What a Voice Director Is Listening for From Video Game VO Actors

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Often casting directors and voice directors give you advice on “How To Audition Better” or tell you “What To Expect In The Booth” or “Top 3 Tips on…” You get the idea. Here I’m going to flip it and let you in on what happens on my side of the glass. This is why I’m making decisions about who to book or which take will become my select from a final record for a video game.

Let’s start with auditions. These days most gaming voice auditions will start with a self-tape. Depending on the spec, we typically receive a few hundred submissions and more often than not, it’s more than that. So I’ve got to make quick decisions. Here are a few things I’m considering while I’m shortlisting.

First off, consistency. Is the actor staying in character as they move through the sides? It’s usually great on conversational dialogue but what about the combat lines? In real life, people have a tendency to pitch their voices up when they get stressed but in gaming, you can’t do that. The player has to know that you’re the same soldier both in and out of combat, otherwise, it gets confusing during gameplay. 

Speaking of combat lines or barks, I’m also listening for the actor’s ability or willingness to go there. Will you get loud enough to be heard over guns and grenades? It may necessitate you having to warn your neighbors before you lay down that self-tape to ensure you get good and loud on those lines. If I’m not hearing it here then I’m hesitant to shortlist you because once you get in the booth I know it’s going to be difficult to push you there and time is of the essence at that point. 

Lastly, when I’m listening to the library (one of the names for the sounds that you create for physical actions and reactions of your character), I’m listening for believability. I want to hear the difference between getting shot, getting punched, and being set on fire. If I don’t believe it, well, I’ll give you an example. I had a great actor send in an audition that ended with the sound of “dying in fire” and instead of screaming sounds, he yelled the words, “I’m on fire! I’m on fire! I’m on fire!” He didn’t make the shortlist. I’ll say though that there is a definite video game sound for being shot, being punched, etc. and you can find playthrough videos online to hear where they should sit.

OK, so say you were shortlisted and booked for a AAA game. Hurray! Now, we’re at the final record session and I’m listening in a very different way here than I was during auditions. I’m going to ask you for an “ABC” or a “123” version of each line and as you move through the takes, I’m making split-second decisions on which of those takes will be my selects. There are a lot of considerations involved in each decision. 

First off, distance. It starts with who you’re conversing with. Is it the player, another character, or are you speaking to yourself? In all of those scenarios, the player has to be able to hear you. That’s where distance comes into play. What I need from you is the ability to imagine the scene and then deliver the line with that specificity in mind. Are you delivering the line to sound as if you’re speaking to someone that is 20 feet away, 50 feet away, or three feet away? Big difference in projection. I’ve found that theatre and ADR actors make this transition most easily because they’re used to imagining their surroundings. 

I’m also listening for accent (if there is one) along with the dialect coach. What may happen is that the dialect coach may prefer a take over my select because the accent isn’t on point and I may have called my select based on another consideration. We have to come to an agreement very quickly before we move on to the next line. We will either have you record it again or use another one in the pass. It’s all part of the dance we’re doing on the other side.

Finally, context is a really important part of my decision-making. Do you sound as if you are on a battlefield, selling your wares in an open market, or kneeling over a dead friend? This is where your prep is immensely helpful. If you know your character’s emotional responses and their intentions, this should be a breeze. If you don’t, I’ll help you out with some direction. That’s my job and part of what I’m listening for: the intensity of the scene, the volume of the delivery, and whether the line is clear and can be understood by the player.

Now that you’re aware of a few of the things I’m listening for at both an audition and a final record, I hope it sheds more light on what you can do to help me out in my job. If you make my job easier, it goes without saying that I’ll want to have you back voicing a character on my next AAA game.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Kim Hurdon
Kim Hurdon has been dubbed “The Reigning Queen Of Voice.” She is a coach and casting and voice director with over 30 years of experience under her belt and has worked on titles such as: “Far Cry,” “Ghost Recon,” “Watchdogs,” and “Assassin’s Creed.” In animation, Kim’s shows include: “Molly of Denali,” “Blues Clues and You,” The Magic School Bus Rides Again” and “Max & Ruby.” Her commercial VO credits include the world’s biggest brands.
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