I am a firm believer in using voice over (VO) only for necessary elements such as game narrative, and here and there to drive game play (e.g. instructions coming in over intercom, that sort of stuff). I think that game design should speak for itself, and generally, when lots of VO instructions are needed to drive game play, good design is lacking.

Unfortunately, my team doesn't really consider this, and feels that everything needs to be commented on by the main character's companion. As a result, I (sound designer) got a huge script in which I had virtually no say, with in my opinion lots of useless lines. Some examples:

When there's only one tree in the scene with a very obvious squirrel in it.

"Look at that squirrel in the tree!"


In a room with one door.

"I wonder what's behind that door."


When facing a lot of bad guys.

"Those are a lot of bad guys."

I feel we're dumbing down the player, and taking away lots of attention from the actual environment and player's initiative. However, whenever I mention this to the script writer or lead director (who is partially responsible for the script to), they're quite protective about it. I feel I have to ask line-by-line if this is really necessary, and this is not good for the atmosphere or productivity.

How can I convince my team that something more fundamental is wrong with the script?

Edit: Does someone have some good examples of games that use the above in a bad way, that I can use to demonstrate my point?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Use examples from the past, remind them of Navi "Hey! Listen!", or that Owl... \$\endgroup\$
    – PTwr
    Nov 7 '14 at 15:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want an example of narrative done right, see Bastion: The narrator comments on virtually every thing the player does, and yet it never seems bothersome. An example of narrative done wrong: Sacred 3. Just look at the comments on MetaCritic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kivin
    Nov 7 '14 at 16:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like a rant about your narrow situation disguised as a question. Did you mean to ask "How can I make VO less annoying?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Anko
    Nov 7 '14 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I take your point, and I will see if I can make the question more generic. But I do think a strong underlying point is that audio/VO is often not treated as an important factor, and as audio designers we're often left to fix bad design, and to damage control decisions made at a higher level. Don't you think it's a valid question to ask for tips how to counter this in the context of a team? \$\endgroup\$
    – Yellow
    Nov 7 '14 at 16:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's possible this topic is suited to the workplace SE? I don't think it fits here though, at least as written. \$\endgroup\$
    – user1430
    Nov 7 '14 at 17:17

Do playtesting and see how the testers react to it. Possible complains the testers could have:

  • Unnecessary or even misleading voiceovers distract from the gameplay
  • Bad or inappropriate voiceovers break immersion
  • Voiceovers which are repeated multiple times become annoying.
  • Important voiceovers aren't understood because the player is distracted when they play (like by other sounds which play at the same time or because something important happens gameplay-wise)

When any of these points occur in the test protocols, you have an argument.

Alternative, appeal to their wallet. Present a cost/benefit analysis. Good voice actors and studio hours aren't cheap, so you could try to argue that the cost involved with the voiceover script is unjustified and lots of budget could be saved by cutting any unnecessary dialog.

However, keep in mind that dialog has use beyond gameplay. Nowadays, many good games try to reach the player emotionally by having a story with interesting characters. To make a character interesting, you have to give them dialog which gives them depth beyond a mere game mechanic. Just think about memorable NPCs from games like Portal (GlaDOS, Wheatley), Bioshock Infinite (Elizabeth) or Mass Effect (all the selectable companion characters). They have lots and lots of voiceover where they just emote to what happens in the game. It often isn't really relevant for understanding gameplay or plot, but it makes them feel more like persons and less like tools. Without these lines, the player wouldn't form an emotional connection to them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's also worth mentioning one thing the OP touched upon - the dialogue may contain spoilers to the gameplay (even if they're very obvious spoilers) which can irritate the player, and feel that the game is holding their hand, or worse, that the game is basically playing itself and just tolerating them being there \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    Nov 7 '14 at 13:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I fully agree that there are also good ways to use non-gameplay-related dialog. Unfortunately our script writer isn't that good. :-( The suggestion of play tests is a very good one though, and I will try to push for this. Unfortunately, there seems to be a general culture and lack of understanding of how important sound and VO can actually be to the overall experience, so let's hope they let me do play tests for the sake of audio only. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yellow
    Nov 7 '14 at 13:58

This is a generic answer to "how do I get other people to do things my way when I don't have a lot of power in this situation" but here goes:

KISH: Keep It Super Helpful. Make it seem like you are totally on their side and you'll bust a gut to make it happen... but make sure you don't end up with responsibility for all the bad stuff that you foresee. Let them figure out that they're going to be carrying the risk.

So "I worked out a rough amount of studio time we're going to need for this, did a quick ring round the agencies... looks like you're talking $X for the talent. You'll need a dialog freeze Y weeks before beta. I talked to the designers; they're pretty sure they'll have it all by then, but we need to book Z weeks in advance and that only gives us W weeks to get the scenes written and then no more major re-writes or you're looking at paying most of that all over again... Shall I get them booked for you?"

Or "I thought I'd rough this stuff out for a few scenes we have video of but using people I nabbed in the office for the voices; I can't work out how it's going to not sound like we're treating the player like a baby. Could you take a look and help out? Hey! Maybe you could do some of the voices and show me what it should sound like?"

Let them run with it. Try to do the best you can at your job, but if you feel you are getting responsibility for risks you don't think you can properly handle, negotiate some way that you can keep the responsibility off your shoulders... like "We're going to need to do some short bits ready for alpha-testing, see what the testers think, because you never know how it's going to sound until it's all put together" -- this tactic means that you are not guaranteeing quality -- but remember: always appear/be Super Helpful.

Hopefully your boss will recognize the risks and call it off, but there's always a risk that you'll still have to do it. Maybe having figured out how to slough off the risks it actually works OK, because you are all actually managing the risks of it being rubbish, costing a lot, limiting the designers' freedom and so on and so you don't end up with those problems. Maybe it does get done and it is rubbish, but at least you dodged the blame.

But whatever happens, you stand a good chance of being the good guy. However, if it goes ahead and it's rubbish and you stood in its way, people won't think "hey, that guy really got this one right, let's listen to him more in future," they'll think "hey, that guy was a major pain; had he been more supportive perhaps this would have been great" and you will have lost in all respects.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Voice of wisdom here. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7 '14 at 18:55

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