Voice vs. Choice

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Gildan Bladeborn:
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.

Interesting article. I guess it depends on the game because, for me at least, I don't think RPG's like Mass Effect would be even half as enjoyable were it not for the phenomenal voice acting. Sure, it limits choice but the immersion levels skyrocket and it really feels like I'm part of a living universe. Sure, there are a few poorly delivered lines here and there, but I honestly don't think characters like Tali would have been nearly as appealing were it not for the incredible acting.

That's just my personal preference though; voice acting adds immersion.

slkdjfh:
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We don't take kindly to your kind 'round these parts.

Anyway, Shamus, I quite agree. I hear Baldur's Gate whisper it's sirens song from the shelf even now.

you just heap piles of bile and hate on the game, morrowind was better in every buggering way than oblivion... except foliage. Cyrodil was very generic very samey and not very well populated. How many major cities are in oblivion? 5? 6? including the one that gets destroyed. morrowind had tel mora, sadrith mora, gnisis, balmora, ald ruhn, vicec, ebonheart, and thats without the two exspansion packs. the world was big and had everything from ash deserts to rolling feilds to moutainous valleys to swampy rainforest. to quote a great reveiwer "oblivion might as take place in the same fucking meadow."

Choices were very mixed and complex and the characters still had room for great depth. And the voice acting in morrowind was short and help the little people greet you, while main characters had lines of dialog that were very well done. and one thing i like alot about text screens that they can't do anymore without. you could have long complex conversations and if they refered to something that you talked about before you could go back and read it and make an informed choice. you can't scroll backwards in fallout and oblivion you hear/read it once and hope it sticks, so characters come off alot shallower because you need to remember everything the character said.

i don't maybe i'm just a old man.

Always an entertaining and mind-blowing read. Almost every point you made is something I can relate to.

Centrophy:

0HP:

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 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.

That's exactly what I'm talking about. You have to either jump Three-Dog's link in the main quest chain, or do it for him. That's it. You can't intimidate him or bribe him or hack a terminal for the same information or anything, it's all-or-nothing. And the information he gives isn't even that accurate or necessary! At least with Moriarty, you could steal the information from him or pay for it. And it feels like Bethesda put in the alternative "weapons cache" reward as an afterthought, so that there'd still be a reason for Three-Dogs dialog, since it's possible to find the weapons cache without him altogether.

Come to think of it, if you've already played through the game once and know where your dad is, you can skip the main quest chain almost entirely. On my first playthrough, I found Valut 112 by accident, which made everything that leads up to it nonsensical. That's not the same thing as offering quest choices, it just means that you can jump in whenever if you just so happen to stumble across a relevant location.

If RPGs are going to have player-driven stories, then we should see more of what Shamus was talking about with his King Bob example: There is a problem in the world, you're an agent who can solve it, you decide how to solve it based on your character build, the world is forever altered based on how you solved it. Looking at Fallout 3, NOTHING changes. It's a gigantic railroad that you can hop on and off of at leisure. One way or another, the story will always bottleneck at the same points: the dish is replaced. Why can you threaten to destroy it and leverage the information out of Three Dog that way? Nope. If you're a speechy type character, you can get an extra reward, but, other than that, it's all the same.

Honourable mention to Planescape Torment. I salute you Young, Shamus

I find myself skipping most voice acting in games because of "Bethesda Syndrome" as I like to call it. 4 voice actors for 6 billion people, sigh.

I have to agree about Morrowind, up until you mentioned that I always remembered it as fully voiced. But sure enough I start it up and get text. Interesting.

No mention of Arcanum... I mean, Planescape: Torment I liked more but when it comes to choice in an RPG the only games that really gets close to Arcanum are the first two Fallouts...

I think Noveria in the first Mass Effect is the best counterexample of this. There are so many ways to approach the various segments of that mission that even after 6-7 playthroughs I'm finding new nuggets of content. I can think of over six ways to get a garage pass and five to get through Peak 15.
In Dragon Age, Redcliffe is another good example, if you're a mage, as you choose how to handle the matter of the Earl's possessed son.

The thing about older RPGs is that they sometimes offered lots of varied options, but didn't present them to you very well. Fallout in particular; it was so hard to tell what you were allowed to do and not do, or even what exactly your skills did ('Repair' turned out to be better for hacking computers than 'Science'). The older game mechanics weren't well suited to inferring your intentions. Sometimes you could parley with your enemies and sometimes you couldn't. Sometimes a simple mistake could result in sending you to fight the final boss at level three. More interesting routes through the game were obscure and impossible to find unless you already knew to look for them ('Come back here with doohickey X. We give you no clues to its location and you won't encounter it as part of any quest.'). In more recent Bioware RPGs, the brilliance is in the clarity of the actions and consequences.

