Voice vs. Choice

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That's a very interesting point, and one I hadn't really considered. Thanks for the article.

I have to wonder, though, how much the voice acting is the bottleneck. Surely the vast number of interlocking "trigger events" and the need for creating additional terrain and even additional characters also plays a part. And to what degree the hurdles you mention could be overcome if voice acting was done at a later stage of game development- say, post-alpha testing. Or even post-beta, for that matter- let 'em read text. Developing in-studio sound recording facilities would probably make this easier.

I felt a sense of dread when I heard that Bethesda was taking over the Fallout series- I had been very frustrated with some aspects of Oblivion for much the reasons you mention, including in some places where alternate choices would have seemed obvious (whaddya mean, I have to kill the arena champion?) and felt that the way the company designed their games was antithetical to the open-choice systems of Fallout.

But it's worth recognizing that, while I loved me some Fallout 2, the game as it originally came out had several pitchforks full of bugs, mostly involving the very multitude of options we embrace. Which is to say, again, that maybe voice acting isn't the primary, and definitely isn't the only, hurdle to creating games with lots of choices.

I prefer 100 times more options and freedom to complete task in diferent ways than voice acting and more restrains. I hope that in the not so far future voice synthesizer become better and cheaper. Its good to have a real actor telling you a compeling story but i dont care much if the npc is telling me that i must go to hunt 100 more mobs cause he still need whatever stuff to stop whatever etc etc.

Crystalgate:

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).

If it's simply for how you proceed on a mission, I can accept that, but isn't that just turning something into an open-ended objective then? And things like Mass Effect manages to get voice actors to do four options before letting you go do your thing, even if all the choices segue into the same action.

The reason I dislike the text option is because it's not immersive. The only text games I've ever been able to play are either on handheld systems, where it's either play this or watch the road on this lovely family trip, or World of Warcraft, where the thing keeping me in the game is the social factor and my online friends (I am a nerd, I know). Both times I need a distraction in order to keep me entertained while playing. Having a character talk, even if you're choosing the dialogue options, is one more piece of immersion. I'll admit I'm generally not an RPG gamer, but the few I have been able to enjoy haven't been massive reading experiences (or JRPGs).

I can see why this approach would be beneficial to certain people, but I was just trying to give my opinion. I like voice acting in video games, even the dreadful kind. Gives good laughs at the worse, and it can help make the experience at it's best.

I still respectfully disagree.

PS, for those who said text don't count as silent protagonists: They don't say a word, they type on a keyboard. They're silent.

Banjo Kazooie games = Best voice acting. period.
sure they were just sounds, but they were sounds that said a lot about the characters.

I agree completely with Shamus. It had been a while since I played some of my 1990s computer RPGs, and I had deluded myself that the technology wasn't there to allow the player to have more than 3 ways to go about accomplishing a task. Then I got back to playing Fallout 2 and Arcanum of Steamworks and Magick Obscura and was reminded of all the options that were available to the player. Those older games gave me the feeling I was that character much more than say Fallout 3 which put me on rails of either good, evil, or schizophrenic. Evey quest either run and gun or sneak and assassinate. Which was largely to your character's ability compared to your enemy. More options in game will always be welcomed over some technological gimmick.

Some of the basic things I would always want to see how complete a challenge are: straight fighting through, stealth, charm, bribing, personal contacts, henchmen, research, and magic/technology. Example: getting into a heavily fortified castle. Your character should have the option to fight his way through the main gate, sneak over the walls at night, con his way past the guards, bribe a diplomat to give you papers to get in, have be friends with a nearby kingdom who can manage you a pass inside, have a henchman in your party that can do any of these thing for you, go into an ancient ruin finding lore about a secret passage, or simply teleport in. Each methods has it's pros and cons and it is up to the player to decide which option they want.

I also don't need (in fact don't even want) to be good at everything. Elder Scrolls IV my character was the leader of the Wizards, Assassins, and Thieves, a member of the Royal guard, a master vampire slayer. I just wanted to be a treasure hunting rogue. I shouldn't have even been able to legitimately enter the Arcane University, I had little more magical training than game started me out with. Yet, I was the big cheese of that guild. Really, I don't mind playing a wizard to discover that path.

Knight Templar:
I take it you like how Baldur's Gate II: SoA handled voice?

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?

Sorry, I just mean they're unecessarily long-winded and dull, so I'll go make a sandwich or rest my eyes etc and listen to the voice acting to get the info.

