As we’ve mentioned once or twice before, Marc and I are transplants from an adjacent storytelling art form. We worked for years in the professional theatre, and recognize the power of the spoken word. For months now Marc has been hammering out the script for HRO, and we’re finally (finally!) in the process of working with actors and recording the voice-over. For folks like us, it’s a real treat.
How the characters appear on screen is very important, but their voices provide essential in-roads for audiences to connect to characters. Giving characters a literal voice strengthens the experience and provides authenticity to the environment. Many of us have heard that old adage “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” and that’s especially true for voice acting. A well-delivered line can provide insight into the character’s state of mind or emotional circumstancea. Voices can help communicate information quickly and efficiently and — as we discussed on our previous blog post about P.A.L. — voice is a great tool to efficiently move plot forward.
Unfortunately, it’s beyond the scope of HRO for every single line of text in the game to be recorded. There’s *so* much conversation in HRO that to voice every single line would have increased the budget and workload exponentially. Additionally, we love the flexible nature of INK and the tools it provides to change dialogue dynamically during the development process, but this also makes it impractical to voice *everything.* So we chose to limit the VO to the cinematic cut-scenes (which still left us with a 97 page script…)
Voice-over can be hard to do well, especially because of the non-linear nature of most games. Iterations are crucial. Voice actors might need to record the same line several different ways depending on context. For example, a single line of dialogue might need to be delivered differently if an element of plot plays out to more than one conclusion, or if the character is potentially engaged in a different action when that same line is heard.
Creating active dialogue is often an overlooked step in the process. It’s important to ensure that no line is simply information being delivered, but is also a communicator (subtle or otherwise) of motivation or emotional state between two characters. In each line, characters need to be actively doing something that’s expressed vocally. If you can’t identify what the actor is doing with their delivery, they’re probably not giving you an active performance.
Well-executed voice-over can bring a constructed universe to life, and the ability to recognize and nurture a strong voice-over performance should be something every game dev aspires to have in their toolbox.
The Beauty of the B-Story
I’ve always had a soft spot for a good B-story. Back when I was a working actor, I was often cast as the B-story guy — which is to say, not the romantic lead in the musical, but the funny guy who falls for the funny girl who is not the ingenue. Not the stars, but in a well-written script, a good B-story adds richness, depth and variety to a constructed world.
When we set out to outline the complex and branching storylines of HRO, we made a conscious decision to embrace the character-driven B-story. So within the larger, more traditional arc of classic space opera crises, there are also smaller, more human stories which explore relationships and allow us to talk about things the more expected plot lines won’t. Sure the Endeavor’s bridge has been seized by technologically-advanced aliens, but there’s also an Ensign whose fiancee is being held hostage there, and the player has the choice of exploring and participating in the resolution of either story dimension. The emotional toll of grieving abducted children, unrequited love, mental health and its relationship to informed consent — these and more are all B-story threads that players could choose to explore across the sweep of the HRO season.
Because we love the B-story and want to incentivize the exploration of the more “character-driven” stories within the game, we built the six unlockable mini-episodes (“episode-ettes”) around resolving the B-story plots. So if a player chooses to help a character with a smaller, more personal story, they might find that story playing itself out in a later unlockable chapter that the traditional “min-max” style players probably won’t ever encounter. It’s an investment in the inner life of the game world and we hope to make it one which pays off for those players who choose to connect and empathize with the people they meet there.
Worthing and Moncrieff, LLC is an independent developer of video game stories founded in 2015.