Sunday, December 6, 2009

Voices in Games

Some recent discussion has given me cause to think about the place of voices in visual novels. Professional voice actors don't come cheap, and amateur voice actors don't always come through. For that matter, even some professional voice actors don't come through. But voices really add depth and personality to the characters and I think it makes the game feel more alive. Good, voices, at least. Bad voice acting can pretty much ruin a game that might have been good otherwise.

But that still leaves the question of how much should really be voiced. A fully voiced game rocks, but voices take time. Lots of time. Many Japanese visual novels leave the main character without a voice, but I've played similar games (the Nancy Drew series, for instance) where everything (including the character's inner thoughts) is narrated. The director's cut of Star Ocean 3 included bonus scenes that weren't voiced over. It was kinda awkward having the characters suddenly...not be talking at random scenes. So how much should really be voiced in the end? Just the cut scenes? Just the ending sequence?

Personally, I love a fully voiced game. But I've had my share of experience with voice actors, and many are not exactly...reliable. Especially online. But then again, any project online is already likely to lose an artist into the great abyss. Using voice actors only makes the production time longer. A long project takes even longer to churn out, when the game could already be considered "complete" without voices in the first place. So where's the balance? Hold up your game for months (I've had to wait nearly a year for some lines) just to make a better product, churn it out fast with mediocre voices, or just get the project done and forget the voices?

I like my own games to be voiced. I feel sad and empty without it. Of course, that's mostly because I am a voice actor and it would seem weird if I didn't use my skills for such a direct application. Thankfully as a voice actor, I don't really have to wait too long for lines. As for other games, it really depends on the quality of the voices. I feel an unvoiced game is better than one with only mediocre voice acting, but a game with good voice acting is definitely a cut above the rest. Go all in, or keep it simple. Middle ground is a risky place to be.

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