The Video Game Voice Actor Strike; Our Thoughts

Over the last few weeks, there has been… a bit of tension between voice actors and the video game companies that hire them.  Basically, the actors (under the union SAG-AFTRA) want more transparency (knowing what game they’ll be working on), residual pay for when a game is successful (so a bonus for every 2 million copies sold), stunt coordinators at sessions for motion and performance capture and ‘stunt pay’ for vocally stressful roles.  Meanwhile, the companies themselves are less keen, with the likes of EA, Activision, Disney and Warner Bros (among others) not being able to come to an agreement on that stuff.

So there has been talk of these actors going on strike.  Apparently they’re opening the votes until October 4th, and have gotten quite a bit of support for it on Twitter:

But while in principle I do agree with the SAG-AFTRA and their demands for both transparency and better pay, I have to wonder how much power these guys actually have here.

For one thing, how relevant is voice acting to many games? I mean, it’s certainly important for your big triple A Hollywood blockbuster style games and script heavy ones like Metal Gear Solid, but for various others? To be honest, probably not that important. What does a platformer need for voices? A couple of grunts when the character jumps off the ground or dies? The most voice acting a Mario game has ever got has been the intro letter in Super Mario 64:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLA30ii-DTQ

Freemium mobile games? Yeah, as if Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga needs much of a voice acting team.

And puzzle games? The only thing Tetris needs is an iconic soundtrack:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmCCQxVBfyM&gl=GB&hl=en-GB

Even story driven stuff like RPGs doesn’t usually need a lot of voice acting, depending on the direction. On the one hand you have stuff like Final Fantasy and Xenoblade, on the other hand… how much voice acting exists in Pokemon?

Either way, video games are not like film or television. Acting is important in some cases, but is honestly completely irrelevant in many others.

So perhaps on that note, any strike might actually get us more platformers and less first person shooters and ‘movie’ style games. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all…

But even for those games that do need voice acting, there’s one other issue that people seem to forget…

Most companies do not use ‘professional’ voice actors.

Okay, some larger ones have huge budgets and hire Hollywood type talent to voice their characters. Like say, the Arkham series. But a lot of other games have a couple of other options, ones that don’t really involve the SAG-AFTRA in any way whatsoever. Namely…

1. Using their localisation/development staff as voice actors

It’s certainly the standard practice in Nintendo and Rare after all. Ever wonder why the WarioWare voice actors don’t seem to show up outside of Nintendo games, like most voice actors? Because they’re not professional actors, they’re members of Nintendo’s in house staff. Same deal is true of the Star Fox series, with recently fired localisation member Chris Pranger having lent his voice to the first boss in the upcoming Star Fox Zero game.

Above: It can work quite well.

And sometimes, even the game’s producers and directors are involved in this. Like how Masahiro Sakurai voices King Dedede in the Kirby and Super Smash Bros series. Or how for a Rare example, the voice of Conker the Squirrel is provided by Chris Seavour, the project lead and game designer for the entire Conker series (he also voiced many of the other characters in the games).

Now admittedly, this doesn’t always work. Sometimes, we have companies who cut costs so badly that they literally hire anyone they can to voice the cast, ending up with something like Chaos Wars.

Yes, the publishing company’s CEO got his kids to voice the main characters (presumably because of the shoestring budget the game was localised on), ending up with some of the most hilarious voice acting this site of Mega Man 8.

But it still provides at least one route a company could go if they don’t care to provide what the SAG-AFTRA demands. And given that it could sometimes lead to worse quality voice acting… do we really want to give the companies an incentive to do this?

And even if they want something a bit more professional than the WarioWare method of voice acting, there’s still an alternative there, because…

2. They can use non-union actors and actresses

Which unfortunately for anyone in the voice acting world, is much easier in video games than it is in Hollywood. Many video game voice actors don’t belong to any unions, and it’s not particularly hard to find an equivalent if the actor in question is part of one.

