This week, I hired two actors to record lines for my last Ludum Dare entry. This is the first time in over 10 years that I’ve worked with voice acting.

The game itself was pretty simple. There are two characters: a therapist and a patient. The therapist pushes the patient into using EMDR tappers to process traumatic memories; only in this case, the patient is a murderer, so it’s doing more harm than good. I created it in 48 hours for Ludum Dare as a simple rhythm game; then promptly abandoned it after being hospitalized for COVID-related illness. 2021, like 2020, was a strange year.

Figuring out how to do the voice direction, however, is not that simple. My own script makes me cringe; but if I don’t tell the actors what I need, the intonations are wrong. Integrating the voice clips into the game was trivial, but the audio engineering required to break a recording session into game-ready sound clips took more time than expected. I’m doing it largely for practice; this was a short experimental game that I don’t feel a need to polish up into something releasable. But even so, it adds value, enough that I’m thinking of going back and doing voice over for other solo experiments.

I largely skip voice acting when I encounter it in games I’m playing. I read much faster than I can listen to someone speak. I like voice acting when it establishes character, but the trend in games for every line to be recorded and spoken– along with lip syncing– has always bothered me. It means that C&C, or responding to the player character’s choices in an RPG, is much more expensive, and studiedly avoiding the protagonist’s first name (shouldn’t Commander Shepard’s lovers drop the title occasionally?) is always awkward. If you’re writing a game and plan on voice acting it later, you can’t include dynamic text; something that Ink, my preferred scripting language these days, makes easy.

I did a fediverse poll that hints that most people like but don’t need voice acting. If it’s easy to turn off, establishes character, and doesn’t limit the creativity of the game’s writing, it’s worth including.