174: Bark! Bark! Bark!

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Bark! Bark! Bark!

Think those repetitive bits of throw-away dialogue in videogames are annoying? Imagine how your roommate feels. Wendy Despain analyzes the misguided tradition of the "bark."

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Another reason I love the Half-life series.
You won't find Gordon Freeman blurting out the same old lines,or any hint of dialog for that matter, at the drop of a hat. He's just too cool for such paltry expressions of pain or happiness, unless he gets burnt, obviously.
But the picture of Gears of War was more than apt, those barks annoyed the hell outa me.

An active reload in Gears gets a bark every time. And I active every time... annoying as hell.

Barking totally works in Warcraft and Starcraft. But I may be leaving the argument here.

So... what petition do I sign? :D

lol I was just going to cite Warcraft and Starcraft as serious offenders.

I have to slightly disagree with this thread. As a gamer, I am immune to the barks, but I feel they are necessary for an immersing game. Take FF7 Crisis Core for example: I was playing this the other day while my girlfriend was playing a different game. About ten minutes into it, she mockingly repeated the phrases "Activating combat mode!" and "Modulating phase!" when I realized that these phrases were being repeated over and over throughout my game. Now, these were all cues to me, basically sound effects. But sound effects are necessary. If the scene simply changed without warning, the overall effect is diminished and the game feels unpolished. It's like walking through the world on mute. When you're out and about, there are people and things everywhere making noises. In fact, if there weren't any music in video games, the relative amount of sound would be much greater in the real world. The game hovers around the atmosphere of a silent film. For a game to emulate a realistic or, preferrably, believeable world, you'd think there would have to be a quite mutter all the time, a la the first screen of Super Mario All Stars. That, or a huuuuuge database of sound for the characters to pull from.

Halo actually does a spectacular job of "barking". The NPC's running around have huge amounts of dialogue(After about 4 playthrough's of halo 3, I'm still hearing new one liners) that do an awesome job of keeping each round a little different from the last. It help's that the Master Chief keep's shut up for most of the game too.

As for half life, I particularly enjoyed all the different phrases for when an NPC saw you die. I did not enjoy however, being told to reload my gun every five seconds.

I am right there with Wendy. As a voice actor, most of us always wonder "is that all?" when recording soundsets for NPCs and all. I honestly think that there is enough variation in WoW and the original RTS games, but some of these games nowadays are just ridiculous.

Does anyone remember The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour? Robert Hirschboek had so many of those taunts to record...some were repetitive (only because I was losing those minigames), but I wanted to reach into my PC and throttle Henry Stauf. *shakes fist*

My favorite, though, was the last puzzle of the 11th Hour. Stauf beats you in the Othello-type game, and then: "Are you coming...or are you just breathing hard?"

OMG I froze...and then I laughed my butt off.

And then promptly beat him the next time.

I think that it would be great if there were more barks. Just more booth time for me. :)

Thank you for writing about a much overlooked facet of gaming!

Heheh. This is a very nice thread. And if anyone ever think about how hard is to construct a game dialog in a game, go to Mutants not allowed, a Fallout fan site, and downloadf the Van buren documents,an see by yourself. But in games, at least I think, the problem is that developers normaly never get used to their characters responses, see, just because you could say f*ck you donīt need to repeat at infinitum, and if you see the Dead Space movie, they transform the main character in a true lame copy of a action movie class bcdefg. She try to put that word in every single word, so there is no way to really feel the panic and fear that everyone is fighting trough because you just listen to f*ck. The build of a character is no easy task, but we still getting a lot of stereotypes in this industry. Maybe developers can do just like some movie directors and look to normal people, what we are and what we can. When I listen to the dialogs in GoW 2, Christ, that is by far the most weak point in that game, but was propositional, so what to do? We cannot ignore a game like that, but if they think that is the best way, alot of other developers are going to follow them.

Thunderhorse:
Halo actually does a spectacular job of "barking". The NPC's running around have huge amounts of dialogue(After about 4 playthrough's of halo 3, I'm still hearing new one liners) that do an awesome job of keeping each round a little different from the last. It help's that the Master Chief keep's shut up for most of the game too.

Really? I do co-op with my buddy all the time and the troops drive me nuts. One of them always says, "Hahaha, we just kicked their asses!" Maybe I wear my serious pants too tightly when I'm playing those games but at least have another marine say, "Please shut up." when that comes out.

I had a copy of C&C 3 when I went to stay with my girl a few months ago, and she was driven insane by the way your little dudes are constantly reminding you what they are and what they're doing every single click.

I didn't notice it until she started mocking my Missile spewing *Somethings*, and ever since I've been overly aware of my soldiers bark backs. It started to annoy my face off.

Good god I hate random dialogue that you can't skip so much!!

they do get very tiresome and repetitive, i mute most games and listen to music

I discovered quickly in a small household that the sounds of my pc games will piss off other people to no end. Thus, I invested in a nice set of head phones and have reduced the cost of my systems by not investing in speakers of any kind.

