Video Games: Hacking into Voiceover

The world of video games is growing bigger and bigger every year. As the internet of things begins to propagate our lives with more and more online devices you can bet that we will find more and more ways to play games with them. We asked our Jared Zeus for the inside scoop on recording for video games. His take? That it's one of the best aspects of being a voice over artist.


How do you prepare yourself for a video game voiceover?

Just like any other session, I think it’s important to warm up.  Not just your voice, but your whole body.  I’m not saying you need to be doing jumping jacks in the hallway, but you need to be awake, aware and ready to go.  Most voiceovers for video games are recorded standing up and that’s because your voice is more energised when you do so. Plus, you may be asked to be physical while you’re recording, so that the feeling of movement or effort is present in your voice.  Make sure that whatever you do for a warm-up it is something that you do relatively easily and consistently.  The last thing you want is to arrive tired for your session.  The key is in the words: warm up.  Warm up so you can begin at the level needed for the session.

Most of the time you won’t get the script until you walk in the door, but if you do have a script, make sure you are familiar with it.  It’s important to stay flexible. Make sure that you don’t get too stuck doing the lines in a specific way because the director may ask you to try things differently in the booth. It’s important to be able to give them what they’re looking for.


How do you approach casting sessions for video games?

Be early and prepared, just like you’ve already got the job.  Be warmed up, be ready to go and be familiar with the material you have.

A friend of mine once put it like this: you’re both looking to see if you want to work together.  The actor is getting a sense of the director and how they like to work, and the same goes for the director.  If it all goes well then you’re going to be spending some time together, so you want to see if it’s a good fit for both of you.

I think the most important thing as a voiceover artist, especially in video games, is to be coachable. The more flexible you are the better. The director wants to see how well you take direction. You might have done a great job on the scene the first time, but they may send you in a different direction to see if you can make the adjustment. Things change during a session and you need to be able to change with them. Sometimes you’ll do several takes of the same line in varying ways just in case the developer needs them, and the director needs to know that you’ll be able to do that when the time comes.

If you’re asked to do something and you don’t quite understand, ask if they can put it in a different way.  The director wants to communicate with you, they want to be a good coach, but everyone is different and sometimes we’re separated by a common language so don’t be afraid to ask.  The clearer you are on what they want, the easier it will be for you to give it to them.

Lastly... Have fun.  Computer games are fun!  Voice over for games is fun!


What makes a good voice over session for a computer game?

Energy.  The energy in the room is the most important thing.  The team behind the board has to feel like they can ask whatever they need from the actor and the actor needs to feel free to try things so that they can give it to them.  Like I said, video games are fun, so there’s a sense of playfulness in the room, but there’s also focus.  Focused play, because you’re working by the hour and to a budget.  There’s definitely a sweet spot where you’re able to laugh together, but it’s still about the work; you’re clipping along but you’re still exploring.

Everyone also needs to be comfortable.  Your voice can go through a lot in session for video games. You may be dying, killing someone, shouting at someone or simply using a voice that’s tiresome. It’s hard for the guys on the other side of the glass too! They’re hearing people killing, getting killed etc. A good director will be in tune with all of that, they’ll schedule the session so that the hard stuff is at the end, talk to you a bit between takes to let you rest, make sure there’s plenty of tea or water available, and take breaks when they see people starting to flag a bit. That being said, it’s important to ask for a break or some tea if you need it, we all do our best work when we’re able to focus.


What do artists like or dislike in a session?

Safety is pretty important.  Artists need to feel like it’s ok to falter; that it’s alright to fail. They have to be able to stretch things to the limit and at the very least to know where that limit is. The worst thing you can do is tell an artist “that’s not right”. The artist is doing everything they think is being asked of them. It’s a dance. Sometimes we step our partner’s feet, it just means we’re out of sync. Conversely, the worst thing an artist can do is to get upset if they feel like they don’t understand or they’ve been asked to do things over and over again. The artist has as much responsibility for maintaining the energy in the room as anyone else.

An artist should never tell another artist how they think it should be done unless they’ve been asked. That’s the director’s job. Let them figure it out in their own time. Sometimes it’s more powerful when an actor makes a discovery for themselves; the director is usually trying to lead them to that discovery. It can be frustrating to watch if you know what they’re getting at but be patient and leave it to the director.

Sometimes the words just aren’t coming out right, or a line might work better if it was said in a different way. Simply adding or deleting a single word can make a line suddenly light up in that actor’s mouth and having the flexibility to make the words your own can bring extra life to a performance. However, it’s up to the writer, or sometimes the director, to make that call. It’s ok to request a change or ask if we’re allowed to be free with the words, but it’s always best to have permission first.


How can a director or casting director get the best out of an artist?

It’s all about pointing the artist in the direction you want them to go. Opening doors vs closing them. “Can you raise the stakes a bit?” vs. “it’s too casual…” “What if we made him lower?”  vs. “It’s too high.” It’s easier to do than not do. It sounds silly, but the artist is in a pretty vulnerable position and the more encouragement they get, the more confident they become.

Recording voice over for video games is very different than a lot of other types of acting. There’s no rehearsal time. We don’t have weeks to delve into the minutia of every single moment, so the directors that are able to paint a good picture of what we’re trying to achieve make it much easier to jump into the story. Knowing what you want from a scene or line is particularly important, even if that changes 100 times. If you want an apple I can give you an apple but if you just want some food... well.

A good director is just as creative as the actor. They have to think up ways to describe what they want, with dozens of actors, all with different personalities. That creativity can bring out incredible things in a session. It can not only point the actor in the right direction, but it can change the dynamic, make people laugh, or focus them in. Sometimes, no matter how many things you’ve tried, you get stuck. I have no problem having a director tell me “Say it like this...” I don’t mind. “Do exactly the same thing but up a little higher. Fine with me, I’m happy for them to play my voice like a piano. We’re on the clock, I understand that. We both want the same thing: to make a great game.


How much work does it involve to make successful video games?

To be honest, I’m not sure I can answer that in its entirety. There is so much work that goes into each game and the recording of the voiceover is just a very small part.  I work out of the U.K., and a lot of companies record their video game voice overs in London, but quite often there will be sessions for the same game in the U.S.A., Japan, Germany - you name it! Some video games have credits as long as blockbuster movies, while others are created by small in-house teams. The same goes for your role within that game. I’ve done games that took months, even years to complete and others that only needed me for an hour. Whatever the role, whatever the project, doing voiceovers for video games is a great gig to have and I’m happy whenever I get a chance to do it.


Written by Jared Zeus. Previous game credits include SOMA, Tom Clancy’s The Division and Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst.

Check out Tom Clancy’s The Division: