Demystifying the Voice-over Process

Ultimately, the right voice actors strengthen gamers’ relationship to game universe.

As a voice-over producer, a lot of what I do is carry the client through the voice-over process, from casting and script preparation, recording and directing our talent, to mastering and delivering files on time.

It is highly beneficial to work on the voice-over for a game as soon as concepting and writing have begun– an integral approach that is equally true for the casual mobile titles, as it is to AAA console experiences.

Since dialogue is one of the most effective tools for connecting players to a game and its universe, having the right talent in the booth and directors in the control room make all the difference.

What is most important to any voice director is capturing the right feeling and emotion from every actor in their studio. It’s all about ensuring that context is properly portrayed, and that every line informs the gamer of what they need to know, strengthening their relationship to a games universe.

Calling Central Casting:!
When a rough script for a new project is submitted, I ramp up into the casting process. Depending on the scope of the game, I submit casting documents to talent agencies and private contractors. In its simplest form, a casting document contains all the information for a needed character, any voice references, sample art, and several test lines for the actors to read. After receiving our first round of auditions back, we shortlist the most qualified voices, and submit them back to the game’s producers and directors to review and choose. We cast in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver, and have access to studios and contractors all over the US.

Record, Master, Edit for Sonic Perfection:
After a project has been through casting, and the roles have been filled, we schedule actors in one of our studios to come in and record. Game producers and directors often attend the sessions– if not in person, then connected and listening via Skype. Even if a client has little to no experience working with dialog or actors in their games, having their input and presence at the sessions is extremely helpful for both me, as the director, and the actors.

One of the last phases of the voice-over process is editing and mastering. During a session, we make notes about which takes we liked the best, and which performances were most authentic. These all go to our editor, who cleans and processes the files, removes vocal clicks and imperfections, and masters them to be played back in game. Commonly in video games, a single line may play multiple times, and in those cases, it’s not uncommon for us to deliver five or six versions of line to avoid becoming repetitive. After our dialog has been through editorial, it goes back to the developer, and is finally implemented in game.

Strengthening Players’ Relationship to Game through Sound:
What is most important to any voice director is capturing the right feeling and emotion from every actor in their studio. It’s all about ensuring that context is properly portrayed, and that every line informs the gamer of what they need to know, strengthening their relationship to a game’s universe. Working with such an experienced team, as at SomaTone, simplifies and streamlines the process and consistently yields great sounding game dialogue.


Somatone’s 10 Keys to Great Game Audio

When it comes to achieving excellence in game audio, here are 10 key components to keep in mind throughout the creative process:

1) Communication – The heart of it all and sometimes the most difficult issue to address, especially when working from afar. Projects and teams can vary greatly, you’ve got to learn to be compatible, resourceful and assertive to make sure you are heard and you’re giving and receiving the information you need. Modern technology has made it easier for us to work remotely but nothing beats good old-fashioned face-to face real-time communicating, which is highly encouraged when kicking off a project.

2) Creativity – On all fronts, this is what drives us. Recording, designing, implementing and problem-solving all can take a nice healthy touch of creativity to help shape the overall tone of a project.

3) Gameplay Driven Approach – Who What When Where Why? Ultimately we are here to support the gameplay, the fun, the action, not to distract from it. There are exceptions of course where audio can take front seat but most of the time we want to work in harmony with the action on screen. Thus we are driven by each project’s gameplay, it affects decisions of all kinds.

4) Implementation – (aka integration) is taking all moving parts of the machine and then putting them together to run just right. This is big and not everyone is aware of it. Without proper implementation, a game’s audio can be ruined.

5) Iteration – Iteration, iteration, iteration. So important in our line of work. You might have created an amazing sound in a linear presentation, but once it’s hooked up in a non-linear universe functioning with all the other moving parts, it could not work at all. Playtesting, revising, testing, revising is the name of the game.

Game Audio Collaboration Somatone


6) Collaboration – There is great value in working with others. As sound guys sometimes we like to retreat to our studios, shut the door and make loud noises. Certainly this is encouraged but first and mostly throughout a project, collaboration is where things get done. Establish relationships, hangout around the snacks, sneak in to other team meetings, discuss ideas out loud, if you’re remote make visits to the office once a month, get skype accounts of everyone you’re working with, all these are healthy habits of collaboration.

7) Mixing & Dynamics – It’s all in the mix! This is where the magic happens, the joining together of all your elements. Recording, designing, implementing all require knowledge and awareness. It’s the cornerstone of what we do in audio and a powerful tool for making your aural creations come to life!

8) VO Production – A whole art in and of itself. From the recording, directing, editing and mastering a meticulous approach is needed in each action in order to capture the essence/performance of the human voice and transfer that to a non-linear environment.

9) Experience – Walking the streets of a busy urban downtown area, listening to the way people interact, standing in a field out in the country in the middle of the night under a full moon, watching the latest Marvel film, playing the latest big game. Game Audio is like a painting, all these experiences give inspiration and help shape our sound.

10) Leadership – With experience comes leadership. Taking up the reins, guiding the ship, having confidence in your craft and the ability to communicate that effectively and execute on command.


Merging New Sound Design To Match Existing Sound Design

Recently I had a project where a client had come to us with a great casual game. Unlike others, this game was not a clean blank slate of sound nor was it in development. This game had partial sound coverage that the client was married to and they had asked to replace some of the sounds and add to it, but for the most part keep their old assets.

Now to me this is a rarity, because usually I will find a game that gives me, as a sound designer, more creative control because I get to start from scratch while also watching art and game design develop in the process. And the kicker here was, the sounds they wanted to keep, were actually really great-sounding and very fitting to the game. So talking them out of it was out of the question.