Or to quote a Simpsons joke:

Mr. Burns: Get me Steven Spielberg!

Smithers: He’s unavailable.

Mr. Burns: Then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!

*cut to Señor Spielbergo*

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWxcnl8PL_o

Above: Joke from A Star is Burns

But there’s also another source of labour out there…

  1. They can use the fanbase

Seriously. It sounds a bit silly given that you’re asking people on the internet to do stuff for free (or out of their own pocket). But look at recent history. Games are being funded on sites like Kickstarter, by the fans and buyers. News is being written and distributed for free by bloggers and people on social networking sites.

People are queuing up round the block to go for talent shows and to submit their works to sleazy self-publishing houses.

Now imagine if voice acting also gets out sourced to the fanbase. There are certainly enough great voice actors out there willing to provide their talents for free (just see the efforts provided for various game based cartoons, machinimas, fan games, etc).

It would be all too easy to skip the ‘professionals’ and the pesky ‘wage’ thing and just get people from sites like Youtube to voice the cast.

But even without that, there’s the question of whether voice acting will even be relevant in the future. Why? Well, in one word:

Computers

Computer generated speech is only getting better with time, and given that video games are already a near 100% computer generated medium, replacing the human voices with artificial ones doesn’t seem like a hugely futuristic thing.

And even before that’s possible, something like Vocaloid could work well too. Take a few voice actors, record a bunch of samples, then robotically string them together when you want the character to say something. It’s not perfect yet, but give a few years or so, and it seems possible that many characters (especially ones of few words like Mario) could be entirely voiced by archived samples and speech generation.

So while we do sympathise with these people and see their attempts to get pay and working conditions as admirable, we also wonder how much of a future the whole profession even has, or whether any union conditions will just be avoided by out sourcing and finding people with less of a need to make money.

And all bets are off when automation and AI comes in.

But what do you think? Do you agree with our thoughts on voice actors, strikes and unions, and the future of the profession as a whole? Or do you think they could completely succeed with their goals?

Source:

Voice Actors Voting on Strike Action – Gamesindustry.biz

Minecraft Story Mode; First Footage

Here it is:

As you can see, the quality is… debatable to say the least.  I mean, it looks like Minecraft, I’ll give them that.  It’s got the characters and enemies from Minecraft and plays them in a ‘threatening’ way.

But to be honest?  I don’t think Minecraft really works as a linear, story driven experience.  The above looks and feels like a poor Youtube machinima series rather than something you’d release professionally, and it just doesn’t work.

Still, what do you think about this Minecraft spinoff?  Do you think Minecraft Story Mode could be a good game, or do you think the concept might just be too flawed to really work out as the type of game shown in the video?

Konami Ceases Triple A Game Production

With the possible exception of Pro Evolution Soccer, according to a report on French gaming site Gameblog.  How bad is this?

Well, they currently have a blank slate as far as triple A game plans go.  Apparently, beyond Metal Gear Online (which is really an additional part of Metal Gear Solid 5 rather than a unique game) and Pro Evolution Soccer, the company has absolutely nothing lined up for 2016.  What’s more, technology director Julien Merceron has left the company over the move to mobile game development.

Konami-Logo

Above: The logo from when Konami used to have a future in AAA game development/production.

Admittedly, the writing was on the wall earlier, when Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima left the company.  Or perhaps when working conditions literally fell to pieces to the point of restricted communications with outsiders and ‘monitored’ lunch breaks.

But now it’s seemingly official.  Unless Konami can come up with something out of the blue within the few few months or year, the company is basically done with console game production.  Perhaps this could be a worrying omen of the industry’s future and the possible paths ahead for other large Japanese video game developers like Capcom and Square Enix.

Above: Is the Metal Gear series in jeopardy?

What do you think about Konami seemingly ceasing triple A game production?

Source:

Konami Ceases Triple A console production on all but PES – Eurogamer

 

The Business of Review Copies; More Evidence of Industry Corruption?

