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As the discussion of the improvement of storytelling in games heats up, one of the most crucial factors to address is the acting that carries those stories.
Just as the artists on the team must strive to create believable and compelling characters, and writers must pen dialog that holds players' attention, the voice actors who lend those characters their voices must fulfill the quality of those digital performances.
Here, SCEA Foster City dialog manager Greg deBeer discusses the evolution of the art, taking into consideration all facets of how these dialog-based experiences are created. He looks toward the future of the art, and describes Sony's techniques to improve its cinematic storytelling -- seen in games such as the God of War series and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.
Which titles are you in charge of? Are you in charge of all dialog for Sony's U.S. studios?
Greg deBeer: The dialog group is a service group within Sony Computer Entertainment. Our internal and external production titles have the opportunity to use the group for any one of our services. There's the dialog group, there's motion capture, there's our sound group, cinematics group, and multimedia group, which does a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff.
Probably, I'd say 80 percent of the titles that SCEA is involved with -- either through internal or external studios -- we help out in some capacity with the dialog. That includes the SOCOM franchise, the God of War franchise... we helped Naughty Dog with Uncharted, some of the sports games...
I know some of the audio stuff is done down in San Diego, at that studio.
GD: Yeah. We have audio people in Foster City, Santa Monica, and San Diego, and we have dialog people working in Foster City and Santa Monica at the moment within my group, and in San Diego, there are sports-specific dialog designers that report to a different manager down there.
Dialog is something that I've been interested in, because it used to be, in my opinion, really bad, and it has been slowly getting better, but it's still got a ways to go, depending on title to title. God of War was a quite good one, though. To start, how long have you been doing this?
GD: When I first started in the industry at a company called NovaLogic in '99, I was hired as a sound designer, but I came from an art school -- Cal Arts. I was at Cal Arts, and I got onto the middle of a project, and sound design was almost done, and they still needed to do some dialog points, so they put me on that. So that was really my first trial by fire experience with dialog.
We then started up another project called Tachyon: The Fringe, and that was the company's first dialog-heavy, truly creative... it was a military-style [simulation game] company, and this was a very creative venture for them, and they needed a lot of very specific actors for it.
NovaLogic's Tachyon: The Fringe
Having gone to Cal Arts, I was friends with a lot of people in the theater department, and I was able to get them in quickly and relatively easily and relatively cheaply. They just wanted to get their names out there and get some credits. So that was my first relatively large project with casting and directing and getting people involved.
So I've been doing it for I guess about eight years now, and yeah, it's been getting a lot better. I think the biggest shift that a lot of people agree with is that there's a steady trend away from the thought that anybody can do dialog.
When I first started even at Sony, most of the games were handled by people at the office. We'd find people like, "Oh yeah, you did some voices for that punching game, so why don't you come over and take a half-day off from doing level design and do a couple of voices for us?" We slowly realized that we couldn't do that anymore. As story and dialog became more integral to games, we had to move towards professional talent, and that's what we've been doing.