That said, responsive background noise for a game is very important. Poorly placed dialogue that repeats ad nauseum is not, even when it is only text in the older RPGs. Though, I think this article, while trying to be understanding of the developer's plight has failed to understand that harping them about excellent background sounds (aka no longer noticed as "barking") is like harping on King Arthur for not finding the Holy Grail - hell, you could probably make a game almost fully based on sound and it could still come up short just because of the players actions being repetitive.

The only two solutions I see as being satisfactory is lack of dialogue by having the dialogue there is be carefully placed to limited event triggers or so freaking much of it that one saying is almost never heard again by all but the most die hard of repeat playing gamers.

I always use a headset when gaming (be it PC or 360), Call of Duty series did a good job of having a ton of quotes to say when you died (which, on veteran...you did a lot), as well as having quite a bit of dialogue that was awesome. I think another good solution to this problem is the Devil May Cry approach, where they just crank the music up during fights. You don't hear that many barks that way :p

Christ on a bike, redundant dialogue is terrible... Thankfully GTAIV seemed to have at least two tracks of dialogue for any mission, and if you failed enough at misions due to stuffing about... then the non-playable character in the back seat would normally just say "meh, I just want to listen to the radio for a while" or "just shut the hell up and drive" instead of repeating their life story - it was nice... because Christ on a bike, redundant dialogue is terrible. The barks had emotion and context, and there was enough variety for me to be happy.

Particular offenders that come to mind... The "whacky" dialogue of any Simpsons game ever made, which consists of nothing BUT this crap... Christ on a bike the redundant dialogue was terrible.

I don't get why they can't just take the dialog out instead of adding two or three more catchphrases. Having Niko yell "I'm going to cut your fucking head off" for millionth time is annoying especially when there is nobody in earshot or I'm trying to sneak up on someone.

In Fallout 3 I got really annoyed when I heard the same line a few times, and realised it was being said by different voice actors. If they could afford the voice actor for one more line, why couldn't they afford to write one more line for him?

L.B. Jeffries:

Thunderhorse:
Halo actually does a spectacular job of "barking". The NPC's running around have huge amounts of dialogue(After about 4 playthrough's of halo 3, I'm still hearing new one liners) that do an awesome job of keeping each round a little different from the last. It help's that the Master Chief keep's shut up for most of the game too.

Really? I do co-op with my buddy all the time and the troops drive me nuts. One of them always says, "Hahaha, we just kicked their asses!" Maybe I wear my serious pants too tightly when I'm playing those games but at least have another marine say, "Please shut up." when that comes out.

You should try with the "I would have been your daddy" skull enabled. I've heard some pretty awesome stuff come out the marines in that case.

Dawn of War was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the units all recite the exact same barks every single time you click on them (which you have to do about 50 times a mission). But on the other hand, those bits of dialogue were so fantastic and funny that they still make me grin, even after hearing them hundreds of times.

So good quality barks can eliminate the insufferability of repetition.

To be honest, though, the first thing I thought of when I read this article was,
"Reload, Dr Freeman!!!"
"Reload, Dr Freeman!!!"
"Better reload, Dr Freeman!"

Ugh...

An example of bad barks: Oblivion.

"I better cut down on the ale. Starting to see things, I am." This line delivered as a bandit archer looks down at the corpse of one of his buddies, decorated with thirty steel arrows. It's bad enough that every AI seems to only have six lines for any situation; what's worse is that there only seem to have been five voice actors available, so of course all the Elves sound the same, the Khajiit sound like Morrowind's Argonians and the female Orcs sound like a suburban housewife from Cleveland.

An example of good barks: the Thief series.

"I'm warning you, I'm a big... guardy... guy!" Honestly, the conversations held by the AIs in the Thief games are hilarious. And while Thief: Deadly Shadows had its fair share of shortcomings, listening to the AIs "bark" at each other was something sweet. "Evening, officer!" "Eh, bugger off." And then, of course, there's ANYTHING that Benny says. Pure comedy gold.

Hendar23:
lol I was just going to cite Warcraft and Starcraft as serious offenders.

ya but they can be dealt with

Very interesting article. While as a veteran gamer, I don't usually notice these so-called "barks", because they merely seem to be an aural way of alerting the player to certain events, the repetition of some lines in particular can be very irritating.

I noticed it most recently in Fallout 3, where certain enemies repeat the same few lines perpetually and out of context, an irritation which reduces immersiveness. In this case, I'd like to see either more dialogue choices or a lack of "barking" altogether.

On the other hand, I also noticed a lot of "barking" in BioShock, and previously in System Shock 2, but in this case, it could be suggested that these sound effects can improve immersiveness, because the repetition could be a result of insane minds or faulty computer systems. The cyborg midwives in System Shock 2 are a perfect example where only a few snips of dialogue can be used to great effect, and the insane singing and rambling of the splicers in BioShock is almost as effective.