Take this with a pinch of salt, since no sites are specifically named in the original Tweets or messages about it, but it seems an interesting set of allegations have been made about corruption and the review copies some video game sites receive.

What kind of corruption?  Well, how about flogging the things on eBay before the game’s release date?  Or companies trying to sabotage smaller sites by convincing PR firms to delay or ‘run out’ of review copies to stop them getting early information.  Either way, here’s the full set of corruption allegations, by someone called Chihiro Onitsuka on Twitter:

300K hits? Is that hits, visitors or page views? Because 300K hits is nothing. 300K page views is slightly better, and 300K visitors is actually impressive.

Well, every site I use is probably blacklisted then. As is this site, though we arguably blacklisted ourselves back we were a 3DS specific site. We pretty much told every Youtube network and gaming company (Nintendo included) that we weren’t interested in ‘agreements’ or deals and that they should sod off.

Not surprising, unfortunately. Ever wonder why IGN and Gamespot get games so far before everyone else?

Okay, this annoys the hell out of me personally. If anyone can get evidence, can we sue them for anti competitive practices?

I think most people already knew this. Some of this also ends up on eBay.

On the other hand… perhaps independent sites could take advantage of this. All we need are a few corrupt journalists willing to flog review copies, and we’re in business!

In other words, don’t believe all the ‘hardware issue’ stories you read, some are made up for cheap hits.

*Drops old 3DS out of third story window*

See? The console has a hardware fault!

Wonder where all those early copies of games on torrent sites come from? Reviewers on large gaming sites apparently. Wonder what Nintendo would think of this? Especially if Super Mario Maker somehow ends up on a torrent tracker…

So those are the allegations. Are they true? Probably. In fact, someone at a certain subreddit confirmed many of them in a comment on the article:

Journalism is Dead Discussion – Reddit

Either way, it seems like corruption in this industry is even worse than we thought, and some journalists are outright abusing their positions to get in good with video game pirates and thieves.

What do you think of these interesting ‘allegations’ about video game journalism and the industry?

Source:

Chihirodev’s Allegations – Storify

Lobodestroyo – Interview with Lefthanded Games

As you probably know, we’re pretty big fans of Rare’s games and their many spiritual successors at Gaming Reinvented. And with our extensive coverage of such titles as Lobodestroyo, A Hat in Time and Yooka-Laylee, it’s quite clear we’re also interested in supporting anyone willing to continue their legacy through their own 3D platformers in the indie game world.

So we were delighted when our request for an interview with James Guy of Lefthanded Games Studio (makers of Lobodestroyo) agreed to an interview with Gaming Reinvented! With exclusive information about everything about the game’s backstory to the development team’s history and the role the game plays in the DKU as a whole, there’s something for everyone here! So whether you like the game for its new ideas, its Rare heritage or any number of reasons besides that, keep reading and enjoy our Lefthanded Games interview!

1. So let’s begin with a simple bit of backstory.  Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your previous history with video games?

I’ve been a gamer since day one for the most part and was lucky enough to be spoiled with a Game Gear and an Amiga when I was living back in the UK.

But my first true save-up-your-pocket-money-and-buy-it console was the Super Nintendo. Fell in love with Mario World and DK Country shortly after that, and it’s been an ongoing habit ever since. I’d say the N64 was my most influential system on me as a gamer and what I like to play. My original N64 died a few months back and it was with a heavy heart I had to replace it. He got a warrior’s funeral and was sent out to sea on a burning raft of thatch and tears.

2. How did Lefthanded Games Studio come about?  Any interesting history behind the name or anything?

I’m a lefty, as are a few others on the team but honestly thats not what it’s all about. Lefthanders are often considered the oddballs of the group. The outsiders. Freethinkers. That’s sort of what we are going for. Plus it was an easy logo and I was feeling lazy that day.

Lefthanded Games Logo

Above: The name ‘Lefthanded’ was meant to represent the team being outsiders.  Apparently.

