About games and gaming thereof!

Voice Acting

The stream today has been cancelled. I know, I just ruined your day. I’m sorry. Don’t blame me; blame the construction workers stomping all over the roof of my house. I’m working tomorrow, so we’re shooting for Saturday, 5 PM Central Standard Time.

So I figured that since we’re not streaming Morrowind, I’ll write a post tangentially related to Morrowind instead — specifically, the inclusion of voice acting in dialogue.

I’ve heard arguments surrounding the fact that most RPGs these days have all the dialogue fully voice acted. Some people say it’s unnecessary and detrimental, since it’s a big money sink and limits the freedom that the dialogue writers have.

The thing is, I agree that it costs a lot of time and money, and it is important to cut corners where you can, but after playing Morrowind I have to say that I’m glad games these days have voice acting. There’s something terribly off-putting about the lack of voices in Morrowind. But strangely enough, I’m never bothered by this in other old games like Final Fantasy VI. Why is that?

Here’s my theory…

Whether it be an isometric game like Final Fantasy or a sidescroller like Cave Story, 2D games are generally not meant to perfectly resemble reality. It’s fairly obvious that this is not how the world would actually look if this were real; it’s just there to visually represent the scene.

It’s an abstract and somewhat arbitrary representation, like the tabletop grid you use for D&D. I generally don’t lose my suspension of disbelief when I notice that the little figurines aren’t talking, and I don’t expect the cartoony sprites in Final Fantasy to talk or emote either.

The recent indie rhythm game Sequence had fully voiced dialogue, and it felt strange and almost out-of-place to me. It was quality voice acting, don’t get me wrong, but since the characters were essentially cardboard cut-outs, it just seemed unnecessary.

Morrowind, on the other hand, is obviously meant to mimic what the scene would look like if this were real. Everything is built in its proper size, and characters [are supposed to] move and emote as if they were actual people. Yes, it’s a fantasy world, but it’s constructed and presented to look real, horribly grotesque faces notwithstanding.

As such, it’s very jarring when you go to talk to an NPC and he just stares at you blankly while you read a text wall. It’s reminiscent of the Uncanny Valley. It doesn’t feel right, and it serves to remind you that this is all fake and that you’re in a video game.

Making everything voice-acted gets expensive and restrictive when you’re dealing with a huge game like Skyrim. But the way I see it, it’s not just a nice touch. It’s not just an improvement. When you’re dealing with a 3D game in this style, it’s a necessity, and should be regarded as such.

I’m certainly not criticizing Morrowind for not having voice acting. It wasn’t the norm to have everything voiced at the time of release, and I understand that. But in this day and age, it’s just something you have to have, and for good reason.


7 responses

  1. Out of curiousity, does the streaming site limit you to an hour a week or some such?

    January 12, 2012 at 11:45 PM

    • JPH

      I don’t think it does. I just figure I shouldn’t go on for too long, especially since 6 PM for me is (I believe) 1 AM for Jarenth, who will allegedly be co-commentator this time.

      January 13, 2012 at 12:59 AM

  2. Parallel to the “voiced dialogue is expensive and unnecessary”, I always (ALWAYS) make the argument that the quasi-photorealistic graphics are ALSO expensive and unnecessary. The fact that ALL RPGs are like this these days is an issue; it’s not just the voice acting that’s the problem.

    January 13, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    • JPH

      Hell, the fact that all games in general are like this is an issue. It’s not just the RPGs that are struggling under the weight of expensive pixels.

      I like a lot of the RPGs we get these days, but I’d also like to see a resurgence of the isometric 2D RPG. That would be a lot more accessible to indie developers, or small teams from the bigger development companies.

      January 13, 2012 at 12:31 PM

      • I never really understood why the isometric RPG completely died out. It’s a great style of gaming.

        January 14, 2012 at 9:01 AM

  3. To be fair to non-voice acting RPGs, Morrowind’s dialogue is kind of terrible. Not so much because the writing is bad, but because there is SO MUCH of it. And because 90% of the NPCs are blank slates who are only capable of giving lengthy geography and history lessons. The whole system is awkward and stiff, not just the facial expressions (or lack thereof).

    January 13, 2012 at 1:23 PM

  4. iameviland1337

    Interesting, i hadn’t thought about it like that before. I must admit that I disagree though. I would rather (if the writing is of equal quality of coerce) have ten NPCs without voice rather then one with. I think that’s where the grumblings comes from.

    I will freely admit that some games NEED voice acting though. Could you imagine Alpha Protocol with text only dialog? Brrrrrrr, I’m a fast reader and that thought still sends shivers down my spine!

    Oh right, I actually had a question to ask… What’s your opinion on games that sidesteps the issue? I’m thinking of games like The Sims and Ōkami where there’s just “filler” sounds meant to represent speaking.

    Personally I think it’s a happy compromise, the player gets some sense of how the characters sound and the developers can have side characters without needing lots of voice work Win-win right?

    January 14, 2012 at 9:58 AM

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