Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Games and audio

Yeah, I picked up a copy of Just Cause 2 as well. Everybody and their mums and their dogs seems to be heaping praise upon this game. I can see the why's of that; It's got some pretty damned decent gameplay mechanics. It's fun. By going all-out gamecriticky I'd compare it to both GTA and Batman: Arkham Asylum, actually.

However. (And this is one of those howevers that should be in italics, I tell you!)

Every time a cutscene appears I seem to be dropping the controller in favour of covering my ears. The voice acting is all around poor, but whoever did the work for the character Bolo Santosi should be banned from ever working the profession again. Every single line of dialogue delivered had the exact same tone. Words were mangled and mispronounced. I could feel my brain wanting to escape. Literally. It was banging on my palms as I was covering my sensitive and pampered ears, suitcase in hand.

It probably couldn't take the logical flaw of how you can make such a fun game and ruin it with horrible voice actors all around. I mean, somewhere in the system of voice work, the director, the sound checker, the guy who sets up the electronic equipment, whatever! Someone had to hear how bad that was. But apparently, even the people who own the company must've said "Alright, good stuff, good stuff! We're ready for international sales now!"

More likely they didn't even listen to it. I hope that's the case, anyway.

It wasn't always like this. The audio used to be a selling points for games, way back in the day. Let's take a trip back to the late 1980's. Back to the days when the Nintendo Entertainment System and it's 8 bits ruled the land.

If I mention games like Super Mario. Bros, The Legend of Zelda and Megaman, what springs to mind first? The gameplay? The graphics? Or the music?

The answer's probably pretty individual for everybody. For me, though? The music. The NES had some magic going on. I can list games from the 80's and 90's which, if you played them, you will instantly remember the music to.

"Hang on!" I can hear you saying. "What does music have to do with voice casting?"

Shut up! I'm getting to it. Allow me to make the point I want to make the way I want to make it.

So yeah, the 90's rolled in. We have Sonic the Hedgehog finally achieving fame on the Megadrive and giving Mario a run for his money for a few years, and adventure games have their heyday.

Speaking of adventure games, this is the genre which first incorporates voice acting in games. And when I say voice acting, I mean voice acting. This actually happened as far back as 1989, with the release of Access Software's first game in a brilliant series called Mean Streets. It was one of the first games ever to make use of RealSound, and you could hear actual voices through your PC speaker! Magic!

Anyway, onwards with the 90's. Adventure games had a dip into Full Motion Video and actual acting, which saw games like Ripper, Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within, the Phantasmagoria series and of course the already mentioned Tex Murphy games. Most notably Under a Killing Moon, which featured James Earl Jones' voice as the Great P.I. In The Sky.

"Using famous actors for parts will of course make the game sound better!" I hear some of you monkeys screaming in the back. There's a fallacy in that statement. They didn't include Jones because he was famous; They included him because HE'S TALENTED.

Which should be a clue for the rest of the industry.

The practice of using well-known actors in games culminated in 2002 with the release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. This game might be called the True Romance of games for all it's big name celebrities, except that when True Romance was filmed, many of the actors were yet to be famous.

The point I'm making here is that for years, it was a selling point to have either big names and/or talented voices fill up your games.

It's 2010, dammit! So why do I have to listen to the voice of some singlish (singaporean-english to you lot in the back) person who makes my ears want to bleed and my cranial cavity collapse on my brain in an act of mercy? We should be beyond this now!


PS. As a side-note, my favorite voice actor is Charlie Adler. Most known for his roles as Harold the ghoul in Fallout 1 and 2, Coach Oleander in Psychonauts and Ignus in Planescape: Torment.
He has a massive amount of tv-series work to his credit, including The Smurfs, Sonic the Hedgehog (as Snively, the assistant of Dr. Robotnik), and Tiny Toon Adventures, to mention a few. And he also provided the voice work for Starscream in Michael Bay's Transformers movies.

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