The cost of dialogue in games

I’m sitting with an egg. That probably doesn’t mean a lot to you, but it’s a popular Flemish expression for ‘something’s bothering me’. We say – “ik zet met een ei”

The egg of it is that we’ve been making some fuzz about all the choices and consequences in Dragon Commander.  Right now however, all these choices & consequences only exist as text. And now we need to find a cost-effective way of translating all that text into animated dialogue.

Obviously, we also want whatever dialogue animation we put in the game to be as good as possible, so everybody’s saying – have you seen LA Noire ? And I say, yeah I’ve seen it.

Then I think of Divinity II -the Ego Draconis part, remembering that the voice recordings, lip-synchronization and associated dialogue animations required an intense piece of work, so I ask Benoit, the producer who was responsible for that , exactly how much voice did we have ?

He tells me, over 9.5 hours of voice recordings, per language, but he phrases it as over 34000 seconds, just to make sure I’m well aware of what I’m asking for. I guess he emphasized the seconds bit because he’s seen me talk to a variety of people in the team about how to handle the performance capturing, and nightmares of the past came back to him.

So I tell him, well take those timings  as a reference, I have no clue how much dialogue we’re going to have in Dragon Commander, but it’s going to be a ton. Find out what the best solutions are for this, and let me know the cost.

I’m sure he’s going to come back with a 6 digit number, hopefully one we can manage. I also curse. Curse that this is going to cost me man-years of development that I could otherwise put into extra features, but knowing full well that if I don’t, the game won’t be taken seriously. At least not by that group of critics that demand that games have the same production values like the ones on display in the best AAA productions.

I can already see the quotes – “Interesting dialogues, interesting choices, but brought in a manner not on par with AAA production X”.

Or maybe I’m just imagining things.

I am after all  traumatized by past experiences in which I  proudly showed what a team of 6 animators, 45 voice actors and slaving designers/producers managed to do in terms of dialogue work on Divinity II, trying to bring some life to those 9.5 hours of voice acting, only to read afterwards that “the animation is stiff, the voice actors passable”.

I thought that was quite unfair, especially considering how some of the other AAA RPG productions brought their dialogues. In reviews of those games on the same sites I didn’t see any phrasing along those lines.

I never understood why. I played all those games trying to understand why in our case they had to nitpick about it, but in those other games, where they clearly didn’t spend so much effort on it, reviewers chose to ignore it.

So I’m sitting on an egg. Should I actually invest all that money into something that might get me another “the animation is stiff, the voice actors passable”, or should I just do text-boxes, and spend the money on something else ?

 

  • Wotan Anubis

    I once read an article (well… an opinion column) on the Escapist, I think it was, that was more or less about this very thing.

    Basically, as technology improves, expenses go up. A lot. Which, the opinion opined, might end up destroying the games industry as the smaller companies just can’t afford the cost and the bigger companies don’t dare try anything new.

    Anyway, personally, I don’t mind a lack of voice-acting. I’m not even bothered by a blend of the two, like in Xenoblade Chronicles, Deadly Premonition or Persona 4, to name a few, where the important scenes are voice-acted and the more mundane scenes are not. Or you could do like Zelda and not have any voice acting at all, aside from a few character-establishing grunts, cries and sighs.

    But then, who would want to emulate Zelda’s success?

    As for ‘professional’ game reviewers… I admit, I personally lost faith in them a few years ago. If it’s a “Big Title”, they’ll gush. If it’s a smaller one, they’ll nitpick it to death.

    But that’s just my opinion.

  • Jack

    Please, for the love of all that is holy – don’t insist on fully voicing the entire game

    As I see it – it isn’t purely a question of localisation convenience or resource allocation on part of the developer – but it’s also a choice critical for creating a game that may live up to the genre definition as some may still remember from the days when games were branded RPGs for their choices and consequences and expansive storylines with player freedom – and not for being simplistic, cheesy half romance novels/half action games or repetitive hiking simulators.

    Could put it in the same basket as the scaling from 2d to 3d graphics – in purely technical sense – where you’re increasing the surface fidelity of what the player sees, but at the same time – the increased content demands restrict the gameplay and simulated mechanics you can put in to work with said content.
    As an extreme example consider the potential amount of underlying and gameplay mechanics in games that go without graphics at all – like roguelikes, or Dwarf Fortress. Then contrast that with the amount of things you’d be able to do in your average modern RPG – Listen to static (but animated and fully voiced!) NPC yammer his preset dialogue at you, get quest journal update, follow the quest compass somewhere you interact with an object and/or hammer the left mouse button at some enemies – really doesn’t matter what kind because they’re all the same. Walk back, have your dick stroked for being a good boy that can follow orders. Divinity II was guilty of that a fair bit.