The challenge began.

I started by analyzing what the game was all about just by simply playing it. Again, it was a finished, working game. After experiencing what the game was all about, I had a good idea as to what the developer wanted to do with the sounds and how they wanted to use them for the player experience. By first getting in the head of the developer, I then ventured to the mind of the original sound designer. Questions I asked myself were, “Was he trying to complement the music or was he trying to have good separation?” “Was their design harsh and fast or slow and subtle?”

I figured that they wanted fast but subtle, complementary to the music, very airy, and a certain sound that I like to call, “expensive.” By expensive I don’t mean price, what I mean is sound effects that have high frequency content, are very shimmery on the top end, no muddiness to the sound or attack that is hurtful or annoying to the ear and that are very clear.

Lastly, I looked into what would be the best way to approach finding elements for this design. After going through a couple of libraries of sounds, I soon realized that the “expensive” sounds that I was looking for were only going to be achieved through the use of instruments. I then looked into instruments that I could use with my sound design to make this happen. I found chimes and bells to be the best answer for the job and the rest was smooth sailing from there. I find spending a little bit of time doing the research and brainstorming on a project can go a long way rather than just jumping in and taking a risk. I definitely streamlined my design process and I would encourage anyone to do the same.

Merging existing game sound with new sound is yet another way to be challenged creatively as a sound designer, and taking the time to carefully develop fresh ideas can make all the difference in creating results that everyone loves.

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How Game Developers Can Leverage YouTube to Build Hype and Get Tractions For Downloads

You have a great finished game- with excellent production values.
What’s next?! Here are a few case studies that illustrate the importance of thinking ahead of the curve.

Using Youtube to showcase your game and its high-level production values is a great way to attract new players and a wider audience. Check out these cases-in-point:

Case 1 – “Minomonsters”

Since April of 2013, the game trailer cinematic has almost hit 1 million views and almost 4,000 comments.

This cinematic really does a great job showcasing the personality and character branding in the game. It feels and sounds like a polished game with immersive qualities of an animated series not a disconnected commercial trailer.

Case 2:
Another fantastic case study is the “Dumb Ways To Die Video”-

In this case , the developer launched the YouTube video before the game came out and the hype was overwhelming. It led to a smash hit for the mobile game. Again the character art and music were so memorable and catchy.

Lastly, case 3: – The Stanley Parable : “Raphael Trailer”

This Trailer has garnered 337,484 views since August, It’s a clever narrative featuring the look of the gameplay, and the voice-over is humorous, clever and satirical. The content speaks for itself ☺–listen and laugh.

Since marketing is such an important consideration, it’s best to keep these criteria in mind when strategizing for YouTube viral videos:

– What is the intent of your game ?
– What are your project’s goals?
– Think about the feel and personality of your game and how you want the world to view it.
– Weigh out the pros and cons of your strategic campaign
– Then go for it!!

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What You Didn’t Know You Wanted In Game Sound: Going Beyond “Good Enough”

So, you want your game to just sound awesome. Easy, right? There’s a simple list of audio needs, the sound designer just slaps them in place, and it’s done. NOT so in today’s world! For an increasing number of situations in modern gaming of all kinds, creating a game soundscape that really clicks and brings the whole experience to the next level begs for a stronger audio system. Drawing from what has long been exclusive to AAA titles, we have been involved in many projects that give us exciting opportunities to expand upon how audio is imagined and integrated.

It may be easy to think of the big picture creatively, and imagine the finished product of what you expect to hear in your game. For example, if you have a hero in combat, you may think having a sound for an attack and when the attack makes contact with an enemy would be all that’s necessary; that should sound good. Perhaps a few variations will really sell it. Par for the course, standard, boring.

But we’ve been getting more and more opportunities lately to bring so much more to clients, adding dynamic audio that so few games are taking advantage of. For example, a hero in combat having every weapon play variety of attacks, every weapon a material type of damage being dealt (sword, cannon, magic, rifle), and an impact sound for every type of material (flesh, stone, wood, dirt). Having only 1 or 2 sounds with every attack not only fails to deliver on rich and cool sounding action that often the developer had envisioned. It also quickly runs out of variety, getting repetitive and predictable. If instead every play action had a swoosh, crunchy impact, impact material, ringing metal of your sword, and voice effort, you can imagine how much more interesting and evolving every individual action could be. (and if you can’t imagine it, check out our video!)

In another game, the player may be a soldier firing an AK47, and you’re hearing each bullet hitting metal truck doors, breaking out windows, or ricochet in the dirt. Buildings getting demolished having layers of debris adding detail to the explosions. Adding that extra texture and attention to detail everywhere we can is what makes a game sound and feel awesome. We also love going beyond typical expectations with footsteps, voice effects, interactive music systems, environments, etc. When you take these extra steps, it without a doubt sets your game ahead of so many others. The list truly is endless, and unique to every type of game. The old way of thinking about audio for your game shouldn’t limit you to “good enough.”

What many developers don’t realize is that there are many moving parts, and endless creative possibilities to build a full and dynamic audio experience.

Audio is still overlooked all the time as being what connects the player to the game, and gives a subconscious “wait, this is really cool” feeling. There is a stark contrast between hearing a sound effect playing in game where you would expect, fulfilling only the effect of sensory feedback, and when you hear variety and complexity that fits every action, sounding natural and believable. What a difference this makes! As this industry continues to expand, we’re trying to change that, one meticulously crafted soundscape at a time.