AUDIO SPECIAL: Side's guide to using actors for in-game audio

Itâ??s good to talk

What can having actors and directors involved from the beginning of a project bring to game audio? Side’s creative director Andy Emery runs us through the benefits…

With many developers and publishers placing greater emphasis on story and character, the quality of voice acting in games has never been so firmly in the spotlight. So how can developers achieve the ‘cinematic’ quality desired for many of today’s titles?

One of the biggest factors in achieving this leap in quality is ensuring voice work is more than just a post-production process left to the end of the development cycle. Making character performances an integral part of the pre- and main production stages opens up a whole range of opportunities to improve the final quality.

Beginning the casting process at an early stage enables developers more opportunity to have the actor influence the final character, rather than simply providing the voice. This has been standard practice in the film and TV industry for a long time, but has only recently become a consideration in games.

The many advantages of early casting include enabling writers to tailor the dialogue to the selected cast, and letting actors influence the characters’ accents and even the final character art. Taking the further step of securing the likeness of an actor for the character is a sure-fire way to guarantee that the face fits the voice.

A vast swathe of games have traditionally used specialist voice actors to record for multiple characters within a game, and this works well if the character animation is more ‘cartoon’ in style. But as many of today’s titles require a more cinematic style, it’s essential the actors have the depth of experience to convey a real and often multi-layered performance.

Using actors experienced in TV, film and theatre, and getting them on board early, provides the possibility of full performance capture. Allowing actors the freedom to fully perform the scene, providing both physical and vocal performance, makes a big difference in how believable the final dialogue can sound.

A professional director will make a huge difference to the level of performance you can achieve in a voice recording session. But they can also be invaluable during casting, rehearsal, staging sessions and motion capture shoots, adding an element of continuity with a focus purely on performance.

The process of recording dialogue in games is also evolving, and can now involve as much time recording on location as recording in a studio. Taking the techniques used for film production, location dialogue (from performance capture shoots) recorded with head mounted radio mics is being combined with studio ADR sessions in order to achieve a more cinematic dialogue sound.

With an increasing number of quality performances in games, players will become less forgiving of bad scripts and poor acting.

As narrative designers become more adept at delivering a compelling story in ways less obtrusive to game play, the distinction between story dialogue and ‘world filling’ dialogue will continue to blur. The challenge will be to ensure that all acting in games is believable, from in-game greetings, to death cries, to the epic monologue.

Games have only scratched the surface in terms of how great performances can contribute to the player’s experience. It’s for this reason the interactive entertainment sector will continue to be one of the most exciting, creative and innovative industries for actors, directors and writers alike.


In January 2009 SIDE was commissioned by EA’s Visceral Games to carry out casting, direction and recording for Dead Space Extraction. It was clear from the outset that the team was taking character performances in the game very seriously.

Visceral was looking for actors to provide not only a vocal and facial performance but also facial likeness to be used in the game. Although the actors needed to have the right voice and the right look, the team were happy to be flexible about accent. The most important thing was to cast a group of distinct, believable characters.

After a process of filmed auditions, the selected cast were all brought together for a table read and further familiarisation with the project. A high percentage of the dialogue was then recorded ‘on location’ during a performance capture shoot with Side’s Justin Villiers directing.

This project involved many of the key elements that help produce high quality dialogue: an early and comprehensive casting process, the use of actors for both vocal and performance capture, getting directors involved in casting, rehearsal and dialogue recordings.

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