    Maybe it is just me – but I find events described almost entirely in text (as in PS:T) far more stimulating and elaborate than the most cinematic scenes from Mass Effect and Dragon Age, especially in how responsive they are – modern games all feeling like predetermined chores, movies that have you hold down the Play button.

    So itseems to me – that taking the ages old compromise solution of voicing and animating only select, plot critical NPCs is still overall the most effective, with the rest of the game being left up to creative writing and the player’s imagination – think Fallout – because I can think of exactly one RPG where full voice acting actually showed clear benefits and improved the game – which was Troika’s Bloodlines – and even then it was released in a near unplayable state for a whole host of factors, like not enough time or technical expertise. But spite of all that – Troika managed to evoke characters that felt near life-like to me, for smart (and very varied – that is important) voice actor choices and top tier writing, and as I reckon – hardly anyone has matched that level since, far less in an RPG offering choice and consequence to player’s actions.

    What companies like Bethesda and Bioware are doing with their games – making that trade-off from depth to skin-deep flash. Just trace through their game libraries throughout the past decade and some – From Baldur’s Gate 2 to releasing “RPGs for the CoD public” to eventually forgetting about the RPG label entirely – and I would hate to see Larian follow that same trap simply because “the market requires it”

    It might sell better with critics and kids who have never encountered a game written well enough to be interesting to read rather than listen – but as result their games all feel shallow and repetitive.
    But that can be solved by turning them into yearly franchises and selling DLC right  – because surely, that feeling of growing dissatisfaction is just a hunger for more of what they sell and will be solved by tipping the scale further into common appeal.

    I know I’ve quite rambled, but I hope at least some of my vitriolic ranting made sense.

  • Licaon_Kter

    @050a9e95b42cced103ce315662e7efa4:disqus : http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/experienced-points/7588-Voice-vs-Choice this?
    About the reviewers, one can’t really take their opinions as ‘the truth’ when they have in the same phrase: “not enough voice acting” and “forget the dialog details I want to kill stuff”.

    • Wotan Anubis

      Yeah, that’s the one. Thanks for linking it so I don’t have to. ;)

  • qp

    Wow, speaking as an indie game fan and reviewer, I want to emphasize, don’t do what you’re not best at.  It just gives something for people (reviewers) to point at and laugh at.  If your voice acting is absent, the reviewer will say, “There is not spoken dialogue, so some people will not enjoy this game, but the writing that is there is pretty good.”  If you have mediocre voice acting, your reviewer will say, “The dialogue is nothing to write home about.  Some people will be put off by the unconvincing voice acting.”  Same net effect, but in the first case you saved $100,000+.  Just make an overwhelming gameplay, do what art you can really nail well, and the same reviewers will be proud to champion a “niche” title.  They will say, “If you are the type of gamer who can see past the mediocre production values, this is not a game to be missed.”  It will still be gut-wrenching for you, but it will work out better this way.  Even a good reviewer cannot do his job without mentioning blah voice acting, or the way your voice acting budget has forced you to trim the story dialogue to perfunctory exposition.  But the better reviewers will gush at a game that does what it can, in the very best way, even if it cannot do everything.  Perhaps you should get some really outstanding short bits of voice acting, if you want to tick a feature box without ruining your oldschool-RPG-length dialogue.  Some quality cutscenes can breathe a surprising amount of life into otherwise flat, voiceless characters.

    • Lar

      You see that’s the thing – you’re point makes a lot of sense,  yet the reference to “mediocre production values” makes it into the argument  because indeed it’s what people have come to expect. The post here that linked to Shamus Young’s article surprised me  - http://www.escapistmagazine.co… - because it shows that the awareness of the issue is there. Yet despite this, we don’t see criticism of these AAA RPG’s for abandoning the depth (at least in my memory ;) ) that was offered by games like for instance Planescape torment. Imho the description “mediocre amount of true choices” applies to most games that don’t have “mediocre production values”. Why are we awarding games for bringing us less interactivity than we had in the beginning of this century all for the sake of production values ? Aren’t we supposed to progress instead of regress ?

      • qp

        Of course, it’s a frustrating gauntlet.  There’s basically no way to please everyone, though.  I daresay an indie game simply cannot even score a 90+ unless it is a completely new genre and riding a huge swell of beta fanbase support.  I mean, look at the 90s, what separates those games from 95s from a developer’s standpoint?  $50 million in production dollars?  $10 million in advertising?  Innovative games are usually punished even when they are AAA colossi.  Remember the heydays of RTS games, when virtually every game was a treasure trove of new gameplay and ideas,so many of them polished pretty comparably, and yet the only thing to really achieve success day in day out was Westwood’s tired-ass C&C series (ok, that’s my opinion, but you have to admit they weren’t the most progressive titles).  And virtually any game I mention is bound to rouse a chorus of disagreements, because that’s all that separates the majority of those titles — personal aesthetics and chance.