I'm not going to argue that voice acting constrains developers in ways text-only games did not, but the rest of this article is pure historical videogame revisionism. Games which offer a full range of true choices as Shamus describes are, and always have been, EXTREMELY RARE. Developers have never wanted to code fifty different possible paths and outcomes for every little quest.

In Wizardry there was only one way to beat the game: kill Werdna. Same with Ultima, Might and Magic, and all the other classic RPGs. The choices in those games came into play purely in character- and party-building. By comparison, modern games are obsessed with choices and options. In Fallout and Placescape, the big marquee quests had a good range of options on how to complete them, but for 80-90% of the rest of the game the quests all boil down to one or two specific paths and that's it. The utopia of free-form, open-ended questing has simply never existed.

Voice acting is over rated, bring in the techies and tweak voices so you can pull off 100's of accent/tone variations off 10 or so voice actors..... if not then don;t bother with voice overs unless the game is a simplistic action thing with maybe a couple hours or less of dailog...

Blueruler182:
If it's simply for how you proceed on a mission, I can accept that, but isn't that just turning something into an open-ended objective then? And things like Mass Effect manages to get voice actors to do four options before letting you go do your thing, even if all the choices segue into the same action.

The reason I dislike the text option is because it's not immersive. The only text games I've ever been able to play are either on handheld systems, where it's either play this or watch the road on this lovely family trip, or World of Warcraft, where the thing keeping me in the game is the social factor and my online friends (I am a nerd, I know). Both times I need a distraction in order to keep me entertained while playing. Having a character talk, even if you're choosing the dialogue options, is one more piece of immersion. I'll admit I'm generally not an RPG gamer, but the few I have been able to enjoy haven't been massive reading experiences (or JRPGs).

I can see why this approach would be beneficial to certain people, but I was just trying to give my opinion. I like voice acting in video games, even the dreadful kind. Gives good laughs at the worse, and it can help make the experience at it's best.

I still respectfully disagree.

That's OK. I am fully aware that even though I would love the kind of situation Samus described, it's not for everyone. If you think voice acting is a huge plus and/or think having a crapload of choices isn't that important, then of course you will prefer voice acting.

Anyway, since you told me what you find immersive how about I tell how I operate now?

Whether or not I find something immersive has very little to do with voice acting, technical level of graphics and so on. In order for me to be immerser, the game need good mapping and there has to be things to do and find. If I walk around in a town and none of the townspeople has something interesting to say and there's nothing there to find that you won't find in any other town, it will break my immersion. Actually, it doesn't really "break" my immersion, rather it's so that the game cannot maintain my interest and I will gradually slip out of immersion.

So, considering how we operate, both of our preferences makes perfect sense. Another nail in the "try to please everyone" coffin.

Good voice acting in a fully-voiced game > a game that is not fully-voiced > bad voice acting in a fully-voiced game.

I do think it's probably the animation and scripting that are the most significant barriers to multiple plot branches, though. Can you imagine how massive Planescape: Torment would be if it were rendered Mass Effect-style? And as Callate pointed out, there's nothing stopping the developers waiting to tape the VOs until after the game is really well fleshed-out.

I'm also not sure it's fair to compare a couple of the best RPGs ever to modern gaming at large...most RPGs back in the day weren't that complex or well-thought out, IIRC.

Hmmm surprised not more people have mentioned Bioware's Star Wars RPG's.

There's STACKLOADS of options on how to do things, each affecting light/dark side points etc, along with voice acting from EACH and every NPC. Sure things were a little easier because half of them are aliens and speak incomprehensible babble ( Bioware recycles some lines if you listen hard enough ), but the voice dialog is there.

That being said, I'd rather the effort of voice acting going into actual gameplay itself =)

0HP:

Snip

I can agree with you on all these points. I guess I misunderstood you from your first post. If only we could go back to multiple, sometimes ingenious ways of solving quests. Too bad I just don't see it as possible with VO's... Oh well. Thanks for clarifying.

Centrophy:

I can agree with you on all these points. I guess I misunderstood you from your first post. If only we could go back to multiple, sometimes ingenious ways of solving quests. Too bad I just don't see it as possible with VO's... Oh well. Thanks for clarifying.

No worries. :)

I am kind of getting the impression that, at root, 3D is to blame for this. When games were in 2D and you wanted to give one particular character a real face, it involved creating that persona from scratch and displaying separately from normal gameplay. But with 3D games, ALL of the characters are supposed to have unique (or at least somewhat unique) faces. So all we see is the camera moving in and the face starts to move to deliver the voice acted content.