3. Now onto the theme.  What inspired you and Lefthanded Games to focus on a lucha libre theme for Lobodestroyo?

I’ve always been a massive fan of the Día de Muertos and Lucha Libre aesthetics. The vibrant, over the top visuals and the rich lore and cultural motifs. Great stuff. Lends itself to game world design I feel.

4. Talking of the theme, what was the reason behind the name ‘Lobodestroyo’ anyway? I know it’s the name of an individual in the game’s setting, but is there a meaning behind the term?

Yes, the Lobodestroyo (or loosely translated ‘wolf of destruction’) is a legendary figure in our game’s world. At the outset of the game he gets taken out and is gone under mysterious circumstances. It’s up to Mutt, the player character, to avenge his fallen hero and track down those responsible for the destruction of his village.

5. Is there a main villain behind the La Liga de Los Villanos?  Like how the Mega Man robot masters had Dr Wily as the true force behind them?

Very early in the game there is a prison break and the maximum security lockdown villains get loose. These are all big time baddies that were previously defeated and locked up by the Lobodestroyo. With him out of the picture, these big-bads have banded together to form a league and are wreaking havoc on Costa Lucha (our game world).

6. Lobodestroyo has a very unique art style to it.  Can you tell us a bit about the story behind it and why said style was chosen?

It’s a mix of wanting to harken back to simpler, clean character designs that have that childish cartoonyness to them, but also have a style that makes everything feel like it’s from the same game universe. That, and we are keeping out design rather simple visually (which was initially out of necessity considering the hardware we would potentially be running the game on) to make sure to tweak things to get that ‘lobo-look’ we’re gunning for. There are rarely any straight lines in our game. Everything is a bit wonky or crooked. It makes it all rather cohesive and helps craft the look of the world.

Lobodestroyoart2

Above: The unique art style of Lobodestroyo is both to help the game run on weaker platforms and to provide, a different, more consistent look.

7. Apparently, you’ll need powers from later levels to clear missions and defeat bosses in earlier ones.  What’s the general set up for this?  Is it just learning new moves in one place, leaving to the hub and returning, ala the first Banjo Kazooie?  Or is it like Banjo Tooie where the levels are also directly connected to each other?

There is world interconnectivity in our game as well as a centralized hub that allows players to explore and unlock the game worlds. Some missions will branch between worlds, and other will require abilities that you might not have when first encountered. You get a healthy batch of initial abilities at the outset of your adventure, but gain new ones as you defeat and lock up boss villains. Taking down a boss is what grants you new powers after you unmask them, which is a theme lifted from old school lucha libre Mask vs Mask, retirement matches.

In Lobodestroyo when you take down a boss, you ‘retire him’ and claim his mask, which grants you some powers unique to that villain. It’s rather Mega Man in that regard, and allows for further exploration of previously visited worlds much like in the Metroid titles.

8. So what was the story behind Mutt himself?  What inspired his character design?

Mutt is an amalgamation of the initial concept I had for the game’s hero and input and changes the team has had on the idea since we began working on the game. The Mutt of today is drastically different than the original guy I scribbled out in my sketchpad. I’m immensely happy with where the character has been taken and couldn’t be prouder of the guy we have constructed together as a team.

Mutt

Above: Mutt has gone through quite a few design changes throughout the game’s development.

9. One thing Banjo and Conker did really well was humour.  Is that a focus in this game as well?

Humour has always been a large focus of this game. It wouldnt be a very accurate Rare homage if it wasn’t! From the lines delivered and characters met, to the objectives completed and worlds explored, the humor is evident in Lobodestroyo from the outset of the adventure. We are aiming for a Banjo-level of humor where there is something for everyone- without stepping into the overtly crude and arresting tones found in Conker. I want a game that a kid can play and not get in trouble with Mum and Dad,, whilst also delivering a title that the 30-somethings that grew up on these games can laugh along with (and everyone inbetween of course!).