        When you’re talking about scoring really well with “big” reviews (which I assume based on your nod to their shallowness), you’re talking about hoping to scratch the itches of basically three or four people on some random workday.  It’s roulette with optional cheats.  You can hope to win, you can pull out all the stops, but a professional gambler knows to play the odds conservatively.

        OK, enough metaphors and guessing at what you’re getting at — sorry, sake has made me rambly.  To summate, you can either rig the game to tick check boxes or you can just do what you do well.  It’s my opinion that ticking check boxes is basically just giving reviewers an check box they MUST cover in their review.  Scrutiny on certain things is inescapable, like screenshots and music, and maybe even voice acting. However, if your flaws aren’t constantly jabbing the reviewer in the eye, that’s one less thing for her to think about each paragraph.  Maybe do your long monologues as voice overs for static image flashbacky scenes, like cheap anime do.  Or do as a lot of Japanese games do and skip mouth animation entirely.  Well, these ideas may not work for your aesthetic, but, yeah.  Give up on trying to land a consistent 80+ and focus on earning 85-90 from the review sites that mean the most to you personally.  That may mean you have to plan for “indie” sales numbers, but it’ll do a lot for building your brand.  If you’re not in this to build a brand and live within your means, what are you staying independent for?

        ps. sake winning z_Z

  • Haba

    Beautiful graphics can enhance good game design and art direction.

    Good voice acting can make a great story more immersive.

    Good core game is good, a good story is a good story. The rest is superficial. Now, poor voice acting put on top of a poor story… Well, just look at Oblivion and Skyrim… High production values cannot hide the lacking parts underneath, instead they just highlight the faults. It is easier to forgive a bad piece of writing, but once you add lifeless voice acting, ridiculous animations and a “dramatic” camera techniques…

    First and foremost we should be interested on the dialogue. Personally I wouldn’t much rather take a game with more quality content and features than few hours worth of voice acting. But then again, if you’re looking to cash in big, you probably have better opinions to listen than thos e of hard-core cRPG fans ;-)

  • melianos

    I like voice acting. I also like good voice acting. If you can do a great game with voice acting, please do. If not, I’ll settle for a great game.

  • Courtney Campbell

    Well, I play those voice acting games you mention, and I skip all that voice acting as soon as I’ve read the text. I also buy games – often games with no voice acting. I’m not your whole audience, but from one gamer to another – VA don’t mean a thing to me.

  • guest

    I fully agree with users “qp” and  ”Jack” about this. Good voice acting would be nice but Good writing and gameplay should be you top priority. Money that would me saved from making texts only dialogues could go to add/enhance other features, for example add female PC and male princes.

  • guest

    And my problem with NPC animations in Div 2 was that they were always making those strange movies, wriggles when they were talking to us, looking in around them while in dialogue and so on….. And voice acting was good, not great but good.

  • guest

    I agree with users “qp” and “Jack” on this matter. Voiced dialogues are nice but good writing and gameplay should be you top priority Money saved from text dialogue could be used to add/enhance other features, female PC and male princes for example. Only important Npc could be voiced.
    And my problem with NPC animations in Div 2 was that they were always making those strange movies, wriggles when they were talking to us, looking in around them while in dialogue and so on….. And voice acting was good, not great but good.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, we were painfully aware of the animations not always being in synch and that’s the trouble – once you start doing it, you actually almost need to do it perfectly, or all the effort is wasted.

  • Lar

    You see that’s the thing – you’re point makes a lot of sense,  yet the reference to “mediocre production values” makes it into the argument  because indeed it’s what people have come to expect. 

    The post here that linked to Shamus Young’s article surprised me  - http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/experienced-points/7588-Voice-vs-Choice – because it shows that the awareness of the issue is there. Yet despite this, we don’t see criticism of these AAA RPG’s for abandoning the depth (at least in my memory ;) ) that was offered by games like for instance Planescape torment. 

    Imho the description “mediocre amount of true choices” applies to most games that don’t have “mediocre production values”. Why are we awarding games for bringing us less interactivity than we had in the beginning of this century all for the sake of production values ? Aren’t we supposed to progress instead of regress ?  

  • Peter

    I thought the dialogue in Divinity 2 was really great. Everyone sounded different, had something interesting to say or give quests and expanded on the lore really astutely. I found myself walking into yet-another-epic-RPG only focused on the action and from the first few NPCs, I became so interested in the lore I read every book lying around.

