Voiceovers Can Make Or Break A Game

I stumbled across an interesting conversation through Twitter about voice overs in games. General consensus was that it could ruin a game. I feel that I’ve had both good and bad experiences with character voices and think it depends on the type of game, the quality of the voice acting and how we as the player prefer to engage.

I loved having a voice for my character in the games Mass Effect and The Old Republic, as it helped me to connect with the character and gave them personality. Although these titles do have good voice acting in them which helps. I really liked the voice of my Sith Inquisitor for instance, and I think it bought life and energy to the dialogue. On going back to games that use text they felt a little flat by comparison. Some games also use way too much text and it can make my eyes sore to read so much on a screen. On the other hand I can see how text would be preferable if you’re not a fan of the voice acting. I can also read faster than a line can be spoken and sometimes I’ll get impatient and skip it. Although my partner and I like to play story heavy games together (like Heavy Rain) and find it helps to have voice acting so that we don’t accidentally skip ahead before the other person has finished reading.

I find character design particularly interesting, and so when given the option to create one I usually base them on a personality that I have chosen. Sometimes I even talk about them like they’re real people. How I play them is partly based on how I feel, but also on how I believe my character would act. Being able to role-play allows us to explore ideas that we would otherwise feel uncomfortable doing ourselves, but for the most part they either end up being who I’d like to be or the type of character I find interesting. I feel like the best RPGs help you to fill out your character or at least leave enough space for you to use your imagination. Voice acting can either help me to connect with them more easily, or can put me off by being ill-suited. One line can be spoken in multiple different ways, and this does affect the feel of a character’s personality and mood.

We don’t always have a choice on the character we get to play however, but the silent protagonist may still be preferable. It can make it far easier for us to insert ourselves into the role of another character if they are left as a blank slate (This works fairly well in Half Life and Dark Souls.) Too much talking can also be distracting from the sense of atmosphere, something which SOMA was criticised for. On the other hand I feel that a voice over can actually help us to connect with the character and the narrative. Even if I can’t fully project myself onto a character, I can sympathise with them and care about their situation (it surprised me in Until Dawn that even though I disliked some of the characters I still felt bad if I couldn’t keep them alive.) Although in choice heavy games I’m not so keen on hearing too many of the character’s thoughts. I found that in Life Is Strange, Max’s feedback on the choices I made could influence my decisions. Maybe the point was to help me to understand potential consequences, but there were moments where I didn’t appreciate being made to feel bad no matter what I did.

Another way to give voice to a character is to use an incomprehensible noise to suggest they are talking, like Simlish or the way they talk in Okami. I guess this gives them a little more personality than the silent protagonist, but not as suggestive as a full voice over. One game that comes to mind is Don’t Starve, in which the character voices are represented by different instruments. The way they sound gives a sense of character and emotion to their speech without requiring voice acting.

I personally have no preference for whether a game uses a voice over or not because I don’t have any trouble engaging with different types of character, whether I am playing as myself, a person I’d like to be or somebody entirely different. So long as it fits the game and the voice acting is of a good quality then I probably won’t think more on it. Even if the voice acting is below par it can sometimes add to the character of a game by giving us something to laugh about. It can drastically affect the feel of a game however, and a voice over might not always be needed.

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About wallcat

I have a strong passion for computing. In particular programming for which I am able to use a variety of languages including C++, Visual C#, Blitz Basic, Actionscript 2.0, Python and Lua. I also enjoy web-design and have some knowledge of HTML/CSS, PHP/SQL and Javascript. As well as programming I have a strong background in art and enjoy drawing in my spare time. When I’m not sat at my computer I like to keep fit by going to the gym or using my exercise ball.

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