What if dialog was more separated from gameplay? Would it make character interaction seem less samey? And what if we had characters with personas that were not defined exclusively by the game engine?

Oh, sure, you could have engine-constrained dialog with normal NPCs because that stuff is SUPPOSED to feel samey; it's part of the environment: This is Normaltown, it's people are generally concerned about Suchansuch Bigissue. But then *BAM* a unique character comes in; someone who we care about, maybe related to a quest or a special NPC. They get specifics: they get more separated dialog interaction and a more unique face than everyone else; they're a memorable character.

And, even then, they don't need to voice-act everything. Most players will skip it anyway, right? So have them act only the over-the-top dialog options, the ones that really characterize them. The rest of the time, I'd be very happy to read read read.

Now, I'm not saying we should do away with 3D (which would be a ridiculous statement altogether), but we do need to separate our priorities here. Game engines help us build worlds, but we already know that they can't characterize because we hire voice actors for that stuff anyway. So why not separate out the processes? Storytelling has its tools and so does worldbuilding. Isn't one of the strengths of games the notion that these two can coexist and deliver an experience to the player, satisfying both those who play for exploration and those who play for story? I reckon.

I must admit that voiced characters is definately nice, but I could happily play a game without voiced dialogue.

Fallout 3 is actually a good example of over-done dialogue - namely talking to moria. I want to buy some ammo and the conversation goes "have you done x?" "no" "blah" "what do you have for sale" "all of this" coulda lived without doing that a hundred times.

(and if there was a way to skip all that, don't tell me)

CKalvin:
Hmmm surprised not more people have mentioned Bioware's Star Wars RPG's.

There's STACKLOADS of options on how to do things, each affecting light/dark side points etc, along with voice acting from EACH and every NPC. Sure things were a little easier because half of them are aliens and speak incomprehensible babble ( Bioware recycles some lines if you listen hard enough ), but the voice dialog is there.

That being said, I'd rather the effort of voice acting going into actual gameplay itself =)

KOTOR games avoided this by using alot of aliens that don't speak english, requiring subtitles while the same 3-4 voices were used regardless of what they were asking.

I was talking about this a couple weeks ago on here and, like you, Shamus, Morrowind was what I pointed out as having hit the nail on the head. I'd reiterate some of my points from when I had brought it up, but I think Shamus hit them all already.

Good to see you're still the person I can go to to find out my own opinion on stuff.

P.S.: Seen any elves? A-hahahahaha!

Blueruler182:
PS, for those who said text don't count as silent protagonists: They don't say a word, they type on a keyboard. They're silent.

I just want to clear up this point. Yes, a main character that doesn't have a voice is silent, and yes they are the protagonist, so I see where you're coming from. However, the term silent protagonist has been around for quite a while, and already means something different. If you call a character that has text lines a silent protagonist you will be confusing many people and getting lots of arguments, because that phrase is generally used to mean a character with no lines of any kind.

Voice acting does nothing for the gameplay, obviously, it just enhances the cutscenes between the gameplay. It may create a more immersive experience but not a better game, except to the degree that it makes the overall game setting more enjoyable.

I think having cutscenes, even ones that have interactive dialogs, that punctuate the actual game, and then allow freedom of choice during gameplaye elements, is a good compromise that gives us the best of both worlds. This is how it is done in real-time strategy games like Command and Conquer and it works there. You don't need much chit chat when you are trying to solve level objectives.

Brutal Legend integrates voice acting well with good dialog during the cutscenes, GREAT random comments during stage battles, but it is free enough and open enough that each play-through is enough different to be good for 2 or 3 runs.

If there are multiples strategies to overcome a challenge, the dialog could refer to the fact that the challenge was overcome, but not necessarily how. Or even if it did refer to how you won, but you beat the challenge by a much sneakier and more strategic way than the game was expecting, that would be a forgivable computer gaming sin.

Now that I think more about it, I'm not wholly convinced that the linearity of games is due to voice acting. I think it is more due to lazy design, and low expectations and standards from gamers.

Crystalgate:

Blueruler182:
If it's simply for how you proceed on a mission, I can accept that, but isn't that just turning something into an open-ended objective then? And things like Mass Effect manages to get voice actors to do four options before letting you go do your thing, even if all the choices segue into the same action.

The reason I dislike the text option is because it's not immersive. The only text games I've ever been able to play are either on handheld systems, where it's either play this or watch the road on this lovely family trip, or World of Warcraft, where the thing keeping me in the game is the social factor and my online friends (I am a nerd, I know). Both times I need a distraction in order to keep me entertained while playing. Having a character talk, even if you're choosing the dialogue options, is one more piece of immersion. I'll admit I'm generally not an RPG gamer, but the few I have been able to enjoy haven't been massive reading experiences (or JRPGs).