    Anyway, the dialogue probably works best in certain games over others. In Divinity 2, it did a lot because it helped flesh out a world that was easily mistaken for a generic fantasy setting, the dialogue drew you in to make you care more for the rest. The meat and potatoes of the game was also its combat, loot and your character so the dialogue was a great complimentary way to make the weaker parts of the game more interesting.

    Seriously, as the founded of Larian I thought you, or your staff, would have the dialogue question in Dragon Commander answered already. I don’t know if you’re just trying to blog about something to generate interest, but it seems like the type of game you’re building should say if the dialogue would add a lot and be a great value. I bet you also have the data that shows how much the popular review websites that sloppily give Dragon Age 2 a higher score than a Larian game would ever get drive sales and whether it’s a wise investment to please them versus your fans.

    • Anonymous

      Well, in our heads we had it all voice acted and animated, but now we hit the production point where the conversation trees (which previously only existed in a tool) make it to the game, and we need to put what was in our heads to execution. Always a good point to second-guess yourself, especially given that the dialogue database is a bit bigger than originally expected, and the feature list has started its typical accelerated growth sprint.  

      And yes, the type of game we’re building can benefit tremendously from perfectly acted cutscenes for each and every single choice/consequence, but making that a reality, is something else, so no, the decision hasn’t been made yet.

  • Anonymous

    I think you should go with partial voice-acting (important characters and events). I don’t recall the NWN2 games getting any flack for it, and besides – this isn’t a pure RPG. The new King’s Bounty games seem well received without having much voice-acting. 

    As a gamer, it would be sad if the game is less than it could be just because some critics who only speed through the game for a review will criticize it for not being “cinematic” enough. 

  • Guest

    Speaking as a potential customer, I’d much rather see you cut voice acting than cut choices&consequences. Just voicing the main cast, or just voicing a few lines for each person to set the tone(ala PS:T) would be preferable.

  • Alex

    There is a serious problem with not having voiced dialogue. The way dialogue in modern games is presented, the way it was presented in Divinity 2 and in Dragon Commander (from the videos shown so far), if it’s not voiced it feels like there’s something missing. You see characters moving their lips and nothing comes out. You mention Torment. That game with voiced dialogue would have been considerable worse because they would have to cut back on the number of lines in order to be able to stay in budget. However the top down perspective of Torment lends itself much better to just written dialogue. If dialogue was a window that popped up while at the board game map then it would be ok to have it be just written. However if everything else is presented in detail like lips moving, facial expressions and gestures, the lack of voice becomes instantly that much more noticeable.

    I’m all for creating a better game vs a game that will get better reviews but you should consider that cutting voiced dialogue will have an impact on the quality of the game, not just review scores.

    For the record I thought that the voice work and the character animation in Dragon Knight Saga was fine and I didn’t see it mentioned as a negative in many reviews.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      Dragon Commander will most likely ship in French, German, Russian, Polish and Spanish (probably, Japanese, too) – in addition to English. There’s a reason why L.A. Noire has been coming out with subtitles instead of full VO. Unless you spend a year with each language version, you won’t really have the right quality in each of the countries.

      Now, English-language sales are about what, 40% of the overall sales? So if we introduce English VO, we say that 40% of players will experience one game, and the other 60% either read subtitles, or get half-baked local VOs. Purely from this perspective, say, from the perspective of a Spani-speaking, or Russian-speaking player, I would then want the game to lack VOs even in its master version, so that developers focus on delivering the right atmosphere, everything WITHOUT the voices. 

      And I’m sure they can do it! We had great games in CGA, EGA, VGA, I had so much fun playing them. If VOs were disabled for some reason (memory issues, whatever) – developers would have to work around that. I remember playing Machinarium and wondering how great that this game uses pictograms for dialogues, and every player in the world gets the same experience.

      While you can pretty much fine-tune localized texts, fine-tuning localized audio is really next to impossible, unless you change the process like was the case with Dead Space – which in my memory is probably the only example of a developer actually taking the risk of localized VOs into consideration.

  • Ylurien

    I actually prefer text dialogue for a number of reasons (speaking purely from the standpoint of the player, and not the developer), many of which I imagine a good reviewer will recognize and appreciate:

    1. Text prevents poor voice acting / improper intonation / accents that sound strange to the listener, etc. from degrading the game experience
    2. Text allows me to imagine what the characters sound like. Maybe I want my female rogue sidekick to have a really husky, tough voice, and not some cutesy California Valley girl aspect to it. 
    3. I’ll never misunderstand or miss what someone says (especially if I can scroll back in a sort of dialogue history)
    4. Too few voice actors used for too many different characters takes away from the realism as I start to recognize them after playing a while and get annoyed that NPC 1 and NPC 2, who look nothing alike, nevertheless have the exact same voice. 
    5. It allows the player to skip through dialogue more quickly (since it takes less time to read a paragraph of dialogue than it does to listen to that same dialogue spoken). Great for when playing through the game a second, third, etc. time. 