This just comes right back to Morrowind vs Oblivion. As though the same series, the former allows the various choices, but no voice work (and books worth of text) and then Oblivion with alot less to say but certainly louder and a bit more restricted in options.

SL33TBL1ND:
I find myself skipping most voice acting in games because of "Bethesda Syndrome" as I like to call it. 4 voice actors for 6 billion people, sigh.

I have to agree about Morrowind, up until you mentioned that I always remembered it as fully voiced. But sure enough I start it up and get text. Interesting.

Thats cause anytime you pass someone they hate or hit on you.

Just taking the King Bob example, why not have the VA record three or four lines that don't really mention the quest, but still give the feeling that it is being referenced in regard to your character.
Instead of having the actor record "It's not often an elf would undertake a mission such as this and succeed by taking on all of the guards" and have them record something such as "It's not often one like yourself would undertake a mission such as this and succeed so brilliantly".

But honestly, I never listen to anything in a game, I always have music I like or talk radio on when I play and make sure subtitles are on in the game. So all the money they spend on music and voice actors is wasted on me.

Legend of Zelda with intro sound bits? Yes. Absolutely. (seed-seller in MM's the best)

Psychonauts with complete and colorful voices? Beautifully yes.

DA:O with bland and slow voice acting? Well, the dialog itself was so generic I didn't even want to put in the effort to read it.

My point is you can't make blanket statements about it, it's up to the developer to make it work or do without. That some people base their purchases on this feature, and thus cause the developer to feel pressured, makes me sad. (exempting the lack of an HD screen, of course. Those letters are genuinely illegible.)

It has been said before, but the way to do it is like in Mass Effect. You choose a mood/personality response and get to discover the line as he speaks it. Plus voice acting adds a dimension of feeling/personality that you just dont get with text.

That said, not all games benefit from voice acting. Mass Effect would NOT have been as good without it. Final Fantasy 13 on the other hand(and probably all FF with voice acting) would benefit from NOT having voice acting.

I always listen through the complete dialogue, and avoid reading it if possible. Frustration adds to my immersion.

I take it you like how Baldur's Gate II: SoA handled voice?
I like fully voiced games, and I don't normaly skip what quest-important characters are saying, but I have noticed that on second playthroughs I skip what unimportant people say. So maybe your idea is a good one.

thekg:
DA:O with bland and slow voice acting? Well, the dialog itself was so generic I didn't even want to put in the effort to read it.

What are you saying?

Morrowind... of course it was fully voiced - wasn't it? All right, I know it wasn't, but neither are the novels I read, and I hear voices and sound effects there too.

Maybe it's a matter of literacy. I know someone who plays WoW without reading the quest information. He is a weak reader and he doesn't really speak English. He uses some sort of "helpful" arrows that point him where he needs to go. I could never play like that, I would be bored out of my mind.

That's so funny that you right this now. I've been playing Trauma Team for the Wii, and I find myself skipping to the next dialog bubble when I get done reading it instead of when the voice acting gets done playing.

Never really considered the effect this has on games, though... Nice job making me think.

Hyper-space:

Unrulyhandbag:

Helmutye:
some text was here.

and some here.[/b]

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.

I'm going to call bollocks on that one on two grounds.
1. follow a beggar around for a few days in game, they sleep on the streets take scooma and do very little else. If they're acting it's a perfect act and they shouldn't be dropping it for me; I don't join the thieves guild on most plays through.

2. the rumour voice is the exact same sound bite used by EVERY SINGLE person of a given race and gender regardless of their normal manner of speech. I picked beggars because it was the most extreme example.

I want good voice acting and multiple choices, how to implement both is really not my problem, but the one who does it will win.

I'd have to respectfully disagree. My preference for game developer priorities would definitely be immersion and good stories over player agency. I've got nothing against free will or anything, but I've almost never seen its implementation be a boon to the game overall. Call me cynical, but I think developer time is ill spent designing events and plot points to anticipate the myriad ways players can be sociopaths. Railroading doesn't have to be a swear word, ya know?

And poo poo to all the guys that just needed an introductory dialogue to imagine what all the text would sound like. Way to make jealous people like me who have no imagination, the very reason I play video games, dammit!

That being said, if people are really craving this branching path/give me a choice stuff, there is always D&D. Granted, not as easy to play as a video game, but a good DM could easily accommodate that sort of game play.

