Voicing concerns: the problem with video game acting

Games tend
to evolve enormously over the standard two-year process, with whole
missions often culled at a late stage, as playtesting reveals unforeseen
fault lines and design issues. Having to recall actors and record
chunks of new dialogue to reflect story changes is perceived as an
expensive, time-consuming chore – the last thing a hassled studio needs
in the generally hellish run up to a major delivery deadline.

while those justifications made sense in the old days, when voice
performances tended to be restricted to skippable cut-scenes there for
decoration only, they begin to look less convincing in the modern era.


There are also fundamental
differences between voice acting in a videogame and voice acting in
linear artforms such as radio plays and animated movies. Due to the
interactive nature of games, actors can’t be given a standard film
script from which they’re able to gauge the throughline of their
character and a feel for the dramatic development of the narrative.
Instead, lines of dialogue need to be isolated into chunks so they can
be accessed and triggered within the game in line with the actions of
each individual player. Consequently, the performer will usually be
presented with a spreadsheet jammed with hundreds of single lines of
dialogue, with little sense of context or interaction.


Ultimately, Emery pinpoints an evolving role within the game
development process; instead of script writers, what is needed now are
‘narrative designers’, experts in the creation of plot and dialogue for
an interactive medium. “Good narrative designers can work with game
designers to ensure the story and dialogue becomes a fully integrated
element of the game design, rather than a hindrance to pure
interactivity. A lot of game players do not like to be stopped while a
cut scene delivers story elements and clever Narrative design can ensure
the story is delivered in a less obtrusive way.

“As narrative
designers become more adept at delivering a compelling story in ways
less obtrusive to game play, the distinction between ‘Story’ dialogue
and ‘World Filling’ dialogue will continue to blur. The challenge will
be to ensure ALL acting in games is believable, from in-game greetings,
to death cries, to the epic monologue.” —UK Guardian