    For the developer, sure, less money goes into that aspect of the game and more is left over for content, quests, etc. I do not see how anybody could not be in favor of using mostly text for dialogue IF the dialogue is well done to begin with and the other aspects of the game (gameplay being absolutely paramount, of course) are solid. 

    Don’t forget that the average age of gamers now is 37 (as reported by the Economist). By this age, most of us have gotten over our fear of reading (I’m 33, personally).   

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      It seems that the generation with the imagination in place is 30+, and the younger guns want their interactive TV with zoom-ins and Real American Acting.

      I would agree that unless there is months and months of work on voice acting, with a proper experienced director of casting and film crew that went through 20+ projects before, it would not worth it to destroy whatever voices we’ll put in our heads by presenting a real-life version.

      I’m sure that Swen’s team can deliver a PERFECT voice-overs for 30 minutes, or for 2 hours of gameplay. But the game is bigger. And it would be stupid to expect a games dev team to do something that takes xN times longer for film crews that are better funded and more experienced (due to more projects happening in the same amount of time).

  • http://profiles.google.com/psilorder Erik Norén

    Someone mentioned Planescape Torment as good example of good written dialogue being good enough to cover for no voices.
    Well, voices do in my opinion add to immersion. I recently (after playing Skyrim) replayed PS:T (GOG version) and was amazed how much my tastes had changed. Years ago i loved it but now it is just painful to sit and read thru the dialogues. Also i never really felt that the character affected anything beyond maybe the followers and barely at that. It was the character reacting to a static environment, the environment wasn’t reacting o the character.

    I suppose Zelda (my last game of that franchise being Ocarina of Time) did a better job in how it was presented but it was still just text. Someone else said they skipped the voice dialogue as soon as they’d read the subtitle. Yes i do too sometimes but if it wasn’t there it would feel more 2-dimensional.

  • a0a

    L.A.Noire is not a true reference point for Larian’s RPG’s. They focus on storytelling more than they are about crime investigations. Obviously, ‘great’ should push boundaries wherever possible, so it would be normal to look around for similar solutions, but it’s not an absolute must. So I think that part of the argument is not really valid. The other part is basically a choice between gamep(l)ay and cinematic fidelity. The right answer, for any true gamer, is obvious.

    In my perception, a lot more reviews were positive about the VA and dialog compared to the number of negative ones. Sure, it was not L.A.Noire, but it got the atmosphere right. L.A.Noire’s tech took how many years to get right?

    A lot can be said about game reviews in general. A reviewer generally wants to be blown away, and in the most ideal case pump adrenaline up until the very end. Ego Draconis sort of hesitantly tapped on your shoulder (and then entrenched you completely once you break into Broken Valley), had graphics, frame-rate and animation glitches as it was launched prematurely. I’m not sure if you can lift out the VA commentary without unbiassing it.

    And finally, there’s the issue of “uncanny valley”, usually in respect to graphical fidelity. The part where you have ‘almost’ everything right. This tends to come off as either creepy or annoying. Especially in cinematic media, one expects the same levels of polish to be applied to the same levels of focus / attention points / actors. This is where Bethesda and others may probably have budget the advantage.

    So instead of chopping that egg of yours, here’s another option: launch the
    game without any VA and add localized voice-acted packs later.

  • Frederik

    I enjoyed the voice acting in Divinity 2, would be a pity to go without in Dragon Commander.

    Add new features in DLC after releasing the original game with voice acting would seem nice to me. I don’t mind spending up to 20 euros on DLC depending on how much content it has ofc. But you can add several with less content if you want, no? That way people don’t have to wait too long for new stuff & features.

    It would be complicated if those new features require a rewriting of the previous content in the game. So that’s something that you’ll need to think about in advance.

    Hope my opinion helps!

  • Illusive Man

    Silence during dialogues is so boring, even with great background music.

    Why not trying to fully voice the dialogues but not in English ?

    Many nations = many languages. Some nations even have 2 official languages, like… Belgium :D

    Instead of having great voice acting, get great voice simlish ( more elaborate though… remember Captain Blood ? ).
    Add some universal translator microbes or computers to the headquarters to explain we would read everything and go on.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      Actually, this is a cool idea.

      Remember Star Control 2, years ago? I think it was there, blip-blop-blim, with the translation below. Hard to imagine Imps being perfect in English.

      Maybe everyone could speak Latin.

      Or Esperanto.

