The Game Jar Files: I know that voice!

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 17/04/2013

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I’m slightly reluctant to write this article. The voice acting in video games has improved immeasurable over the years, so complaining about it feels somewhat counter productive. Not entirely though, because I have a very specific problem with today’s voice acting, namely the overuse of certain actors. Nothing breaks my in-game immersion quicker than hearing a voice I connect to another character in another game, coming out of a different pixelated mouth. So how big of a problem is it? Only you can tell me that. It’s entirely possible that I’m the only gamer that gets hung up on this sort of thing, but, with the move towards games with stronger stories, I very much doubt it. If we as gamers are to buy into the characters presented to us, doesn’t the voice delivering the lines need to be unique?

Last week or so, I was enjoying the very excellent Tomb Raider. As I’m sure you know, the latest game is a prequel, and attempts to tell the story of how Lara Croft became the girl we all know and love, and by and large, it does a very good job of doing so. I did however, have a slight problem paying attention to it, thanks largely to some of the voice acting. One of the first cut scenes up, and I’m doing a double take. Conrad Roth, he sounds familiar! A little further in, and the penny drops. Brynjolf from the Skyrim Thieves Guild is in my Tomb Raider! A bit further on from that, and I pick up one of those journal collectable things that contains spoken dialogue. Mercer Frey from the Skyrim Thieves Guild starts coming out of my speakers. From that point on, the Conrad Roth character was broken to me, whenever he said anything to Lara, I was right back in Riften, imaging he was calling me laddie before sending me off on another thieving  job.

The troubling thing is, if the sharing of voice talent is any indication, that developers seem to constantly relying on a small group of voice actors. If you played Dragon Age: Origins, Simon Templeman will be familiar to you as arch villain Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir. If you played Mass Effect 2 or 3, he’s Admiral Han’Gerrel. In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, he’s Gabriel Roman. Star Wars: The Old Republic, Dead Space 3, Jade Empire, Kingdoms of Amalur: The Awakening… his list of voice credits in video games is immense. Continuing on the Bioware/Naughty Dog crossover theme, there’s Gideon Emery. He’s another actor with a distinctive voice, that’s easily recognisable when you hear it. His role as Fenris in Dragon Age 2 is probably the biggest, but he’s also been in a variety of other Bioware games.

Perhaps the biggest culprit though is Claudia Black. Now, there is no doubt that she’s a very attractive lady, or that she has a very appealing voice, but damn she’s everywhere. The first time I heard her dulcet tones was playing Dragon Age: Origins, she voices Morrigan in that game. Next time I heard her voice, she was Chloe Frazer in Uncharted 2. After that she was Admiral Xen in Mass effect 2, followed by Samantha Byrne in Gears of war 3, then back to Chloe Frazer in Uncharted 3, and finally, Admiral Xen in Mass Effect 3! Talk about immersion breaking. Ironically, it’s the quality of her performances that causes the problems. Chloe Frazer is a well realised character, thanks mainly to Ms Black’s excellent work, and it’s that level of performance that makes hearing her work elsewhere harder.

Not so long ago, I was crying out for some decent voice acting my games, so I shouldn’t complain to much now that we’ve finally got some, but the familiar voices are jarring now. Nolan North is Nathan Drake. He just is. So when his voice comes out of the mouth of my Human Necromancer in Guild Wars 2, it feels odd. I find it very hard not to picture CSEC officer Armando Bailey whenever Colonel Saul Tigh is on screen in Battlestar Galactica. Having written this article, it’s become clear to me that good quality acting can be a double edged sword. Actors such as Nolan North or Claudia Black bring a high level of believability to Nathan Drake and Chloe Frazer, and that believability solidifies those characters in our minds. The voice is the character, and therefore it’s very hard to hear that same voice in another virtual body without connecting it to another face.

Now that developers have (finally) managed to attract a selection of quality voice talent, their next challenge is to widen that pool. If the voices coming out of your favourite characters isn’t to become jarring in the future, they need to be used sparingly, and that means having a wider selection of actors to begin with. I don’t want to be rolling my eyes at Lara Croft’s mentor because I’ve spent so much time with him in another world, I want Bryjolf to sound like Bryjolf, and xxxx to sound like xxxx. Overly familiar voice actors breaks my immersions, and in an entertainment medium like gaming, immersion is king. Story telling in games is getting much stronger, and as a result, the demand for skilled voice actors has grown. The talent pool needs to grow if all our heroes and villains aren’t to sound the same.

Vita Wallpaper Attack!

Not much writing this week, instead I offer up these wallpapers I made for my PS Vita. I really enjoyed creating these, some came easier than others, and the West Ham Utd one was a bit of an obvious choice.

Enjoy!

 

PS Vita: A Week On.