Above: The humour in Lobodestroyo might be a bit similar to that of Banjo-Kazooie, overt, a bit crude but generally family friendly rather than like that of Conker’s Bad Fur Day.

We have enlisted help in writing these scenarios from the very talented (and decidedly hilarious) hosts of DKVine’s Kongerversation podcast, Chad and Hyle. They are helping to ensure that we are steeped in Rare references and suitable innuendo, that walk that fine line we have set forth for ourselves.

10. Out of the characters shown so far, which one is your favourite and why?

One of the great things about these exploratory titles is the wide cast of characters you meet on your adventure. I am fond of everyone we have living in the rich world of Costa Lucha but if I had to pick I am still partial to our heroes the most. Mutt is a great character and I’m really proud of him, but Dorado (the skull-faced spirit living inside Mutt’s championship belt) is where all the dry humor and wicked punchlines come from. The back-and-forth between the two characters is proving to be great fun, and the pairing is one of my favorite parts about the character design on this project. If I had to pick a runner up though, it would probably be Mopey Dick the wailing whale. The tongue-in-cheek lines and scenarios centered around a manically depressed whale make me laugh for all the wrong reasons, and for that he’s rather high up on my list of favorites.

11. And for that matter, what’s your favourite level?

All the worlds in Lobo are near and dear to me for their own reasons. Each has elements plucked from my own life/interests/experiences merged with my favorite aspects of other titles’ worlds that have struck home with me. We want to have all the tropes in place while putting our own spin on things. All that said if I had to pick I’d go with WonderWish Studios. It’s a theme park built inside a (presumably) dormant volcano that has been overthrown by a military force and flooded with lava. The combination of platforming and combat with the assorted theme park spoofs and parodies are particularly fun to work on (as someone who’s day job is linked to theme park culture).

12. Lobodestroyo raised over $80,000 on Kickstarter.  What lessons did you learn from this campaign?

Note: We messed up the figures here.  But because the response is awesome, we thought we’d leave it in…

Woah, where do you bank? That exchange rate sounds amazing! Hah, no, we walked away from our Kickstarter with a little over $39,000 thanks to amazing support from our backers and supporters.

lobodestroyokickstarter

Above: The 43K raised on Kickstarter was impressive, but still not a lot when it came to game development.

While 40k is a massive chunk of change it is embarrassingly little when put into the scope of a project like ours. We budgeted and planned for the project well in advance and spent all the funds (less the extra that came our way during the last minute rally at the end of the campaign) within a month of receiving the check from Amazon (owners of Kickstarter).

We entered into an agreement with the folks at Ouya as part of their Free The Games Fund. The idea with the fund was to have games created for the kickstarted Ouya console, whilst providing avenues for fledgling game dev teams to try their hand at indie game development. They agreed to match our initial campaign goal of $35k, in installments, as certain milestones were met.

Due to the placement of these milestones and the usability of the funds (due to timing) we have not received any money from Ouya, nor have week provided any of the required milestone software builds to them. We are currently debating our next steps with all of that since their buyout by Razer, and will have more to say once the team and I come to a conclusion on what to do.

13. Given that a Wii U version is a priority here, have you got any interesting plans for GamePad and its use in this game?

Absolutely, but we have said from the start that we wont let gimmicks and features get in the way of the game we are trying to make. Don’t expect anything that alters gameplay outside of the intended scope.

Above: Don’t expect any Game & Wario or Nintendo Land style gimmick controls in Lobodestroyo

Especially waggle controls… never!

14. So what was the story behind Gooseworx providing this game’s music?  It seems to be a very good soundtrack so far, so how did you find him and his musical work?

Gooseworx is an amazing talent and the man behind the magic, Cooper, has been crafting some solid tracks that are beyond my greatest expectations. Nothing all that glamourous really as far as his involvement on the project at the outset…He joined the team after I begged him through social media basically. I’d been a fan of his for a while and regularly visited his soundcloud page to listen to his work.

