October 25, 2021

Silence of the Hams.

Let me make this abundantly clear right from the off – I in no way have anything against voice actors, voice acting, cutscenes and videos in games today. I enjoy them. I look forward to them. I even in some cases love them.

However, it was arguing today over The Old Republic with some old acquaintances that I realised that perhaps these days we’ve become almost over-reliant on it. That a game with text is somehow “not worth playing” or “cheap”.

That’s not taking into consideration that many of the quest givers in The Old Republic still make you wade through “text”. Some of the biggest games of the last few years still make you go through “text” and actually read notations, diaries and the like. There was one person who recently asked, “How is no voice acting better than hammy voice acting?”

It’s that kind of reliance on voice acting that concerns me.

I mean, god forbid that ten years ago and further back still many of us were reading text in games! The JRPGs on the SNES and PS1. Vagrant Story. Final Fantasy one through to nine, and even beyond. I fear that today, we’re in a world that copy-pastes from the internet, which plagarises and lifts wholesale and really, many can’t be bothered to actually read anything. It’s time consuming to them. Takes too long.

Except that it often takes half the time to read a page of dialogue than to hear someone reading it out for you.

And then there is the issue of the quality of voice acting – whilst some voice actors work hard and are very good (Nolan North is like honey dripping into my eardrums!) there are others who phone it in so hard that your ears feel they have been assaulted. Sadly, most of these people tend to actually be the big-budget names drafted in – Ron Perlman in Turok. Patrick Stewart in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. And David Duchovny for Area 51, a performance that haunts me with how dead it was.

These are people who clearly do the voice acting for the extra cash, and they don’t put any effort in. Yes, they’re identifiable, but that’s part of the problem. Knowing them so intimately from TV, film and stage we’re familiar with their voices and it robs us of something. Then they go ahead and voice act really badly and it kind of destroys the whole mood.

The Old Republic is a game which has tried to make full cutscenes part of the MMO experience, but it detracts when you have to sit and wait for someone to finish their cutscenes before you can move on to the next scene, or boss, or section. And when the voice acting is sub-standard, you just lose immersion. It loses something.

With text, sure there is silence if no music is playing – but you don’t get that jarring audio disconnect between your senses and the game you are playing.

Again, I have no actual problem with it, but I think we are reliant on voice actors – and the biggest names are the ones often picking up the biggest paychecks. This drives development costs up, and means games have to sell more units to break even. The voice actors generally don’t have to deliver their best performance – they phone it in, everyone fawns, they go home, those playing the games suffer the consequences. And then the developers do as we moan and make it known the voice acting sucks in XYZ game.

There are great examples of voice acting in gaming though – Beyond Good and Evil and Bastion to name two. Some are even so bad they’re good – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and the original Resident Evil games. But these days, the quality of voice acting hasn’t really improved with the big-budget names being drawn in. We’re still often laughing at how bad voice acting is and can be, mocking the worst excesses and lines of it.

I have to say it. In some of these cases, I don’t know why we can’t simply go back to text. Or have the option, if we know it is going to be bad, to turn it off and just have subtitles, or text to scroll through.

We survived thirty-odd years on text. We still largely read books and novels and have done for a few thousand years. I think it is going to take a little longer before voice acting is flawless in games.

Until then, I quite like text. I can read through it fast. I can click on the button at the end, and then carry on. When I have no way to skip through someone struggling to voice act a scene, as happens so often in games these days, I’m way more pissed off.

And again, it is so often the famous people drafted in to lend some air of credibility to the proceedings who often do the worst jobs of it.

It’s a waste of time and money.


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