Video games are big business: total video game revenue in 2018 was $43.8 billion, surpassing total global box office revenue by over $2 billion. Along with faster mobile devices and more games being localized for global audiences, the ease of entry into playing video games has expanded the market and the number of players. This comes with a growing demand for video game content and thus video game voice-over.
Video games, once solely focused on technical gameplay and visuals, have become an interactive storytelling medium where good voice acting has become essential to the experience. We'll discuss voice acting tips for video games as well as the unique challenges that the process brings.
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Video Game Voice Acting Tips
Games place a strong emphasis on voice acting and the casting process. Actors with video game acting experience will be desirable as they know what to expect and understand the workflow. However, even if an actor is new to video game voice acting, they can still develop the skills to help them stand out:
- Cold read -is the ability to improvise a voice when seeing the script for the first time. Video game productions move at a faster pace than most film and animation productions. This means that scripts can be rewritten all the way up until recording time, giving the voice talent little to no time to prep. Thus voice talents must have the ability to create a unique voice upon seeing the script. One cold reading exercise is looking at different character designs and making up a voice on the spot based on the drawing.
- Wide range - having a wide emotional and tonal range is incredibly important for video game voice talents since they may be called on to play multiple characters throughout the game. If an actor voices two different characters and they sound too alike, it can confuse players and pull them out of the experience. Voice talents have to be able to make each character voice distinct and give them each their own personality even for minor characters. It's incredibly helpful that the client or source producer provides character descriptions and audio examples to the localization studio so that they can share these with the actors as reference.
- Technical voice acting - voice acting is acting, however, it brings with it its own set of technical skills. In film and theater, actors generally have portable mics attached to them, allowing them to move more freely than the voice actor. The voice actor is in a confined recording booth and must be acutely aware of the positioning of their mouth in relation to the mic. Even just a slight turn away or backing up from the mic can cause a word to be missed or the recording to be too quiet. At the same time, if it's a game that requires screaming or loud growls (common in thriller genre games popular this time of year), being too close can distort the voice and cause the audio to clip. Voice actors should work with the recording engineer to test the distancing and to gauge the volume levels.
These are just three of the many skills needed to meet the distinct challenges that video games bring to the craft of voice acting. What are some of the other challenges video games offer voice actors?
Voice Acting Challenges for Video Games
Video game projects for many voice actors are the most demanding voice-over jobs. Actors may have anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 lines or more for a main character role. Role-playing games (RPGs), in which a character explores a vast world and has to accomplish a quest can have alternate story lines and a huge cast of characters which means a lot of content (an example would be the Final Fantasy series). Given the sheer volume of words and the strict production schedule, actors may only get 1 or 2 takes before having to move on.
This is why it's important to have a voice-over director during the recording session. A director with video game voice-over experience will know how to help the actors adjust the character voices and keep the different characters distinct from each other. Directors offer another set of ears to also help the actor keep the same character sounding consistent.
Recording action lines is another key aspect of video games. Action lines, as covered in our previous blog, are non-verbal grunts, screams, huffs, and other similar bodily sounds common in games. If an actor had to voice a mindless zombie, that's all action lines! This type of lines can be incredibly draining for the voice actor given the physicality needed. That's why it's so important that voice actors warm up before a video game recording session and also allow time between takes to relax their vocal chords.
The Outlook for Video Games and Voice Actors
Despite the challenges, many voice actors are drawn to the video game industry and see it as the future of voice-over and video dubbing. Motion capture, the process of recording actors' movements and expressions, has improved vastly over the past few years and is being used in video games to create more authentic experiences. In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the video game studio hired former Navy SEALs for motion capture sessions to make the soldiers' movements more natural and help direct the action of the lead actors.
The lead actors in Call of Duty and for other games like the upcoming Last of Us 2, no longer just perform with their voice, but with their face and whole body as well. Attached sensors to the face along with an array of cameras capture facial micro-expressions and emotions that would be incredibly difficult to animate otherwise. This results in hyper-realistic video game acting and movement.
Full body motion capture is also being used in the development of virtual reality. Soon, players will be able to move through a completely immersive, computer generated environment and interact with characters and objects in a realistic way. Voice actors may not only have to bring their voice acting skills but also their physical acting chops to the table to stay in the video game acting realm.
Companies are already producing VR games and the technology has proven to be quite a successfully scary combination with the horror genre.
Speaking of horror...have a safe and Happy Halloween!
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