  • Anonymous

    Give us more choice and less voices.  It’d be wonderful to see a game with the sort of quality that Dragon Commander looks like it’ll have which decides to eschew voice acting for the ability to have a greater choice.  Or for something else to put in there–I can’t speak to what it’s actually like but developing variants on scenarios would be a lot easier and you could really go in depth with giving the sense that what the player chooses is affecting the world.  (Or give greater customization/replayability by offering a female main character.)

    If the feeling is that text might not match the sensory panache that voice acting could bring, you could try to beef up the presentation of the text itself, making it more than just a head talking by showing a depiction of what they’re talking about and playing some ambient music to match the narration; again, I don’t have experience with game design but I feel like a really well-presented text conversation could even feel ‘better’ than voice acting.  Lost Odyssey and Nier both used pure text at points, though I assume that in a game like this the use would be more grounded and less abstract.  It would be interesting to see the way you might find to present text-based conversations as more than just a text box while a character gestures.  But I think it would also just be interesting to see any developer go for depth, content and writing over the ‘proper modern game checklist’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=590162181 David Walgrave

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  • Guestfan

    I think the voices in Divinity 2 were great. It sounded a lot better than a lot of other games I know. Although I have played many great games without voice acting, I still prefer it, unless you employ solely voice actors with high squeeky voices, that would be annoying. I think voice acting is important and whoever did  not like the voice acting for divinity 2 needs to get their ears checked, there are  numerous titles with worse voice acting.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      Having seen Div 2 from the other end, i.e. the end of a regional publisher, I can say that receiving a bunch of VOs to localize within WEEKS before launch is mission impossible. So in Russia, the game came on time, with subtitles.

      Players bemoaned – where are the voices, we want the voices. And the voices came a few months later, and then people bemoaned the casting – some loved, some hated.

      Purely from this perspective, since the game is coming out in the international market, I would say – no VO is a better experience for everyone. Because you hit release dates on time. Because you avoid discussions of who would do what in the place of casting director. 

      I’ve worked with film companies and I’ve seen weeks spent on voicing 1 hr 45 min features. In Divinity, that’s more likely to be many more hours. But do we have the budget to deliver weeks of recording for all the markets? Nope.

  • Farflame

    Cons of full VO:
    - very often developers cut dialogues to shorten the text and lower the cost. I think many players would agree with me that this is awfull custom. First I want to have the best text, not some shortened blah-blah for economical reasons. If the cost is too much, dont voice everything! (I recently saw Kingdoms of Amalur video with typical generic crap dialog – “Hello, im lord of dumb castle. Please, bring me this amulet, I need it.” – who cares for full OV for such average blah-blah? Money thrown to the hole.)
    - if you have too many NPCs you probably dont have enough good voice artists for them. Especially if you dont have budget like Skyrim and dont have enough people to find some distinctive voices. If the voices are too similar, its a little bland experience after some time. Players will hear it and cease to listen to voices – only reading the text and skipping through dialogs. So in fact you spend too much money with small effect. 
    - voices are important to set attitude and character of NPCs. You need to hear them in the first or second dialog, in important scenes. But when you already know NPC there is little need to hear another spoken lines. Many players wont listen to it anymore and skip dialogs. So again you spend some money here for nothing. 
    - some NPCs are usually voiced slowly, which is mostly fitting, for example for some mages or old man. But again – many players wont listen to it all the time when they finished reading the text 10 seconds ago. So again they will often skip it – and again you spend money here for nothing. 

    If you put this together, I think thje best solution is to prepare partial VO (like in BG or Drakensang but you need more voices here – in both games there were too few spoken lines):
    - it will lower the cost without need to cut text, minor NPCs woudl have no voice or only few lines like “Hello, what do you want?”
    - players will accept it, especially if important NPCs will have some good voices
    - you can focus on quality of VO for important or interesting NPCs (fully voiced) and have more money for more expensive voice artist/actor
    - if you are able to bring better VO for some selected NPCs, it will have positive effect on whole VO – even if its not full VO. I think that in games praised for quality of VO there are always some NPCs who stand out while others are just ok. So do it here and at least some reviewers will be pleased by the effort (if you succeed).
    - and dont listen too much to big sites. :-) There is too much games and they are bombarded with AAA hype from big publishers. So they mostly accepted the lazy way and go with the mainstream. Many fanboys and publishers wants them to praise the big titles so they do it to have it easy. If you are not Bioware or Bethesda they will be “free to finally bash someone”. I write it simplified but its known fact that it makes big difference who you are and how much you hype and not actual quality of your product…

  • Selcuk Bor

    I personally think having Divinity 2 fully voiced was an incredible thing. I must admit it truly helped make the world feel alive for me. True, recognizing multiple different people with the same voice was a bit of a bummer (and using similar models too), hands down having the voices being carried in the wind while roaming, or talking to anybody and knowing they have a voice to them was key to immersion.

