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Why Voice Acting Sucks in Games

| 14 Apr 2009 20:35
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Ever wonder why the voice acting in your favorite game is so mediocre? Well, there are many, many factors - but not giving actors an advance look at the script certainly doesn't help.

Let's be honest with ourselves here: For the most part, voice acting in games is pretty bad. I mean, sometimes it's funny bad ("I hope this is not Chris' blood!"), sometimes it's just annoyingly bad (Final Fantasy X's laughing scene), and sometimes it's stab-your-eardrums-with-an-ice-pick bad (anything spoken by Welch in Star Ocean 4), but it's largely mediocre - at best.

There's a really interesting article up at Brainy Gamer that examines why voice work for videogames is usually so subpar. Is it just that the voice actors themselves suck? Well... sometimes, sure. But more importantly, voice-over for games is often waaaay down the list of important things for developers and publishers to consider, meaning that comparatively little effort goes into the whole thing.

I don't mean that they hire cheap actors - the article essentially says that the problem is not allowing the voice talent to do their thing. Essentially, they're just not doing enough with the actors they do have. As one voice actor puts it:

It's not about being creative. There's no time for that. It's about recording cues. We call ourselves actors, but we're really technicians. There's very little space for spontaneity or imagination in that room. The people I've worked with have been very nice for the most part, but if they could replace me with a robot that can emote in ten different dialects, they would do it in a second.

It doesn't help that frequently, actors are only given the script upon arriving at the studio - and instead of having time to build a character, they're given little sections of lines to work on at once. "It's very simple stuff. Inflections and modulation mostly. I'm not sure I would call it characterization ... Do I enjoy it as an actor? I have to say no. It's incredibly stifling because you're giving them about a tenth of what you're capable of, and you feel like you're digging into your same old bag of tricks over and over."

Of course, there's some good voice acting. Our own Jordan Deam praised the improv-style voices in MadWorld courtesy of experienced VAs John DiMaggio and Greg Proops. I've been particularly impressed with the character voices in Persona 4 thus far. And, of course, one has to wonder about the upcoming BrĂ¼tal Legend, too, given that Jack Black is renowned not for what he does on-script, but what he does while off it.

There's hope ... but until producers start taking voicework more seriously than they have been, voice acting in games will largely be doomed to being amateur hour.

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