Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Voice acting

    I just started a game with a decent story, fun battle mechanics, and a good sense of progression. However, this three-year-old game (Tales of Xilia) still suffers from bad voice acting. I know it isn't as easy as it looks. I feel like good dialogue scenes have a couple components that can cause you to skip through the scenes or watch them: translation, lip-syncing, and context. The translation these days is quite amazing, but at times, I miss text-only dialogue because the other two aspects just aren't met.

I never understood why programmers can't write an algorithm for dynamic lip-synching. This would shape the characters' mouths to their words as they say them, instead of just flapping like games quite often do. A lot of newer games motion-cap the faces, and the voice actor is also the basic model for the character. This method produces cutscenes like this:

started at the 2:00 mark. No, it's not a sex scene!

This Californian game studio, Naughty Dog, has the absolute highest quality of games I've ever played. Every cutscene drives the story, is incredibly well-done, and is flawlessly animated. The characters point to the spots on maps that they're talking about. It's almost like they wrote a long movie, kept half of it in scenes, and drew the rest out of climbing, shooting, and artifact-collecting goodness. Very few studios make games like this, but that's not the standard I'm asking for, either.

For some reason, it's always decided that Japanese games need to be translated and voiced in English. We're often left with these bland scenes, done by actors who probably don't even play the game. Not only that, but a voice actor's talent has a chance of being thwarted by poor lip-syncing, or otherwise poor timing, like the characters giving WAY TOO MUCH room between lines of dialogue, or characters standing almost completely still while talking.

These dudes are a bit over-the top, but it fits the context of the game. Regardless, the timing is much better, though the lips still move to the original language. The characters are animated to do stuff, and sometimes the voice relfects that (like the straining of voice for the wounded guy at ~50sec).

Sometimes, it's quite obvious that the new voice talents don't understand the context of their lines and it really bothers me that this is still a persistent problem in video games. In a story-driven game that's over 30 hours long, the main character better be tolerable. Finally, there are also terrible scenes in general (I'm looking at you, Final Fantasy 10 [2min in for the climax])

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I am one of those people that uses the word  perfect subjectively. I think something is perfect if it does what it's intended to do ...