Modding, Mission Design, and Coding > The Modding Workshop

Voice Acting Your Campaign

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I've brought this up a few times on Discord and now I'm thinking I should share my knowledge and experience more officially. So here you go.

It's 2019 and gamers are used to games having voice acting. However, it seems to me that there's a kind of stigma around voice acting here at HLP. We've been modding for 20 years and my guess is that since getting actors in 2005 was definitely a chore, we've carried that expectation through to today. It's time to change that.

As I'm sure you know, I released Between the Ashes with full voice acting. I've gone through this process, first-hand, for a major release. In addition, I'm at the tail end of getting a few more missions voice acted for a prologue release. My experience has been that getting things voice acted is generally not the nightmare experience many expect. Let's walk through my process and how you can get your campaign voice acted, too.

First thing you need to do is get your scripts out of the missions. Fortunately, FRED has a tool for that. Open up the Voice Acting Manager in FRED (Editors > Voice Acting Manager) with your mission open.

This tool, for those unaware, will spit out a text file with all of the briefings and messages in it according to a few settings. Personally, I also have it choose the audio file names to be used and save those in the mission file. Retail split their voice lines up by act, mission, and then character. I prefer mod_campaign_mission_type.. so a voice message for BtA1 is named something like bta1_m1_03_ms45.ext. Generally when I write message lines in a mission they are already grouped by conversation, so having the script generated in this format gets me pretty close. Your mileage may vary based on how you build missions. In the end, it'll generate a txt file for you. Do this for every mission.

Got em all? Great. Now let's split them up by character. This is one of the more time consuming parts. Start with the large recurring roles. Include as much or as little context messages as you think you need. I generally don't include a lot of context for one-off lines, preferring to just type NOTE: This is a good thing or NOTE: The player killed a bad guy. For more intense bits of dialog, I'll include the surrounding lines. I don't go crazy with context though. This can take forever if you don't strike a balance and I find that the actors don't need to know pages of backstory in order to deliver a convincing take. Most actors offer up several takes of lines and are willing to be coached and do retakes. Find a balance. I did the whole BtA1 script over the course of a few hours. I ended up with a handful of major characters (wingmates, Intrepid, briefing/debriefing, all vasudan lines), some middle characters (10-30 lines) and a lot of minor characters (lines less than 10, some even only having a single line).

Next you want to worry about pronunciations. I often include a phonetic spelling in the script and for weirder words it's usually just easier to record myself saying them and keeping a wav file of all pronunciations with the script. Record with your phone or whatever. Doesn't need to be stellar quality. I setup a file structure with a folder for each character, placing their script and pronunciations in that folder.

So now you've got all your scripts ready. Where do you actually find actors? The next step depends on your commitment level. I expect most mods aren't going to start ponying up for pro actors. That's fine. If you are willing to pay, there are tons of places to find actors looking for work online. I'm going to focus on unpaid.

To preface, please follow all rules carefully on these acting boards. These people are going to offer their free time for your project. Don't waste their time by making poorly written casting calls in the wrong sections of their boards. The boards usually have rules about casting call titles, deadlines, contact info, etc. Follow all of those rules.

I use roughly the same casting call at each one, modifying the BBCode to be compatible at each. The first part of my call is to explain the project and share why it's worth their time. You need to show that your project isn't just a whiff or a dream.. but that it's ready to be played; that it will be released and played by actual players.. that there is an audience that will enjoy their work as an actor. I write a few sentences with URL Links to HLP, the BtA forum and/or release post of the mod. I also include a video showcasing the mod in action.

The next few sentences are explaining the project and this specific casting call. Remember how I talked about splitting up your characters into major, middle, and minor? I do individual calls for each for a couple reasons. The major characters are the most important. Focusing on them allows me to find the best actors for the largest roles first. What I found is that once I posted the casting call for smaller roles, the better actors can do convincing 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th voices that sound distinct enough to cover several minor roles as well. The process here is organic and actors may audition for multiple roles; allow for that. I explain all of this in this section. "This casting call is just for the major roles right now. Soon I will post a new call for the smaller roles. Feel free to audition for multiple roles!"

Include a due date for auditions. At least a week, generally two. Make this easy to find in your post.

