It’s amazing the amount of video games (especially independent video games) which are let down horribly by bad voice acting.
Voice acting is imperative to a believable game. Unless a game has been created using motion capture then a character’s voice is the only part of a game that is genuinely real. A character’s body is created from pixels or polygons, gameplay is code, backgrounds are pieces of art. . . it is only the voice that is genuinely alive.
Game developers need to truly utilise the unique power of voice actors in bringing a game to life because, as all good developers know, the key to any story drive game is believability.
Sadly, you can’t just hand a voice actor a page full of lines and ask them to read them. Doing so will invariably result in bad acting. You could have Daniel Day Lewis reading your lines, but if he doesn’t know the character and story, if he doesn’t get the game, even he will not be able to bring a character to life.
Game developers generally don’t have much experience in working with actors. Even AAA titles have at times shown a lack of understanding about how an actor works.
So, how exactly does a game developer direct an actor in a way that creates a believable, living performance? These are the keys:
How to help a game’s voice actor achieve a good performance
1: Give them the script early: This should be obvious, but it’s amazing the amount of developers who don’t do it. An actor must have the entire script of a game at least a few weeks before recording. The actor needs to be able to get into the mind of their character, and that takes time. Oh, and don’t ever give them only their lines, which is something many developers do. An actor has to understand their character in regards to the story as a whole.
2: Shown them everything you have on the character: For a performance to be believable the actor needs to be able to match their voice to the image (including the movement) of the character. Show them art, show them animations, show them everything you have on the character.
3: Do not EVER ask a voice actor to record their lines alone: Voice actors need people to bounce their lines off of, and its best they have another actor to do that with. Again, this should be obvious but some developers just hand an actor a bunch of lines and expect results. Give your voice actors a stage to work on and other people to work with.
4: Discuss: The actor must have access to other creative types who are working on the game. All art is collaborative. Put the actor in contact with other artists and with a director, allow them to discuss the game and the character in depth, this helps them to understand both the character and the vision of the game as a whole.
5: Time: Time can be short especially if you’re hiring a studio. But if you want the best results you need to give your actors time to warm up and time to get into their role.
6: Allow spontaneity: Spontaneity is hugely important to an actor. The reason is simple: spontaneous actions that arise unscripted come from natural impulses, and “natural impulses” is practically another word for “realistic.” If an actor changes a line a little, be flexible, if it felt right to the actor it probably sounds right in the game.
7: When recording allow build up: If you have one line left to record, or if you for some reason want to record lines separately, don’t. You’re asking a heck of a lot of an actor if you expect them to say one line out of the blue and make it a) realistic and b) fit with the rest of the game. An actor needs to build up. If you want to record one specific line, start recording at least a couple of minutes before that line to let the actor get into to.
Finally, if you really really want believable voice actor work there is one way to achieve it with even amateur actors: record the whole thing in one take. It’s a challenge, to be sure, but actors (generally) work good under pressure and most would rather have one performance of an entire story than fragmented lines here and there.
More than anything, what creates a good voice actor is allowing them to be a part of the game. You shouldn’t ever hire in a voice actor, have them read lines and expect a good result. Actors and all artists will work better when they are a part of the creative process. Invite their imagination, get them actively involved, give them creative freedom and you’ll have a great performance.