The Rogue Wolf:
An example of bad barks: Oblivion.

"I better cut down on the ale. Starting to see things, I am." This line delivered as a bandit archer looks down at the corpse of one of his buddies, decorated with thirty steel arrows. It's bad enough that every AI seems to only have six lines for any situation; what's worse is that there only seem to have been five voice actors available, so of course all the Elves sound the same, the Khajiit sound like Morrowind's Argonians and the female Orcs sound like a suburban housewife from Cleveland.

Two words for you: Mud crabs.

The world is falling apart, hell opens itself upon the world, but who cares? There are mudcrabs to be bitching about.

Good article... I love learning new things about my favorite industry.
I honestly never noticed barks much until reading this article... I sort of took them as entertaining quotes to yell at friends over battle.net or Ventrilo. But I now realize how irritating it could be to constantly hear "You wanna piece a me, boy?" EVERYTIME you select a marine.

Voice acting is the least recognized tool that can easily increase the immersiveness of a game.
Rainslick precipice is good in this respect for satirizing the old, weary, wise voice.

Games with awesome voice acting:
System shock 2
Prince of persia sands of time
Portal
The Shivah

I have to admit that even though the barks of the splicers in BioShock were repetitive one would catch me off guard from time to time and allow me to test the tensile strength of my curtain rods.

MossStone:
In Fallout 3 I got really annoyed when I heard the same line a few times, and realised it was being said by different voice actors. If they could afford the voice actor for one more line, why couldn't they afford to write one more line for him?

Yes, that got very unnerving in a couple of fights; especially eerie was hearing a male and a female character saying exactly the same lines, one after another. They needed to mix the dialog up a bit...

The Halo series did a better job, but that might be a bit over-the-top as an example. (40,000 lines of "unscripted" dialog, in a shooter?)

Thunderhorse:
You should try with the "I would have been your daddy" skull enabled. I've heard some pretty awesome stuff come out the marines in that case.

Indeed; I've heard some remarkable stuff, both serious and hilarious, with that skull enabled. The characters voiced by Pete Stacker (the guy who used "I would have been your daddy, but that dog beat me over the fence" as a rare taunt in Halo 1, also the voice of those Budweiser "Real American Hero" ads) especially hatched out some good ones.

-- Steve

Paste makes an interesting point about how those barks become aural cues for the player-how you know when your character is hurt, or at risk of falling.

I'd say it's a careful balance you want to strike. Turning off the sound of game will kill the immersion in most cases (see Dead Space) but there comes a time when you just need them to shut the hell up.

Great article however I think the issue extends even further into game design. I mean what about canned animations? Can you imagine how insanely fluid and dynamic Street Fighter IV would look if each attack had at least 3 different animation routines (that obviously timed out exactly the same)?

You're absolutely right about the annoyance of the audio.. I usually end up playing with the volume almost all the way down, with subtitles on just so I won't annoy the crap out of my wife with the repititious chatter of the video games

BallPtPenTheif: that actually sounds like it would be really annoying and not make much sense. If it's supposed to be the same move why animate it differently? It seems like the net effect would be confusing the player by making it exceedingly unclear what is actually going on. Not that rote repetition of animation isn't terrible when misapplied. I can't tell you how many games I've seen where a crowd was moving in perfect unison. Seriously, add another cycle or two or at least put them a little out of phase.

I agree that barks are necessary for communicating valuable information to the player, but adding more barks is a good way to communicate more to the player. For instance Team Fortress 2 has several different barks for when a player calls for a medic. Some of these are just there to add variation, but they also differ by degree of urgency. If a player calls for a medic you can instantly tell how much he needs it by the sound of his voice.

I've been playing the demo for Left 4 Dead and I have to say I think that Valve has dynamic dialog nailed. Even the first bit of dialog in the demo, which could be summed up as the following:

Survivor 1: We should take the subway to the hospital
Survivor 2: Okay.

Has tons of different permutations depending on who the AI director casts into those roles. It really helps the suspense of the game that so many things change on a new play-through.

Up there with barks for potential annoyance is voice macros. If you have these in your game always put some limit on how much a player can activate them. There is no reason you should be able to say "need a dispenser over here" 10,000 times in one minute.

shMerker:
BallPtPenTheif: that actually sounds like it would be really annoying and not make much sense. If it's supposed to be the same move why animate it differently?

Well, in reality no two punches are exactly the same. So in the game, it would be the same punch, like i said, timed out the same.. so it's literally the same attack however there would be some slight deviation in the animation to give it the appearance of randomness.

Methinks someone is just forgetting that this all comes down to tradition.

I mean, is there anyone here who would say they didn't at one point like River City Ransom?

It's only one letter off, too.

Baaaaaaaarf.

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