I agree in general with Shamus' point of view; most companyies wouldn't go out on limb to cut voice acting to a sensible amount, improve the quality of that voice acting, give some more money to marketing and add choicese (replayability) for their games.

That said I see the need for voice acting in mainstream games to accommodate the people who enjoy audible input most (same for graphics).

But isn't the gaming industry far enough to also accommodate jaded, elitist choice mongers who yearn for replayability and a way to play their character after a role they set themselves?

Me shamefully admitting to be of the last brand eagerly await Age of Decadence to be released. Wooooh, way more dialogue than PS:T. Cleverly combined skill checks for text box driven action in critical situations. Turn based tactical combat that acknowledges the fact that 6 vs 1 IS a dangerous fight no matter how die-hard your character is. Working and actually used faction system. (not only Faction A hates you and attacks on sight)

Maybe it's because most of the games I played when I was smaller had no voices and I read quickly, but I find the actors in these games speak so slowly I often just skip over the dialogue if there's a subtitle option. Even in Mass Effect where I listened to most of it, I skipped over some of the lengthy voicing if it took more than three times as long for them to speak it as it took to read it. (Except Tali. Her voice was awesome.) It doesn't help that the writing in games is pretty poor, and often on the predictable side.
A bit of voice (or a weird noise a la Golden Sun) is enough to give me a hook for the sound of a protagonist.

Personal preferences aside, voice acting is much more accessible than text, particularly if the text scales poorly (which is becoming less of a problem).

sleepykid:
I'd have to respectfully disagree. My preference for game developer priorities would definitely be immersion and good stories over player agency. I've got nothing against free will or anything, but I've almost never seen its implementation be a boon to the game overall. Call me cynical, but I think developer time is ill spent designing events and plot points to anticipate the myriad ways players can be sociopaths. Railroading doesn't have to be a swear word, ya know?

Biggest problem I usually see is that immersion and good story telling aren't related to voice acting, nor are they restricted to RPG's. Since we're using Bethsoft "story telling" (and I'll use the term loosely for what they refer to as their writing ability) as an example, you have a bajillion people all who have the same voice, often in the SAME town. The story as a whole, isn't anything to write home about either. Bethsofts problems however are more related "lets go spend xxx million dollars on -big name actor-" instead of "lets go spend xxx million dollars on more resonable voice actors so we have more then 4".

"But my emotional investment to characters!" I hear some of you cry! If you're getting emotionally invested to characters in a bioware or bethsoft game, then the risk of missing that detachment is the least of you worries.

Want solid voice acting and story telling? Go play World in Conflict. I don't care if you suck at RTS's (its not a very difficult game to play), just play it through in full jaded mode, and enjoy the story telling. It's as much a story about Bannern (an annoying brown nosing cocksucker) as a character as it is about the dirty Russian's blowing shit up.

Characters in a story should progress. That's the biggest crime with voice acting. They simply don't. We're talking more then Bioware 'x-amount-of-minutes/quests-passed-open more dialogue-and-help-with-characters-issue'. These characters don't change through a games story. They start out as "HERP DERP I AM EMO COMMANDER" and end as "HERP DERP I AM EMO COMMANDER BTW THANKS FOR BLAH BLAH BLAH". Fallout didn't do this, Fallout 2 or 3 didn't do it either. Planescape had a swing at it. As did Mask of the Betrayer.

Basically said the same thing on these very boards a while back ( http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/9.162341-Is-Bioware-losing-its-magic?page=1 )

So yeah, needless to say, I wholeheartedly agree. Voice acting isn't worth it.

But if you take away the voice acting, where will Steve Blum go?

tzimize:
It has been said before, but the way to do it is like in Mass Effect. You choose a mood/personality response and get to discover the line as he speaks it. Plus voice acting adds a dimension of feeling/personality that you just dont get with text.

That said, not all games benefit from voice acting. Mass Effect would NOT have been as good without it. Final Fantasy 13 on the other hand(and probably all FF with voice acting) would benefit from NOT having voice acting.

If a Final Fantasy game were to be released without VA, the entire gaming community and all the publications would cry foul.

And the VA in those games aren't bad, it's the unusual dialogue and the constan t sighing that brings down the quality of work.

To be honest, I don't think it's really the voice acting that's causing it. Sure, that'll be a factor. But I think that the main problem is the expectations people are putting on games.

We expect good graphics. We expect seamless and exciting gameplay. We expect awesome combat or deep, intriguing story-lines - or BOTH! We expect a complete lack of CTD's and various other failures.

