Monday, January 9, 2012

"Indoor Kids" and HULK Plug TGO

Many, many big thanks to the great Film Crit Hulk for the nice plug for the show on the most-recent "Indoor Kids" podcast during a revisitation of the "Arkham City" kerfluffle. Have a listen HERE.

The whole thing was very interesting, but I'm especially glad to see someone come out strong on the notion (which has been on my mind as well) that the advent of voice-acting as a "must have" thing in modern gaming has been potential harmful to the medium in terms of storytelling - particularly in the case of JRPGs, which were once routinely held up as one of the BEST genres for delivering "big idea" narratives but became the stuff of punchlines once they had to start using voices instead of text.


James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

I have to disagree, Bob. Voice acting is a tool, and when used poorly, yes, it can harm the impact of a game's story. But used effectively, it helps better convey the story. By allowing characters to inflect and letting us grasp their emotions rather than having to infer them, there's a greater depth assigned to them. Consider Raz's passionate plea to join the Psychonauts, or the witty banter between Sam and Max, or any of the many epic lines delivered in the Mass Effect series. Would they have as much impact if they were delivered just as text? This isn't to say games without voice acting don't have merit (Epic Mickey does a great job telling a story with no spoken dialogue), but again, it's all in the execution.

I will say, though, if you're looking for a good RPG series that blends voice acting and text-only dialogue well, consider the Persona games.

Mads said...

I already whined about the podcast you linked on your other blog.

This thing about voice's a nice theory, and there might be an episode in it, but I doubt it has actually hurt the medium.

It's an interesting concept to discuss. In abstract terms, if I were to invent something that would change a medium forever by giving artists working within it more freedom, could I inadvertently hurt the quality of the products made?

3d cinematics is a good example of a technology that forces certain sacrifices, chiefly among them, the camera needs to be considerably steadier. Many people would doubtlessly believe this is a good; that the quality rises, because the new technology constrains as well as provides advantages, and that these arbitrary constraints can improve quality.

There's a certain truth to that; arbitrary constraints sometimes generate unusual and interesting results where things would've been dull. Taking away specific constraints means there is room for one less artistic solution, because the blanket solution is generally superior in mere technical terms.

The best example of constraints improving games in weird and wonderous ways is the day9 funday monday podcast. He's a big deal in the starcraft esports world, and on mondays, he hosts a show that's incredibly bizzare but can also be a lot of fun.

The key is, he proposes some type of rule which the players must obey as they play starcraft 2 online to be eligible for their game to be aired on his podcast. It might sound contrived, but it results in something like this:

The rule for this show was, the player must attack with only a single unit. His opponent obviously isn't limited in any such way.

The results of these peculiar rules are basically spotlights into a world where starcraft 2 is a completely different game. Sometimes, the games clearly become a lot of fun, and at least one funday monday rule has resulted in an entirely original game mode.

Anyway, the point is, before voice acting became common, the game industry was constrained, but working within those constraints, they made very different games. Games with more words in them, games with a different kind of dialogue, games where scenes could play out without any regard for how silly it would be if the dialogue and situations had to be spoken and acted out.

That big games need voice acting to sell these days is merely a different constraint: Dialogue must be more punchy and realistic, characters need better animation, and situations need to be fleshed out more.

I generally think the change is a net good - but for JRPG's, it might be a net evil....but that's purely my oppinion, of course.

Aiddon said...

It actually has more to do with writing than anything. Catherine and the Persona series for instance are amazing and have great voice acting, but mostly because they had good scripts. FFXIII on the other hand had an AWFUL narrative and despite having a great cast that included people like Laura Bailey and Troy Baker even they couldn't save the painful, amateur script (written by Square's worst hack). Though I do agree that not EVERY game needs voice acting.

Anonymous said...

Yeah i agree that voice acting has probably been a net negeative for the medium especially in the realm of RPG's. I mean, compare the dialogue of Planescape with Mass Effect, both are great RPG's but one clearly has deeper more philosophical dialogue then the other and its easy to see why.

Voice acting puts up additional barriers and costs in a medium that has too many of them to begin with. It costs much more to record the voices than write text;its harder and more expensive to change at a later date, its expense means there has to be less of it, its far harder for foreign game makers to translate, the list goes on.

But the genie is out of the bottle on this one. I do not think that mainstream audiences would be willing to put up with text-only dialogue in the present day, could see it coming back among indies though.

Mads said...

@ Anonymous

Actually, all the world of warcraft players put up with a lot of text-only dialogue, and if they're not mainstream I don't know who is.

And I know this is sacrilege, but I was actually makin the exact same comparison in my head, between planescape tormend and mass effect, and it came out in favor of mass effect.

I mean, yes, planescape has a very unique setting, there's oodles of of atmosphere, and it has the best, most reactive conversations in the history of RPG's.

It's also full of NPC's that are far too willing to share their life story with you. They talk and talk and talk...and much of the text in the random conversations is completely unnecessary and interrupts the flow of the game. Not only that, the designers of Torment rely on text so much that it detracts from other elements, because it will suddenly spring it on you when you're not expecting to spend the next half hour in a text interface without save points of any kind.

But I don't deny that Torment was an amazing story, the best narrative of any videogame I've ever played...but I don't think voice acting is what prevents games from doing this kind of thing.

Kotor 2 looked to be such a game as well, for instance, and for the first two-three planets, it's story _is_ every bit as good as torments.

Antonio Black said...

I'm...kind of afraid to check out the podcast.
Is it just gonna be the Hulk roaring at me the whole time in between valid points about the gaming industry?

Joe said...

@Antonio: No, it's Hulk in his "Bruce Banner" persona, and he's very articulate and mild-mannered.

@Anonymous: I mostly agree with you. And yet again, my wish for some kind of mid-level marketplace, between $10 XBLA/PSN games and $60 AAA titles, where devs could take chances with different ideas and mechanics.

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Sabre said...

I'm not listening to it, at over 1 and half hours it's to long (I already have 3 hours worth of podcast to get through) on a topic I assumed had been long established by now.

Instead, I want to focus on a flaw in your voice acting argument that it hurt JRPGs. The issue, in my mind, is JRPGs are terrible story telling in games as the story in completely disconnected from the gameplay most of the time. As much as you don't like Call of Duty, at least the story is told while you play and through the actions you perform, rather than being completely removed from the gameplay. Western RPGs get it right, Mass Effect and Skyrim for example.

JRPG story telling is bad today not because of voice acting (the script was bad even in text form) but because it's still the same story as the Nes and Snes days. To use film as an example, Star Wars is a classic, but if every film was exactly the same with some minor costume and prop changes, it would lose it's impact until everyone stopped caring.

James said...

Sabre: segregation between story and gameplay in JRPGs isn't that common (look to classics like Chrono Trigger as a prime example of how story and gameplay are blended well in this genre), and even in cases where it is present, if the story is presented well, then it doesn't pose much of a problem (again, I mention the Persona series as a prime example)

Sabre said...

I would disagree, but my experience of JRPGs is limited as I don't like the genre. There are JRPGs I do like, but even then the story was very disconnected from the gameplay. I will have to take your word for it.

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