    And some of the voices, were beyond great. Behlidenger (forgive me if I mispelt) had an AWESOME voice. I would read minds JUST to hear him talk and his expression was so malicious and satisfying to listen to. Zandahlor another great voice. I’m terrible with names so I can’t remember most of them, but a lot of great moments made even greater through voices.

    I know we can’t have everything, but as said before please at the very least fully voice all the important NPC’s. I would have 0 issue with shop keepers just going “how can I help?” or something trivial. Though it would diminish the world’s immersion, it’s an acceptable loss.

  • Themagnificentguest

    hello,
    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but I just wanted to point out that you reminded me of Skyrim with a 100 milion $ budget but then it got an arrow to the knee. :)

    • Anonymous

      What’s the arrow ?

      • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

        It’s a ref to Alan Wake’s devs trying to be funny in the press-release ;)

        But also worth noticing that $100m budget for Skyrim is most likely to include marketing, and manufacturing of the console stock.

      • Themagnificentguest

        LOL , well someone hasn’t been checking out on his competitors games ;)

        I was refering to the fact that despite having 100m on the budget (even if 10/20/30… hell, even 40 million dollars went on marketing and stock manufacturing) Skyrim’s generic characters are all saying the same phrases (specifically the “I used to be an adventurer like you-but then I took an arrow to the knee” (check out the meme)).
        You’d think that with so much money there would be enough resources to hand craft every character, animal, and even monster content wise…
        In my “If-I had-a-spare-60-million-euros-I-would-make-the-greatest-oldschool-isometric-rpg-ever” fantasy I hire dozens of scripters to toil day and night on bringing life to every single living thing. No two things alike…

        BTW, I understand that being a head of a gaming studio might not leave you time or take out the fun out of playing video games…well you should thank god you’re not a gynecologist. xD

        Oh, and Sergei, this time *I* missed the joke. I Googled Alan Wake’s press release but didn’t find what you meant…:P

        • Themagnificentguest

          I just read your post about pirates and I’m taking my joke about you not playing games back. Sorry. :P

        • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

          This is what I meant -

          “We weren’t going to release a PC version… then we took an arrow to the knee.”

          - from the official forum, http://forum.alanwake.com/showthread.php?t=7525

          I took your  reference to mean that we all try to hold on to our ideals, e.g. Remedy sticking with the exclusivity of the console platform, but then real life interferes, budgets, salaries, etc., and we’re losing some of our principles just like that ;)

          • Themagnificentguest

            LOL, when you said press release I imagined some major announcement with microphones and journalists while the head of the studio opens the conference by refering this internet meme in front of mainstream journalists… That could have  been pretty nice.

            And yep that is what meant. That, and the fact now I understand better of how what sounds like an en(gin)ourmous budget might even not be enough.  
            :)

          • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

            Budgets have a way of affecting how things look and how things are presented, but to me, not likely – how things play. If you have a game director who plays his own game, he’ll have the same questions coming up in beta as us playing after release. If there’s the direction, and the team willing to follow it, you get pretty amazing results even with a moderate budget!

            BTW, what did you think of The Witchers – both of them?

          • qp

            Imho, the Witchers were good examples of OK games rendered useless to me, by poor voice acting and direction.  I could probably have endured the Capcom-influenced gameplay for a bit longer if I hadn’t had to also stomach Image Comics-quality characters.  In some cases, leaving a little to the imagination can improve things.

  • pawel

    As for Polish VOs probably most gamers consider English version + subtitles better, than a mediocre Polish version. At least that’s my opinion and most reviewers I’ve been reading to.

  • http://twitter.com/brandashmyg Anton

    textboxes

    • Hasi

      I love voice acting. It makes the game more immersive and more fun.
      But I have to agree with the argument that games became simpler since voice acting was introduced. I don’t think that one of the great classic rpgs like planescape could have been possible with voice acting.

      On the other hand if you release a 2012 full price game without voice acting you will get killed by the critics (and lots of players).

      • qp

        I’m not so sure.  Japanese devs pull it off all the time. I think there are lots of compromises being overlooked here.  Characters could being conversations with a short non-sequitur (if you bother to do this, make each unique!), giving them a bit of identity without requiring hundreds of minutes of dialogue (and perhaps as importantly, the scripted animations to make it convincing).  Add spice as liberally as possible, but if you have to choose spice or rice… always choose rice!

