Why Voice Acting Sucks in Games

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Why Voice Acting Sucks in Games

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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 Brütal 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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This is exactly why I tell people to not be so harsh on voice acting. It really does irk me that we have these actors who do take the time and try to offer a service to increase the immersion of a game. I actually have a dvd of anime voice actors being interviewed and how they started and what their career is like(it's pretty hectic, one week your employed then next month you have nothing) and it is amazing how hard it truly can be.

I do wish that more people would be involved and not have the same voice actors. I'll admit sure the VA who voiced Jack from Madworld was Spike from Cowboy Bebop was a good fit but really it would of been interesting to have someone else perform the role.

I have to admit, begrudingly, that the there is some outstanding voice work in P4. I'm talking about the guys doing Yosuke and Kenji. Everyone else are... let's be nice and say mediocre.

It's been a long time since I've nodded in approval of any game voicework. The last time was with NWN2 I think.

I wonder why for example Bethesda feel compelled to hire big-name actors and then hardly use them. It's not like TES4 says "With Patrick Steward" on the box :P

edit: I'll take the opposite stance: BECAUSE the conditions are so rough for voice actors we should complain about the quality until it seems like an issue worth fixing for game companies.

I always thought the voice acting in the first Company of Heroes was both good and quite entertaining.

Quick, think of a remedy before the silent hill remake!

Yes, the VA in Persona 4 is superb aside from a couple exceptions. The attachment I found myself having to those characters had as much to do with their voices as anything, I'd say.

Dectilon:
It's been a long time since I've nodded in approval of any game voicework. The last time was with NWN2 I think.

You too? I absolutely loved the voice acting in NWN2. Khelgar was by far the most enjoyable character to converse with. "You want to be a Monk." Yes, that's about the size of it. "...A Dwarven Monk." XD

As far as the column goes, yeah, there needs to be some real production effort put into getting these voice actors to perform at their absolute best. At the very least, there should be some script finalizing a lot farther in advance. Then they could coordinate the voice-over sessions earlier in development while the game is still being worked on.

SEGA is one company that's always been hit or miss when it comes to voice acting. Shenmue in English was definitely a train wreck in motion but at least it was the "funny" kind of bad. It's gone so far as to become in-jokes amongst Shenmue fans.

Sonic Adventure 1 on Dreamcast was the start of a whole different brand of bad acting in the form of Sonic's various voice-actors since then. Ever since he's gotten an in-game voice, it's been one deadpan one-liner after another. He got better, but only went as far as being "mediocre." And from there, he just become different kinds of "mediocre."

The only voice for Sonic that ever mattered was Jaleel White's in the American cartoon shows; He was awesome and could at least articulate the character outside of it's normal routine and catch phrases. Hell, if he could still sound like that at his age now, I'd petition the hell out of SEGA to sign him on for the role.

Ugh... end rant. Nice column. Let's try to raise awareness in the Game Industry of the plague of poor voice-overs and let them know its a big deal.

I have some friends that refuse to play games with bad VA. Myself, I grew up in the 80's and 90's so it's not so terrible.

I remember when VA was brand new.

Sacrificing voice acting for developed gameplay is definitely worth it. But still, I find some voice actors to be just SO BAD, that they might as well have removed their dialogue from the game.

For instance, in the 4th mission of Halo Wars, there is a girl who does the voice acting for the pilot of an evac ship. When the ship takes too much damage, she says something along the lines of "We're can't take much more of this!" The dialogue is so lacking in emphasis that a tone deaf person would have no problem deciphering the pitch of the voice actor. In other words, it's simply monotone. It's pitiful and it makes me want to destroy the ship myself so I don't have to hear it anymore. Plus, that's just about the worst mission in the game because its like a 20 minute long civilian escort mission. I guess it's better to have one terrible mission than a bunch of sub-par ones.

This is one of the reasons I like Valve. When they do something; If they do something, they do it right.

Voice Work can MAKE a game.

Riddick: Dark Athena has such good voice talent it makes me wanna soil my pants in the good way. Especially in the Dark Athena campaign, and especially Riddick- who makes you love him with his voice, even if his lines aren't particularly unique or witty the delivery is awesome- as well as the supporting NPC's in Dark Athena. Mmmm good times.

PC games always seems to have better voice acting? WiC? Command and Conquer? NWN?

Guess PC gamers just need a little something more than the rest?

To fully illustrate the importance of good voice work to the overall atmosphere of a game, all I have to do is mention one title.

System Shock 2.

(Seriously. Listen to the last one, at 10:17. Most disturbing thing I've ever heard in a game. Still gives me the creeps.)

Good voice acting: The LucasArts adventure games, hl2, bioshock

Bad voice acting: every rpg ever. seriously, why?

Blizzard, because it is Blizzard, has above par voice acting because they care about the finished product (hell, the merger had a paragraph hidden somewhere that said dont fuck with blizzard and its release dates)

Uncharted had some fantastic voice acting, but I think that was due in part to Naughty Dog using the voice actors to do the motion capture as well. Not only did this allow the actors to be more fully in character, but it also meant that the lines matched up to the actions.

A lot of games seem (to me anyway) to have the characters performing actions that don't quite 'gel' with the way the line is said, whether because the motion capture artist/animator interpreted a line differently or because, as is the case with a lot of JRPGs, the translation into English caused some of the meaning in the original line to be lost.

However, another problem is that so many characters in games are (still) one-dimensional and/or poorly written. I'm being stereotypical here, but it feels like the protagonist in every other shooter is some hideously buff sack of testosterone with half a brain cell, or that any JRPG concerns the exploits of an emo teenager who somehow saves the world. I'm not saying that every game is like this (thankfully, we've largely moved on from the worst offenders of these stereotypes), but if the writing is one-dimensional, then the voice actor is going to have a hard time making the character sound otherwise.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that yes, voice acting in games is often poorly done, but the writers/animators/motion capture people need to work harder as well in order to make the characters more interesting and work with the voice actors to improve performances. Granted, doing so would be more expensive for the developer, but if we want better voice acting, it's going to be a necessary evil.