Above: The fact Gooseworx is a Rare fan who covered songs from Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 is pretty cool as well.

The soundtrack is going to be one of the strongest elements of Lobodestroyo certainly. I can’t wait for Gooseworx’ tracks to bring our game worlds to life!

15. Given that the Ouya itself isn’t really a thing any more, is the console still being supported for this game?

Ouya has been bought out by Razer, and after some confusion and hiccups Razer has decided to offer a new Free The Games Fund-type deal to all the participants in the original program, like us. We have the contract in hand as of last week and are reviewing it as a team to determine what’s best for us, considering where we are with Lobo and what would be required of us to secure the proposed funding. We dont have much more to say on that front right now but know that the team and I are all weighing up our options as to how to move forward there.

Ouya

Above: The Ouya’s failure raises doubts at Lobodestroyo’s future on the system.

16. What do you think of the other 3D platformers that are also inspired by Rare’s games, like A Hat in Time and Yooka-Laylee?  What kind of things should help this game stand out?

Above: Mr Guy also backed both A Hat in Time and Yooka-Laylee on Kickstarter.

As a firm supporter/backer of both titles and an avid gamer, I am excited to know we have all this Rare-vival gaming coming our way in
the not-too-distant future. Hat in Time was one of the projects that convinced me to try my hand at crowdfunding and push for a campaign for Lobo. Yooka-Laylee is essentially trying to do the exact same thing Lobodestroyo is, but with…you know… legitimate game
developers (and former Rare staffers on the payroll). It’s great to see that the idea behind what we are trying to do is a strong one, if anything based on the immense success Playtonic found immediately after launching their campaign. It really does mean we are on to something with what we are trying to accomplish, and that there is a massive audience out there who want these sorts of titles back.

17. And on a random note… Yooka-Laylee apparently is because of a shared rap music singer, so does anyone from one of Rare’s older games make a cameo appearance or anything?

We obviously don’t own any rights to anything Rare-related so don’t hold your breath for Bumper the Badger to drive past Mutt, or a Great Mighty Poo cameo to uncover. But we do have some ways of nodding to the characters we all know and love.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w5neFPat1w
Above: No, the Great Mighty Poo is probably not going to appear in this game.  Nor any other recognisable Rare characters.

While I don’t want to spoil anything or say too much, I think that the die-hards out there will be pleased with what we have packed in.

18. It’s a bit early yet, but does Lefthanded Games have plans for games after Lobodestroyo?  Is it possible the game will become a series?

The skeptic in me says that right now it would be a bit foolish to think beyond the immense task in front of us, or to presume that success will come our way in any form. We want to make this game the best we can, and get our first team project out the door. After that… well, time will tell. I will say that we are brimming with ideas and drive, so don’t expect Lobodestroyo to be the only thing you ever see with a Lefthanded Games sticker on it.

19. Finally, to all those budding game designers and indie game studios out there, what advice would you give them?

Do what you love and find a way to work on what you are passionate about. Be it a part-time, side-project or the building blocks of your whole career (or both!), make sure you indulge your creativity and start making stuff! Don’t let yourself get held back. If you have an idea, run with it! Inversely though, don’t buy into the idea that kickstarter games are free money and a sure thing. If making games was easy, everyone would be doing it.
If you are going to jump in on a public stage, be prepared, do your homework, and expect to encounter obstacles.
So that concludes our interview with Lefthanded Games.  We’d like to say thank you for Mr Guy for agreeing to an interview with Gaming Reinvented, and to wish him all the best of luck with Lobodestroyo on the future.  Hopefully this game (along with the various other Rare inspired 3D platformers being made at the moment) will bring about a Nintendo 64/Playstation style gaming renaissance where the indie world finally embraces the styles of Banjo-Kazooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day and where said games are system sellers all over again.
What do you think of our interview with Lobodestroyo creators Lefthanded Games?