And to top it all off? We expect that our choices will matter.

In a game like Mass Effect, they do an amazing job of giving you the ILLUSION of choice. SPOILER ALERT: You can save the Coucil or let 'em die. You can kill Wrex or talk him down. You can let the Blue Suns leader get away, or let the refinery blow up.But ultimately, you still end up visiting the three key story planets, doing exactly the same thing there, and finally saving the universe from the big evil nasty.

Similar thing in KotOR1/2. SPOILER ALERT: Regardless of whether you go Light or Dark, you'll still end up doing exactly the same thing. Charging up to the final boss and attempting to whoop up on him. Either Light) because the BIG EVIL NASTY(TM) needs to be stopped, or Dark) because you don't want the BIG EVIL NASTY(TM) to rule the universe before you can take it over. But at the end of the day, you're still whooping up on the big evil nasty.

The problem with real choice is that it branches. Never mind the multiple voice-acting required. It's the infinite branches that are a problem. Let's assume that each choice only has two possible outcomes (and we'd all whine if that was the case). After choice 1, there are two possibilities that need to be taken into account. After just 10 choices, there is a potential 1024 possibilities - some of which will be interrelated!

Using the example in the OP - If we sneak in, there isn't war. If we slaughter everything, there is war. If there is war, Kingy might give us a war-related mission. If there isn't war, he won't, he might give us some other mission. So now they have to program TWO missions - and only 50% of people will play each one. That may rise on second/third play-throughs, but I doubt it would get much higher than 65%. A few more decisions down the line, and you're into a situation where less than 10% of the gamers playing your game will ever see that mission. The cost/benefit is simply too low.

Currently, it simply isn't feasible to program for that sort of flexibility. You almost need an AI to act as GamesMaster within the scope of the world before that sort of thing becomes possible.

Until such time, we're going to be railroaded into fairly linear choices - no matter how good the illusion they disguise them with is.

thenamelessloser:
No mention of Arcanum... I mean, Planescape: Torment I liked more but when it comes to choice in an RPG the only games that really gets close to Arcanum are the first two Fallouts...

I mentioned Arcanum already. Really, Shamus is just grasping at straws this time. Using a handful of very specific examples, while ignoring the ones that blatantly go against his argument.

(Arcanum, Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, etc.)

It's not Voice Acting that make the choices in Fallout 3, Dragon Age, Oblivion, and others meaningless. It's laziness of the developers.

Insightful and probably true.

I turn off sound in all my games.

Waste of time for me mostly

FloodOne:

tzimize:
It has been said before, but the way to do it is like in Mass Effect. You choose a mood/personality response and get to discover the line as he speaks it. Plus voice acting adds a dimension of feeling/personality that you just dont get with text.

That said, not all games benefit from voice acting. Mass Effect would NOT have been as good without it. Final Fantasy 13 on the other hand(and probably all FF with voice acting) would benefit from NOT having voice acting.

If a Final Fantasy game were to be released without VA, the entire gaming community and all the publications would cry foul.

And the VA in those games aren't bad, it's the unusual dialogue and the constan t sighing that brings down the quality of work.

I might stretch to agree that it is average at best, but then you have voices like tidus' voice...AAAAAAARG. Or that stupid giggly girl from 13. Uff. I'll never touch a FF again.

For Bethesda it's an issue of not being able to write proper dialogues and not caring in the first place. Their focus has always been on sandbox screw around yourself gameplay.
Their stories cannot branch, because nothing is connected anyway.

Bioware do really try, but they don't quite make it, because they both make it themselves difficult (ye olde enlish) and they do run into budget constraints for hiring many voice actors.

There exists only 1 RPG with truly great VO and that is Bloodlines. The game was also railroaded much in the same way Dragon Age is.

I believe VO is a limiting factor, but there's also the challenge of writing choices into good plots.

This is something I've been saying for years. Glad someone else out there sees this as a problem like I do.
What RPGs need is a hybrid of choice and voice, like Baldur's Gate 2: the protagonist is silent, but other characters talk outside of the dialogue trees (banter, opening lines/responses, plot points, etc.) leaving you with the choice of dialogue.

The interesting point that was made is that I personally read the text well before the character finishes talking. As you said, six words in, and then I skip to the next dialogue box. Voice acting can work in certain situations, such as action games where it's more like a movie, but an RPG is more like a book, and the branching dialogue doesn't need people talking to you constantly. If the game is linear with one story, but if it's trying to present itself as a branching narrative where user choices matter in the outcome then by god, the player can challenge themselves with a little light reading.

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