Voice acting in indie games is not a necessity, but a way to help players form an emotional connection and bring narrative to life, according to several gaming experts within the community.
During a recent panel discussion at Game Developers Conference 2014 called "Rulebooks on Fire: Looking at the Impact of Indies on the Voice Industry," industry talents discussed the advantages of voice actors and how they're cast. David Chan, audio director at Hinterland Studios — creator of the upcoming post-apocalyptic survival game The Long Dark — believes it's important for smaller games to form some kind of emotional connection.
"I think that voiceover in the context of indie games can actually make or break it, because that's where ... if you didn't have that character and you just had text on a screen or something like that, I don't think you would get the emotional connection to the game," Chan said.
"I'm not saying that it always has to be there. Journey is a perfect example of a game that didn't necessarily need voiceovers to make it happen, but I think that if you're doing a story-based game with a narrative then it's incredibly important. "
According to co-founder of The Fullbright Company Steve Gaynor, voice acting played an especially big role in their award-winning debut title, Gone Home.
"In our game, it was very important because Gone Home doesn't have any characters onscreen," Gaynor said. "Sam Greenbriar, the main character in the story — your human connection to the game is her voice ... Finding the right voice for our game was super, super important.
However, the developer added, each indie title is different. Some games, like the critically acclaimed Papers, Please, requires no major voice acting at all. The need varies from title to title, he said.
"Trust your projects."
Speaking about how developers find voice actors, Gaynor said that he and his team took a more traditional approach with Gone Home. The developer values face-to-face time with actors and the collaborative process of working through lines. Chan, meanwhile, explained that he draws from a large pool of actors met over the years, or improv actors. Chan said that despite whatever talent projects may attract, however, he still looks for actors that will ultimately fit the role.
The audio director touched briefly on his casting of Jennifer Hale — one of the panel's other members — and Mark Meer (who provided the voices of female and male Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, respectively) for The Long Dark. Although a "well-known" actor was in the running for the voice of William Mackenzie, Meer was ultimately chosen for being a better fit for the character.
"I firmly believe that our casting decisions are not made by what we want to do in terms of publicity," Chan said.
Hale added that developers should ultimately have faith in their original vision.
"Trust your projects," Hale said.
The actress said that it's that kind of passion that keeps her interested in the gaming — along with its "cutting edge" nature and creativity.
"It's acting like no other form," Hale said. "I always tell people that it's acting on steroids because it's in the moment."