I can see why this approach would be beneficial to certain people, but I was just trying to give my opinion. I like voice acting in video games, even the dreadful kind. Gives good laughs at the worse, and it can help make the experience at it's best.

I still respectfully disagree.

That's OK. I am fully aware that even though I would love the kind of situation Samus described, it's not for everyone. If you think voice acting is a huge plus and/or think having a crapload of choices isn't that important, then of course you will prefer voice acting.

Anyway, since you told me what you find immersive how about I tell how I operate now?

Whether or not I find something immersive has very little to do with voice acting, technical level of graphics and so on. In order for me to be immerser, the game need good mapping and there has to be things to do and find. If I walk around in a town and none of the townspeople has something interesting to say and there's nothing there to find that you won't find in any other town, it will break my immersion. Actually, it doesn't really "break" my immersion, rather it's so that the game cannot maintain my interest and I will gradually slip out of immersion.

So, considering how we operate, both of our preferences makes perfect sense. Another nail in the "try to please everyone" coffin.

I honestly don't care about graphics either, it's just text that ruins it for me. The lack of audio. But I see what you're getting at. That coffin must look like a bloody torture device with all the nails in it at this point.

ZephrC:

Blueruler182:
PS, for those who said text don't count as silent protagonists: They don't say a word, they type on a keyboard. They're silent.

I just want to clear up this point. Yes, a main character that doesn't have a voice is silent, and yes they are the protagonist, so I see where you're coming from. However, the term silent protagonist has been around for quite a while, and already means something different. If you call a character that has text lines a silent protagonist you will be confusing many people and getting lots of arguments, because that phrase is generally used to mean a character with no lines of any kind.

Yeah, I know, I was just arguing semantics at that point. But I have to say, this is quite possibly the most understanding forum I've ever been on.

Helmutye:

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 guess it amounts to what you're used to. I played Star Control 2 on the 3DO, which was fully voiced (the voices for download come from this version) and I thought it was amazing. I still hear some lines from this game in my head sometimes. The voices were perfectly matched to the personality of each alien race as well. When I found out about the Ur-Quan Masters (the free port with the 3DO content included), I replayed it all again and I can't imagine how dull it would be for me to play it without the voice.

Unrulyhandbag:
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.

I love Star Control 2 too, but as I said in another post I played it fully voiced, and the voice acting in it is very good IMO.

The only problem with SC2 was that I had to replay it like 3 times because I always finished the stuff with the Sirens before finding the Chmmmr (yes, this happened twice because I played it again some years after the 1st time) and so I couldn't go to the Mycon home planet get the fusion-thingy anymore, so I got stuck and could finish the game. Not cool to end up with a save game that is "unfinishable". But otherwise a great game and I've been thinking about replaying it again too.

I only read the subtitles as well, voice acting is almost pointless except for scripted cut scenes, and like Mr. Young said the introductory statement.

Grampy_bone:
I'm not going to argue that voice acting constrains developers in ways text-only games did not, but the rest of this article is pure historical videogame revisionism. Games which offer a full range of true choices as Shamus describes are, and always have been, EXTREMELY RARE. Developers have never wanted to code fifty different possible paths and outcomes for every little quest.

In Wizardry there was only one way to beat the game: kill Werdna. Same with Ultima, Might and Magic, and all the other classic RPGs. The choices in those games came into play purely in character- and party-building. By comparison, modern games are obsessed with choices and options. In Fallout and Placescape, the big marquee quests had a good range of options on how to complete them, but for 80-90% of the rest of the game the quests all boil down to one or two specific paths and that's it. The utopia of free-form, open-ended questing has simply never existed.

This. Let's not let nostalgia cloud our vision. Memory is a tricky bitch.

I miss the days of Baldur's Gate choices. Eventually when voices will be able to be sythesized just like synthesized in game text dialog we will see more and more of it.

My biggest issue with voice acting in games is that it's bad more often than not. Exceptions notwithstanding, most voice acting I encounter in games is banal at its best and catastrophic at its worse.

I don't mind that voice acting is potentially limiting our choices in non-linear narratives. I prefer quality of quantity. I'd rather have a few well written and well acted choices than a lot of badly written and badly acted ones. Just because it's possible to add more possibilities doesn't mean it should be done, because it's often done badly.