Finally I list the roles and audition lines for each one. I pick a handful of lines at random for each role. I look for lines that are easy and a couple that are more dynamic. I want to see an actor's range, especially for wingmen. You'll find that many amateur actors won't "go for it" with full yells or screams if/when required. Doesn't mean they can't voice a role in your campaign, but it does mean you shouldn't give them a role that requires that range. If you cast a role early, be sure to edit your casting call to make that clear. Again, don't waste the actor's time.

Make sure to include a way to send in auditions. I use email. Do whatever works for you, but make it easy for the actors.

Here's a link to one of my casting calls.

Here is a list of the boards that I use.
---The site above seems to have changed it's layout and rules. May not have a casting forum anymore. Will update when I find out for sure.

It usually takes a few days to start getting auditions in. Every time I have done this, I've gotten more auditions than I can use. I let them roll in for a while before I respond. I try not to cast roles until closer to the deadline, but if there's one that's just perfect I'll cast it early.

Most amateur actors want your feedback. When you turn them down for a role, tell them why and what they could have done better. Be respectful. If you do this well, they'll come back and audition for you again.

Once a role is cast, I send the full script with pronunciation guides. Actors will need a deadline to turn lines in. I explain this is a fan project and the deadline is flexible, but let's aim for a specific date. Large roles I give more time than smaller roles. If the one-liner they sent in for a minor role audition is good to go, explain that and congratulate them. I do that all the time.

I also ask each actor how they'd like to be credited. If you aren't writing a credits.tbl for your mod.. you should be. I offer to include their name or handle and their personal website (many just use a Twitter or Youtube account). Thank them for their time and keep a list of actor's contact info so you can share when the project finally releases. I kept a running txt file with actor's emails.

Once lines start coming in for the major roles, I make a casting call for the middle/minor roles. I often invite actors who I turned down before to audition again for some of these roles. These people are investing in your hobby, so invest in theirs. They do this because they enjoy it. Invite them to specific roles if you think they'd be good for a particular one. A little positivity goes a long way.

So at this point I start a dual process. As lines are turned in, I process them to be put in game. I have an audio editor template for voice files where I drop the line file in and it gives it the filters I want. I add any beeps, boops, or vasudan speech as needed. I roughly adjust the volume and save it out as the final filename. At the same time, I continue to manage auditions and casting for the minor roles. I bump my casting threads only once or twice when auditions slow down too much. But it's not just "bump" it's more "Hey, thanks for all the great auditions so far! I've still got a handful of roles left to fill. Check the original post to see which ones." Of course, I update the original post as necessary.

As lines come in, work with the actors. They want your feedback. Tell them which lines work and which lines could use a new take. I tend not to be too picky. I often write messages in a mission with a particular tone in mind. However I have found being flexible to the actor's artistry is better in the long run.

Since I process lines as they are turned in, it feels like less work. I spent 10-60 minutes every few days processing lines.

Finally, when everything is done and all the lines are in, I batch process the lines using Audacity to compress/normalize them to the same audio level.

Don’t forget to email the actors when you release. They want to know and celebrate with you! It was also requested that I setup an IMDB page for the mod for actors who are building a resume on there. So I did. Do whatever it takes for the actors, who gave you their time for free, to get the credit they deserve.

All in all, it took about 6 months to get BtA1 acted. It's taken only about a month to get my current project acted (roughly the equivalent to 4 missions). In the end, flexibility is key. I want the actors not to strictly follow the line delivery I had in my head.. I want them to be the character themselves. I love getting persona lines. I write a rough script for those and tell the actors what each line represents in-game and tell them they do not need to follow this particular script to the letter. I tell them to go crazy and be the pilot.

The end result here is a mod that’s a little more accessible to a modern gaming audience. I think the process is worth it and it can really bring your story to life.

That's extreme useful! :) :yes:
Could you wikify this too?

Yeah, This should be stickyed somewhere.  :)

Very insightful and useful. Also very awesome that you would share your own experiences when it came to VA'ing BtA1. Thank you for doing this! I support the idea of having this wikified or stickied somewhere too.

The part of using Audacity to compress/normalize them to the same audio level caught my eye. Never thought of this. Or how to go about creating actual transmission-sounding voice files with Audacity. I'd love to see something on this. I figured a little insight on this might prove beneficial to some as well.

I'll join the chorus and say that this is a very insightful guide. VA has always been thought of as this this really scary, overwhelming thing, even for small scale mods, so hopefully this will help dispell that notion.

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences with it.


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