  • John Glassmyer

    Why don’t you go back to an Ultima VI style?  name job bye.  Make the lazy player type the damn words that he is thinking!  Mavis Beacon teaches dragon tactics.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      I actually considered that not so long ago ;)

  • rpg_fan

    I’m late to this party but I am hoping for an RPG that cuts the voice acting nonsense out to a few nice flavour bits (PS:T with a bit more variety, say) or simply go without all together and invests a fraction of the VO / animation budget in a good writing team.

    The reality for me is that most VO is wasted – I read the dialogue and skip through the voice as soon as I’ve finished reading. There’s only a handful of games that have done VO well enough that it actually adds appreciably to the characters and they are mostly linear, set-piece driven action / adventure games (Uncharted comes to mind). It’s just one of those areas where unless you have the resources to go big (not just money but expertise, time, equipment, business processes to deal with changes (find ways to do line pickups late in the process, etc)) it really doesn’t add anything to the game, and usually just reduces an otherwise perfectly decent exchange between two characters to a wooden and stale affair.
    I do mean the thing about investing in writers though – the other reason RPGs so often fall flat in dialogue is because the writing is terrible. Getting a good script together costs a fraction of most activities in game design, I’d say it’s money well spent.Please?

  • Psy Kosh

    I know this is coming in late, but just saw this, and I had a thought:

    What if you did full voice acting but completely got rid of dialogue _animations_?

    ie, no lip syncing, nothing. Heck, go with even static images during dialogue, if you want.

    If you didn’t have to deal with syncing animation to voice, would full voice acting still eat up much of your budget time/money?

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      No, voice acting isn’t *that* expensive. I’m going to do an update to this piece illustrating how we decided to solve the issue, but I want to wait until it’s fully integrated over here (because there’s still a chance we have to backtrack ;) )

  • Frobozz

    A move back to text-only or a mix of it like in Arcanum and the likes would be a vast improvement in my mind.
    Game “Journalists” might not agree, but then they are pretty much the unrivalled bottom feeders of the videogame industry/hobby anyway.

  • Ryandann

    What sort of studio do you want to be know /remembered as?

    A) Do some voice acting in main dialogue, and text boxes with depth, meaning.

    The cons of this are reviewers may bash it, and the “newer” generations of gamers heads hurt having to read. The upside is that assuming the game is actually good in about 10 years you’ll be noted in forums world wide along side notables as “PS:T, Fallout 1&2, Arcanum, Baldurs Gate 1&2, etc etc. Your game will still sell, and your studio will forever be highly praised and remembered.

    B) You do full blown voice acting, assuming the games good reviews love it. However something had to give to allow full voice acting. In ten years DD is brought up, and gamers wonder what happened and now everything is fully voiced and dialogue has no meaning is is dull and bland. PS:T is held as the pinnacle.

    Well A and B are both pulled from my behind. The thing is that B is happening now, and has been. A lot of people WANT better written text over voice acting if it means better and more varied dialogue in their rpg. Also as the “new” gen of gamers gets older, a lot of them may come to see the “old school” gamers view. So its a matter of be great but less known(by less known I mean selling hundreds of thousands) or be the norm and possibly have every 12 year olds mom buy them the game? Everytime a game is made that is dumbed down, full voice acting etc announced people in the forums say, “they are trying to make money!? Can you blame them?”. Nope, but I wish there were more developers who tried to make money, while still making deep games, with complex mechanics for gamers who like to relax and think a bit at the same time. I hope you stay true to your “super awesome huge rpg” dream, and until your able to make that game, develop games that fit in the mind set until that dream of yours is able to see the light of day.

    Rambling almost done…. If an AAA quality rpg that has throw back isometric 2d graphics, semi voice acting mainly text game is made people will buy it! Make it! Please! He’ll screw AAA quality, make a late 90s clone, but with new stories and actual content! People will buy it! People will give you money to make it! Wasteland 2! The people are waiting!

  • paladinjedi

    Please, without full voice acting it wouldn’t be the same immersion! The characters would miss so much from their personality and pantomime expression, you’d better write a book in that case, not a game! It doesn’t have to be multi-language, english should do. Also, a main menu option for main character’s voice to be toggled on/off certainly couldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, since it seems some players prefer them voiceless.

    My personal opinion is: money invested in voice acting is definitely money well invested. It adds to the story itself, making it more cinematic and alive. Even if the voices are not the best ones, that would make me less bored or angry than a difficult and artificial/non-realistic&difficult combat, or exploring huge maps for the sake of time wasting, or clumsy inventory management would.

    I really prefer to play a shorter story game, with maybe less equipment and maps available, but with an interesting, attractive from all points of view main character, rather than a long technical complexity stuff marvel one where I can’t relate to my main hero in case s/he’d be voiceless/expressionless/lifeless…