Monday, October 18, 2010

Gab for Gaming? What AREN'T you considering?

I've composed and produced video game scores in the past, as well provided some voicing for characters here and there for apps and indie games. It's one of the more fun kind of projects I work on, but I haven't been anything close to a 'gamer' since Nintendo was "super" and character renderings were two-dimensional, so my interpretations of what's needed are sometimes, just that: interpretations.

But nothing beats speaking to a gamer to realize the real necessities of the craft. Even the game developer can have a limited amount of real input, because even though most of them are gamers themselves, this is their "baby". They're very close to the characters and vision they have in their head, so sometimes, like all of us who create things for a livelihood, they get a little stuck on that vision and don't hear the awesome things you might be able to bring to it that they haven't thought of.

I was lucky enough recently to get some really nitty-gritty input from a gamer that helped not only me, but maybe you! Here's some highlights for voicing video game characters with the player in mind:

1. Make the 'gift of gab' tolerable! Unlike audiences for other kinds of voice acting, most gamers spend long spans playing at a time, so make sure your voicing won't be grating if listened to for hours! If it actually makes a player take breaks just to get away from your're doing it wrong.

2. Don't Overdo it! A lot of us may feel the 'over the top' characters in video games need 'over the top' voicing to match. You may be playing a super-being, but you don't necessarily have to voice them that way. One of the benefits of having a player listen to you for hours on end is that they really get a 'feel' for the character in a way other mediums don't allow for, so relax a little. This isn't a 30-second spot for "Super Tax-Man"! A lot can be conveyed in subtlety, and the player will appreciate that!

3. Stop, look, and listen! If you're going into game voicing blind, there's no better time to study. Talking to gamers is a step in the right direction, as is watching them play, seeing how they respond to other games with voicing already on the market. Watch anime, and see how the dialogue plays. Research the actors at the top of the field in both gaming and anime, and see what their techniques are. It won't be hard to find them - just ask a gamer! The biggest names get fans of their own, and have online accounts they're promoting on.

If you're afraid you're going to have to become a gamer to voice games well, though it would help, it's not necessary. There are resources all around you, from online forums for gaming, to YouTube, to your friends and family members who love the games. Put them to use, and get to work!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

VoiceOver Hints for YouTube update - it works!

If you caught my last post about the issues I was having with YouTube degrading my voiceover sound quality to an unacceptable low, you'll know I was breathing a sigh of relief when I found the very, very simple fix!

It truly was just as bring the voice over down in the mix. You might say, "Dana, why didn't you try this before now?", and I will tell you, I did! But it wasn't enough. I brought it down quite a bit more, and even though it didn't seem to make that big of a difference in volume (clearly, the voiceover is still perfectly audible), it was enough to let the dynamic range of the music shine more than the limited range of the voice. I guess that's the trick! It's working today, anyway. See for yourself:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

VoiceOver hints for YouTube!

I have YouTube channels for both my studio and my record label, but this past week I encountered a voiceover-related challenge that I hadn't experienced with either before. Searching for answers didn't turn up much for me, so I thought I'd share what happened here, in hopes the next Googler will have better luck than I did!

I had created a promo for my Etsy shop, with still images, voiceover, and a music bed. This is no different than other projects I've created, and in fact, we'd just uploaded our new site intro video not long before this!

BUT, the problem I was having with this new one was a really noticeable drop in sound quality. Now, I'm aware that at the basic setting (not the HQ), the audio on YouTube videos is only 96K. So definitely, there's going to be some loss no matter what. But this video sounded a lot different than our other videos at the same encoding. And, when I played it in the higher quality setting, it sounded just like I expected it to! So it really seemed there had to be some tweak I could make or a workaround that would solve my 'technical' problem.

Here's the video:

I spent the better part of this week uploading, re-uploading, re-encoding. Working with .wavs, working with .mp3s, trying everything to change it. I found some links via Google that said other people were experiencing similar problems, and that it had to do with YouTube's servers, or new ways of encoding, or compression in general. Some people were giving advice to remix the audio. I really didn't feel this applied to me. After all, I have lots of other successful videos that don't have this problem, so the issue couldn't possibly be on my end, right?

I finally got wise and decided to go ahead and compress the audio down to 96K on my end, to see what the difference was. Lo and behold, it sounded just like it did on YouTube! So, the problem definitely wasn't them. But I noticed without the voiceover, my sound bed wasn't having the same problems with losing dynamic quality.

Here's the proof:

So it was really frustrating, and still seemed like there should be some sort of tweak or workaround that I could use to fix it!

This is where my most valuable tools came into play: my ears. I wasn't listening critically enough to my other recordings. Sure, my website intro video seemed like it wasn't experiencing the same level of loss, but was it?

I encoded the audio for it down to 96K, and it sounded ok. After removing the big guitar sound bed, you guessed it: the voiceover for this video was experiencing the same loss at 96K as the other voiceover! The sound bed was merely masking the artifacts because it had a much bigger dynamic range.

So, my challenge now is to work within the confines of Youtube for what I post there (and I still think it's great, even at low quality), while coming up with higher quality options (Wimpy is one) for use on my site. The benefit of the social media sites is give-and-take with the quality. With higher quality on my site, I have to store the media myself, and don't get the viral benefits. So it's a trade off, but luckily one that doesn't make me pick just one option.

So, I'll be posting a new video soon (I'm trying to balance bringing the bed and dynamics up without overpowering my voiceover), and continuing on my Youtube studies to find avenues to the best quality, most effective videos. Stay tuned!