There's no real "better" or "worse" scenario here. When written and designed well, text alone can provide a variety of choices that are all interesting and meaningful to take. When acted well, fewer choices can shine in ways that text alone never could.

My standards may be fairly high in this regard, but I can count the games which had good writing and/or good voice acting with my fingers. Even BioWare games, which I mostly like, don't count among those. It all comes down to the execution as well as to personal preference.

Overall, I'd say voice acting is very good to have around. It's just a shame only a few developers learned to use it well.

Outside the world of non-linear narratives, however, the play-field is completely different.

Jandau:

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

This. I do a fair amount of stuff with text to speech at work. The cutting edge stuff is really good. But really really expensive. There's a company in Scotland that made Roger Ebert's voice text to speech after his cancer. So he can now "speak" in his own voice.

To do truly good text to speech will still require voice actors, just a very different kind. Basically, you have to record a ton of phonemes (I think that's the appropriate word) for the program to string together as needed.

I agree that voice acting is to blame, but going back to text isn't the answer, having someone finally build a voice synthesiser that doesn't blow chunks is the answer.

Instead of hiring a voice actor to read every line in the game they could instead rent the rights to their voice, and instead of calling up a line of duologue at the right time it could be #voice [lines here] /style aggravated

First off, I agree that voice acting limits options due to the aforementioned setup scheme.

However I disagree with there being more options in older games. I haven't played either of the 2 listed so I can't comment on those but games like Final Fantasy have had just as narrow a path to get things to work out. And Fallout 3 for one would allow you to kill Bob for the knicknack. It's how a lot of the better weapons were obtained in fact.

In a D&D setting you could do any possible combination of actions to get something to occur, but games programming was difficult in the past just like now and I don't think they had more options back then. Things seemed more restrictive if anything.

-my 2c.

I'm just modding Stalker Shadow of Chernobyl which has expandable dialogs done through XML. You can add as many choices you want and branch up the dialog far and then by calling scripts make new game events or anything else achievable in that way.

However, there is a catch- you'll always hit some wall - lack of inspiration for new quests- (because branching leads to using more ideas for the same or similar situation), much more complex debugging, running out of time. Not to mention Googlenglish :) Adding complexity to a game adds more things that can go wrong. For instance a forgotten info portion could lead to a broken quest, bad part of script to a rare CTD. Even if you want a nice and unique set of quests you will end up cutting stuff up left and right.

It's a shame that we do tend to want to skip through tons and tons of dialogue to the extent that all that work feels like a waste.

On the other hand, I like having the dialogue there even if I do skip it, and the game world doesn't feel complete without it.

I don't need to hear voices from the characters. That way I can pretend that the guy giving me the next 13 quests sounds like Christopher Walken.

A lot of valid points in my opinion, and the Morrowind example is perfect. That game really did use a good combo of voice acting and text. Although in the end it really does come back to the type of game. A FPS or something with less choices and more action and climatic atmosphere should have voice acting, but a choice driven RPG doesn't need lots of voice work to be really engaging.

I personally like voice acting in games, but only with important characters, battle cries, and cutscenes. I don't care if an npc has voice acting so like shamus said they'll get out a few words then get cut off because I'm ready for the next line of text. I want to game not listen to an audio book damnit. I do think it'd be cool if they got to the point where they just had people come in, run through the alphabet and a bunch of pronunciation words, and then synthesize it together, and have it sound good and normal of course. But alas I'm sure that is a time still quite far away.

tetron:
I personally like voice acting in games, but only with important characters, battle cries, and cutscenes. I don't care if an npc has voice acting so like shamus said they'll get out a few words then get cut off because I'm ready for the next line of text. I want to game not listen to an audio book damnit. I do think it'd be cool if they got to the point where they just had people come in, run through the alphabet and a bunch of pronunciation words, and then synthesize it together, and have it sound good and normal of course. But alas I'm sure that is a time still quite far away.

They tried that in Freelancer, it sounded...bad: Why hello there Mr. .....Trent. I work for....Darkstar Mining Co. We're a....growing company and are having some problems with....bandits.

It didn't help that almost all the job contacts seemed like the same actor. Text would have made perfect sense in that instances, but yet they went with the dull NPC's that sounded like they were reading of insertaword cue cards.

Seems to me that Planescape: Torment still stands tall as an example of what RPG's -should- be like. I also wonder if they would be able to implement more variations in the NPCs speech bubbles if they did stray from the voice-acting bit. Though we have to wonder if it really would have been that costly to have the 2 different voice actors that did -all- of Fallout 3's citizens' voices do a couple more lines.

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