(Having said all that, I do think that the MGS series, Bioshock and Destroy All Humans all have some wonderful voice acting, and they should serve to remind us that we may be ranting about some poor work, bad acting is by no means occuring in every game)

Kari Wahlgren. That's my favourite voice actor. Every game where I've thought "Wow, this character's voice is excellent", I looked it up and it turned out Kari Wahlgren had done it. Setsuka from SCIII, Tahlkora and Gwen from GW: Eye of the North, Elika from Prince of Persia Ashe from FFXII, all excellent voices. You can tell that she puts a bit of her own style into every voice she does. That's the sound of a motivated actor, and that's what every actor should sound like.

dcheppy:
Good voice acting: The LucasArts adventure games, hl2, bioshock

Bad voice acting: every rpg ever. seriously, why?

But what about Captain Picard!!!! (Oblivion:Emperor).

I had to do some voice acting recently for a sound design project. Lemme tell you, it's way harder than most people realize. I now appreciate why there are so few voice actors out there.

Bioshock had really good voice acting, but the best in any game I've played recently is probably GTA 4 or Mass Effect, which were both excellent.

As a professional Voice Actor I to am pissed at game creators for not really taking Voice Acting seriously. I know that most of their money goes into other aspects of the game, but why not budget for good Voice Actors? Hire a pro voice and stop pissing your money away on amatures. Your product will come off sounding much better. I'm open to talk to anyone about Voice Acting at [email protected] and if you want to hear my little voice acting demos http://soundboard.com/sb/BigBry69.aspx
Thanks for letting me vent here
Bry

I want to know what happened to Far Cry 2. Were the actors told to leave out pauses? Were they edited or what?

I was gonna mention MadWorld. Steven Blum is great at bad asses.
I can't think of a game with really bad acting in it. Some of the stuff in No More Heroes seemed a little off, but that game is so weird it didn't bug me.

Psychonauts had great voice acting. "sobs". "hugs Milla vodello shaped pillow".

It's funny how the original Metal Gear Solid, a 1998 game, had far better voice acting (in six different languages) than most games today. I guess big developpers prefer to pour all their funds in shiny graphics so almost nothing is left for other important features like voice acting.

TsunamiWombat:
Voice Work can MAKE a game.

Oh hell yeah

"GO FOR THE EYES, BOO!"
"GET OVER HERE!"
"Wake up Missster Freeman, wake up and smell the ashes"
"TAAAAAAAAAAANK!"
"Gentlemen?"
"Stop POKING ME!"
"For AIUR!"
"Remember when we were going to kill you and you were like NO WAY!"

dcheppy:

Bad voice acting: every rpg ever. seriously, why?

Minsc wants an apology or Boo will get upset.

This is one of the many reasons I love BioWare, because the voice work in their games is uniformly excellent.

The_root_of_all_evil:

"GO FOR THE EYES, BOO!"

Minsc is awesome. This just reinforces what I said, because all the voice actors in BG were brilliant.

I guess I just play the wrong games - I've never really felt that some characters voice actor was horrible. I'm not really into the whole voice acting-scene though, I only know Jennifer Hale really. She did a fine job voicing Shepard in Mass Effect, in my honest oppinion.

What I think there is a problem with is the text, not really the performance. But maybe that's just me. Again, I probably play the wrong games.

I hear that Oblivion had some pret-"I'VE FOUGHT MUDCRABS TOUGHER THAN YOU" "Good riddance"

Actually never mind what I said.

Dub voice work can RUIN a game, easier and much happier option, subs! And don't mention the poor excuse of "I don't want to read them"

setsunafseiei:
Dub voice work can RUIN a game, easier and much happier option, subs! And don't mention the poor excuse of "I don't want to read them"

Depends on the game.
I believe that Valkyria Chronicles dub was superior to the sub, voice for voice.
And I still laugh whenever someone brings up the laughing scene in FFX. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HORRIBLE AND ACKWARD, HAVE YOU HEARD THE JAPANESE VERSION IT IS JUST AS BAD.

True but on the whole the original is the best (in reference to FF) I mean I wouldn't mind going back to the days of no audio dialogue if it was to save my ears from the pain that is woeful dubbing.
And having never played Valkyria Chronicles I can't pass judgement. I just recently bought The Last Remnant...need I say more :(

It makes me mad that Lucasarts would rather sit on their Sam and Max games than release them, because I need Bill Farmer and Nick Jameson to get the bad taste of Nowlin, Chaikin, and Kasten out of my mouth.

Anyone else agree with me that the new voices of Sam and Max have worn out their welcome and need to go away for good? Sam does NOT sound like a robot, and Max does NOT sound like a car alarm! Eleven episodes of bad voice acting are eleven episodes too many.

Vaguely related: Any body else feel that the male Shepard is significantly less badass sounding than the female Shepard in Mass Effect?

Wholly related: I can think of plenty of games with good voice acting and now I'm curious if they had a chance to view the script prior to performance.

I suspect not. Take Thief for example. Garrett and other main characters? Amazing voice acting. Guard voice acting? Ehhh....

When voice acting is good, I realize it is there and generally like it.

When voice acting is bad, I facepalm for the first few times, then just read the subtitles and ignore the speaking. This works surprisingly well, but that might work just for me.

Hence, I wouldn't say "(bad) voice acting can ruin a game" since I can ignore it if it gets too bad. I'd rather say "Good voice acting can make a game better." because it can only improve.

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