Just over a week now, and I still love my Vita. I’ve finished Uncharted: Golden Abyss and thoroughly enjoyed it, started playing the single player campaign of the visually glorious Wipeout 2048, and gotten addicted to Motorstorm RC thanks mainly to my friends banging on about how good it is. So bearing in mind that in general I absolutely love my Vita, I thought I’d post up five thing that annoy me. Just for some balance… or something.
  • No HTML5/Flash support on the browser sucks. I have this lovely screen to watch things on, only I can’t visit Youtube or the BBC’s iPlayer. The ultimate irony came when I was using the Vita’s browser to view Official PlayStation Magazine’s site and couldn’t watch a video they’d posted.
  • When the low battery warning comes up, they really mean it. I was merrily playing U:GA  the other night, got the warning, and 10 minutes or so later… blip! It was done. Maybe Uncharted’s boss cut scenes are particularly battery intensive, I don’t know, just stop playing and put it on charge.
  • Not being able to turn off the rear touch pad (in a game’s options)  is annoying. I’m simply incapable of holding the Vita without touching the rear touch pad, and therefore incapable of not inadvertently messing with whatever’s controlled by the rear touch pad.
  • A 4GB memory card isn’t big enough. It really isn’t.
  • Near makes me feel stupid. Either I’m just plain dumb, or it’s operating on some kind of higher plane, or nobody gets what it’s supposed to do. Seriously, what is Near for? And should I worry about getting mugged for my Vita because I’ve got location data turned on? Easily the most baffling app on the system in my opinion.

 

Vita, Vita, Vita!

What else could this post be about, if not about the PS Vita I picked up on launch day? Typing something more interesting than “Squeeee!!! My new shiny!!” could prove tricky, so I’ll start with some technical bits and see where I go from there.

In a side by side comparison with the PSP the Vita is longer, wider, and slightly heavier than it’s predecessor. The OLED screen is bigger and much more vibrant, and the Vita’s increased graphical grunt does a good job of showing it off. As the Vita has a second stick on the right, the button layout has changed. The Home button moves to the left, and the Start and Select buttons are on the right. The Volume buttons have moved to the top edge, and to my mind they’re slightly out of the way. The front touch screen works exactly as it should, the rear touch pad is less convincing, I find it too sensitive, at least in the games I’ve got that make use of it.

At it’s heart it’s a gaming machine, and based on what I’ve played so far, it does that very well indeed. Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 both look absolutely gorgeous. Uncharted’s run and gun game play does a good job of highlighting the advantage of having the second stick, and Wipeout’s furious pace ably demonstrates that the Vita has no problem with throwing high quality visuals around at speed. It really does feel like you’ve got a current gen home console in portable form. Disappointingly I couldn’t try the remote play feature, streaming Killzone 3 to the Vita was one of the first things I tried, and even though it’s not working yet, I have no doubt it’ll work as well as this video suggests.

The Vita is not perfect however, there are some niggles with it. Apart from the short battery life, it’s missing some features that owners of Apple devices might take for granted. The web browser doesn’t support Flash or HTML5, so both Youtube and the BBC’s iPlayer aren’t compatible, and there’s no dedicated app for either of them available. The Netflix app that’s available on the US PSN store isn’t available here yet, and there’s no firm release date. Setting up the Vodaphone SIM card for the 3G part wasn’t easy either, although in fairness that was the fault of Vodaphone themselves rather than Sony or the hardware.

Overall though, the Vita is a very nice bit of kit. Like all newly released consoles you’re buying into the promised potential, the lack of apps and gimped web browser is something you have to put up with in the short term. There are some great launch titles available to keep us going, and I’m sure that Sony have learned their lesson from the PSP. As a Vita owner, I’m excited to see were it goes.

Wait, what? It’s a new year…?

Yes, January is nearly over still no new blog post on here, time to remedy that then. First order of business is my game of the (last) year, the TL;DR is it’s Gears of War 3. I was fully expecting it to be either Uncharted 3 or Skyrim, and though both of those are fine games Gears 3 has taken a vice like grip on my gaming time and still doesn’t look like letting go.

Next up: what I’ve been doing. Playing Gears 3 like a maniac and Photoshoping logos for the new gaming team I’m part of, The Monkey Dogs. Formed mainly from the remnants of LoX Gamers, the Monkey Dogs have risen from many nights of Locust slaying on Xbox Live with friends. My fingers are crossed it lasts, because right now I’m loving having a forum to post on 😛

Finally, before I show some of my workings on Photoshop a little list of things to do on here this year;

  • Work out how to change the colours on my blog theme
  • Resolve to blog every week, probably Friday’s
  • Finish off my Hall of Fame posts

That’s enough to be going on with, see you next week!

Uncharted 3: No such thing as too much awesome?

Trying to sum up my thoughts on Uncharted 3 is a perfect example of why I’m not a professional games writer, I simply cannot objectively judge this game without comparing it to the previous game in the series. Right from the start I want to say this; Uncharted 2 is one of the best games I’ve ever played. It sets a very high bar for its successors and when I compare Uncharted 3 to the previous game I’m comparing it to something exceptional. With that caveat in mind…

So it’s not as good then? Well no, not in my opinion, but the is difference tiny. Oddly, Uncharted 3’s biggest problem is Uncharted 2’s level of near-perfection. Naughty Dog nailed it with the second game, and faced with the fact that they simply couldn’t make the same game again they did what a lot of developers do, take what worked before (which in Uncharted 2’s case was pretty much all of it), and do lots more of it.

Uncharted 2 was a fantastic balanced meal, with Uncharted 3 the portions are larger and the whole meal ends up feeling richer as a result. Instead of being nicely satisfied you end up feeling stuffed having over eaten. Maybe that’s a bit of a tortured metaphor, but it’s the best I can come up with to explain the feeling of “too much” I had whilst playing. I never thought I’d write it, but there’s too much spectacular in this game for my taste.

By no means is Uncharted 3 a bad game, it’s a fantastic game worthy of your time and money, it’s only problem is the game that came before it.

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