller's dad could help with the good fight instead. If you speak to him again and do the quest after wards he gives you a different reward of a weapons cache or something.

Anyways I guess I'll contribute to the thread. I'm one of those people that skips the dialogue. I only have a problem with the keybindings to the dialogue skip. It's always the same key as the choice selection so you end up making dialogue choices that you didn't intend(I'm looking at you Bioware!). Also the VO's in Morrowind I think did it very well, with the only real voice acting done at the Deadric Shrines and uhm the main antagonist if I remember.

Some words and then.

MelasZepheos:
Even an FMV would have been better.

You've just crossed a line my friend. Blasphemy like that can get you burned at the stake 'round these parts.

DaOysterboy:
the Morrowind methods of "Hello, here's what my voice sounds like, now learn to read."

This could still work, sure. But I was talking about background voices. Hearing NPCs make vocalizations or speak while walking around in a town. Assassin's Creed for example did this excellently. The cities you were walking around in felt very real and lively. Ripping the voice acting from that would've left me wondering why the city is full of ghosts.

I'm inclined to agree.

Games with fewer "wow!" factors seem to have more time spent on the engaging gameplay. The example that comes to mind is BG vs Neverwinter Nights. I played the former long after the later showed up...*technically* Neverwinter was the superior game, I suppose, but all the added features and detail came at the cost of the *illusion* of features and detail that existed in the former.

This was very true for me:

"Then the rest of the conversation would happen in text. The neat trick is, the player will naturally read the text in the given voice. Thinking back, I remember all of the dialog as if it had been fully voiced, even though I just read most of it."

Ravek:

Brotherofwill:
Mr. Fallout 1 and 2 would like to talk to you.

I'll grant you that, but that only works in 2D oldskool games.

Fallout 1 and 2 were isometric, not 2D ;)

DaOysterboy:
Some words and then.

MelasZepheos:
Even an FMV would have been better.

You've just crossed a line my friend. Blasphemy like that can get you burned at the stake 'round these parts.

I've been expressin' my 'pinion round these parts longr'n you've been spittin'. You wanna draw down? Then you draw down boy!

Cleril:
Fallout 1 and 2 were isometric, not 2D ;)

Haha, okay. It's been that long. :P

I can see the merit of the point being made. I like voice acting but I also like being given a choice in RPG's; afterall, that is a significant portion of what's implied by the genre title. I also can agree that as time has progressed, RPGs have gotten, in a word, simpler. Fallout is an excellent example. In the race to the end of the first game you could arrive at one of any of more than a hundred thousand endings. Fallout 2 raised the bar higher if I'm not mistaken. Fallout 3 reduced it dramatically to only a few thousand possible outcomes. What the games gained in world immersion, they lost in depth of choice.

I cannot however say for certain that this correlation is, in fact, the cause of this trend. It seems as reasonable as anything else. Personally, I wouldn't mind doing more reading in games. I don't think I would have lost much in Dragon Age Origins if all non-party voice acting was removed.

Ravek:

DaOysterboy:
the Morrowind methods of "Hello, here's what my voice sounds like, now learn to read."

This could still work, sure. But I was talking about background voices. Hearing NPCs make vocalizations or speak while walking around in a town. Assassin's Creed for example did this excellently. The cities you were walking around in felt very real and lively. Ripping the voice acting from that would've left me wondering why the city is full of ghots.

Granted, I didn't really like the same voice saying "hello outlander" every time I turned a corner, but my point being that I think voice acting "*gasp* he's that wanted criminal, the watch are always chasing after" every time I try to see if anyone knows anything UNIQUE about the Grey Fox was immersion breaking for me. I'll get strung up for saying this probably, but I thought as far as background noise goes, you can still get away with the Baldur's Gate method of a looping "chatter" track with a few pre-programmed lines that come at random for variety. Incidentally, BG had some absolute GEMS hidden if you were listening closely. *Drunken slur* "In fact I've been with your wife, you remember that?"

Okay, I'm sort of with you on how the constraints of voice acting might limit gameplay, but the contention that most of us just read the dialog and jam on the skip button? Who the hell are you observing?!

Whenever anyone does that ever I get the sudden urge to violently smack them - the only reason you skip things is if you

    A) Have heard them before and this is a repeating line in the flowchart of conversations.

    or

    B) The line is in some non-language like in Kotor or Jade Empire, where you're reading the sub-titles anyways because they're speaking gibberish.

That's it, doing it for any other reason is heresy. Heresy I say!

DaOysterboy:
I'll get strung up for saying this probably, but I thought as far as background noise goes, you can still get away with the Baldur's Gate method of a looping "chatter" track with a few pre-programmed lines that come at random for variety.

No, I agree. just crowd noise and random voice bits go a long way towards making an area feel lively.

Gildan Bladeborn:
Okay, I'm sort of with you on how the constraints of voice acting might limit gameplay, but the contention that most of us just read the dialog and jam on the skip button? Who the hell are you observing?!

Whenever anyone does that ever I get the sudden urge to violently smack them - the only reason you skip things is if you

    A) Have heard them before and this is a repeating line in the flowchart of conversations.

    or

    B) The line is in some non-language like in Kotor or Jade Empire, where you're reading the sub-titles anyways because they're speaking gibberish.

That's it, doing it for any other reason is heresy. Heresy I say!

Have you heard all the voice acting in some bethesda games?

Flying Dagger:

Gildan Bladeborn:
Okay, I'm sort of with you on how the constraints of voice acting might limit gameplay, but the contention that most of us just read the dialog and jam on the skip button? Who the hell are you observing?!

Whenever anyone does that ever I get the sudden urge to violently smack them - the only reason you skip things is if you

    A) Have heard them before and this is a repeating line in the flowchart of conversations.

    or

    B) The line is in some non-language like in Kotor or Jade Empire, where you're reading the sub-titles anyways because they're speaking gibberish.

That's it, doing it for any other reason is heresy. Heresy I say!

Have you heard all the voice acting in some bethesda games?

Yes and no - I've heard the voice acting in every Bethsada game since Morrowind, but I haven't heard all the voice acting as I haven't actually ever gotten around to finishing Fallout 3 or Oblivion. I know why you're bringing it up, but I don't skip that either, even though there's like 4 voice actors doing all the voices - I listed the only valid exceptions for skipping voiced dialog already. All else is heretical, thus speaketh Gildan.

Uh, am I the only one who plays without subtitles because I love listening to voice acting?

Interesting theory, Shamus. That probably goes a long way to explain it. Videogames' drive to techinically excel can sometimes hamper its drive to become better on its own merits. I was recently thinking of how Scott McCloud's theory of creative, um, creation applies to videogames, and I realized most games focus too much on the 'surface', allowing it to wither the rest of the game. It's mostly about graphics, but voice acting is also something else that adds needless extra work (as you said, once a character speaks once, you'll hear his voice for the rest of the game).

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