Talk Talk Music Talk Talk

18 Jul

My latest music/games column is up at Kotaku – it’s a post about voice-acting, melody, and why so many beloved game soundtracks are from games that feature little to no voice acting. It’s an idea I’ve been chewing on for a while, and which I first articulated on Michael Abbott’s Brainy Gamer Podcast last fall while talking with Michael and Dan Bruno about our favorite game soundtracks. While it’s of course not a “final” idea, I’m happy with how I managed to articulate the core concept.

As developers add spoken dialogue and sound effects to their games, they should always weigh the value of those things against the possibility that they will overshadow their game’s other vital aspects: bounce, flow, rhythm, and feel. Games and music can both wordlessly convey feelings of challenge and stress, joy and terror, and progression and release, and a talented composer can weave his or her melodies straight into a game’s mechanical systems to create something dynamic and uniquely beautiful.

The column was also a chance for me to do some collaboration with my friend Sarah Elmaleh, who is a fantastic voice-actor based out of NY. You may remember her role as K’lara Loshachtii in the oft-delayed but epic Sci Fi adventure game Suparna Galaxy. (And the voice of the computer in the PC adventure game Gemini Rue).

Sarah lent her voice to the role of Aeris in a video I made, while… yeah… I played Cloud. My goal wasn’t to win any voice-acting awards, but more to point out how the ear changes focus once a voice enters the scene. That said, I think that a recent YouTube commenter put it most succinctly:

I hope it’s clear in the piece that I don’t mean to “dismiss” any games with voice-acting, and I’m not offering my central theory as anything other than food for thought for fans and developers alike. I love the soundtracks to games like Metal Gear and Mass Effect, and of course both of those games feature copious amounts of voice-acting. That said, I think there’s something to be said for limiting the amount of chatter that goes on in games – lately I’ve been playing a few games that feature too much repetitive NPC chatter, and it detracts from the overall experience as much as it does from the music.

It’s been really fun, as usual, to talk about the column with commenters and people on twitter, and I’ve heard some great thoughts on both sides of the discussion. And I’ve had it further reinforced that at some point here I need to play Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy VI, XenoGears and Crisis Core. You know, when I create a clone of myself specifically to get caught up on older games.

In the meantime, gotta go finish Bastion. It’s pretty cool. I’ll have some stuff to say about it.

Read “Voice-Acting Sucks Kill It With Fire” at Kotaku

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