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Voice Acting Your Campaign

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To help create VA scripts for pilot personas defined in messages.tbl, I once wrote a quick python script that parses messages.tbl and spits out a script. It could probably stand to be rewritten, but AFAIK it still works.

General Battuta:
In my experience the most time-consuming part is prepping the scripts with stage directions and pronunciations.

Dilmah G:
Hi all!

So after a brief chat with mjn I figured I'd post the lessons I learned from getting a project VA'd here for the next person who decides to get their mod voice-acted. I'll just have it take the structure of "this is what I would've done if I had my time again" and avoid double-tapping the points that mjn made, and just throw in a few misc. points I picked up along the way. Just know that when I actually did this, boooooy did I go about this like a drunk toddler to start with. Personally, I mod because it's fun and most definitely not my day job, and so I was pretty blasé about the whole thing at first because "it's just my hobby, man" and "yo, i'm just gonna iterate and feel this out, man" And because of that, I ended up creating a lot more work for myself down the track when I could've just taken a little more effort at the start and got this project voice-acted on easy mode. So there it is, the BLUF for this whole post: just put some effort in, and don't fall into the trap of not doing much deliberate planning just because it's not your day job. A tiny bit of planning keeps fun stuff fun.

Step 1: Get the script for your mission(s) from FRED.

Mjn has described this in enough detail above so I won't waste any more of your precious eye bandwidth.

Step 2: Create a spreadsheet with the roles that you need filling.

I'll be honest, I 100% didn't do this at the start because I was an idiot and thought it would be super obvious to me for some weird reason which roles were filled (yo it's only one mission right?!) and that simply jotting notes in a text file and crossing lines off on a forum post would be sufficient. WROOOONG. This created a tonne more work for me later on down the track when I was trying to tidy things up and confirm which roles had/hadn't been voiced.

This is what I ended up using. It's been adapted now because my last purpose for it was working out who I'd gotten in touch with about the release and who I'd put in the credits mission, but for the majority of its existence, I used it to track which roles had been voiced, and which roles had been post-processed (more on this later!). In fact, if there's one thing you should do that Dilmah didn't, it's this. Don't be like Dilmah.

Step 3: Write a semi-decent spiel to post on VA forums. And post it on the forums mjn mentioned.

Again, mjn has some good advice here with due dates, reading the rules for each forum you post on, and being specific. Here's what I posted here on HLP, and here's what I posted on a dedicated VA forum. Big points with the latter were identifying a due date (which got revised several times) and doing a bit of scene setting for what I was after (i.e more BSG, less Star Wars - pretty sure I can thank Battuta for that comparison). By the end I deleted a lot of the post on the VA forum because I had most roles filled, but at the start the sample lines looked very similar to what remains on the HLP post on it. I'll also give a special shoutout to Dekker and Renegade Paladin who both plugged the mod on various Discords with VAs kicking around, I imagine this also helped a tonne as well.

Sub-point here: if you don't fancy having your personal email spammed, create a dedicated email address for casting. Personally I was probably a little too tongue-in-cheek with tev5ever, but having a separate e-mail made things a lot less messy for me.

Step 4: Cast the roles.

So from here on out, the steps are a bit more concurrent as opposed to sequential, but as mjn said above, stick to the deadline and try to avoid the temptation to cast roles on the spot at the start. Unless they're really good, of course. Personally I found that I needed to run a few casting calls (my deadline got revised about four odd times), but generally there was enough interest to cast at least all of the male roles quite comfortably. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the number (and quality) of the female VAs that responded to the unpaid casting calls, but in the end I decided to go to fiverr for a handful of the female roles. Consider that expectation management, but potentially if I'd done things differently I may not have had to do that.

Step 5: Add pronunciation and delivery detail to the scripts and send them out. (Also ask your VAs how they would like to be credited and add it to your spreadsheet!)

As Battuta mentioned, this was a definite timesink for me, but one that I think paid real dividends when it came to not needing retakes very often. And honestly, if you really enjoy whatever it is you've written, it's generally a pleasure to flesh things out so they get read well. This being said, I only voiced two missions - I'm sure the BP crew were pretty sick of it by the end of AoA and WiH's voicing effort! This is an example of the pronunciation guidance I gave for one of the characters in BoN. That particular VA had voiced some fairly serious characters in videogame mods before and so there were certain things I didn't waste too much time explaining and others I really emphasised, but on the whole that was probably on the more detailed side of direction I gave. Some VAs were super keen and wanted the whole script (helps when you actually plan your missions in Word first so you have something neat to give them), and others, i.e. the ones from the HLP community who'd played the mission, I knew wouldn't need that much direction and so it was very much more along the lines of "Hey, I know you know the context, I'm keen to hear your take". Most of you who've gotten this far would've seen this, but this is what WiH ran off and I found it very useful to model my direction off.

In any case, I tried to give enough direction that someone coming in cold after a day at work could read the guidance for each line and bang off a take afterward and get it reasonably within the ballpark. This is an example of what I sent to Nicolle Zambrano who voiced Meridian Tac:

--- Quote ---Sender: Meridian Tactical
Persona: <none>
File: cmm166meridian_tactical.ogg
Message: Meridian Tac, roger...Trident are all down. Working with the CAG now to get more bombers on station, standby.
Tac is acknowledging a message that the first Wing from Trident Squadron has been shot down - this is four aircraft and so there should be a hint but not significantly noticeable amount of solemness to the line. This is early in the battle and losses were to be expected.

Sender: Meridian Tactical
Persona: <none>
File: cmm168meridian_tactical.ogg
Message: Tac, roger. Area is too hot currently for search and rescue. Additional bombers from the 501st are now taking-off.
Tac denies deploying Search and Rescue for downed pilots. 501st are Trident Squadron from the previous line, for context.

Sender: Meridian Tactical
Persona: <none>
File: cmm180meridian_tactical.ogg
Message: Tactical, CAG is not risking S-A-R at this time. The 501st is sortieing their last wing, Iota. Speargun, your task is close escort. You need to get those bombers on target!
Tac is sortieing the last wing from Trident Squadron. Getting those spacecraft on target is vital to the success of the player's mission at this stage, so Tac should convey a significant amount of urgency in the last two sentences.
--- End quote ---

Step 6: Post-process the lines.

This ended up being a bit of a timesink for me because I a) didn't settle on post-processing I liked until a bit later on in the piece, and b) didn't discover Audacity edit chains until about halfway through, because again, I was an idiot. Learn from my mistakes and use a goddamn edit chain. Saved me literal HOURS.

But yes, lines will come in at different volumes from different actors, some will have more background noise than others (Audacity's noise reduction tool is decent enough at fixing this), and so even if you don't plan on having a hectic radio effect, some loudness normalisation will be required. If you however are a fan of your comms sounding like they got delivered over a radio, here is my edit chain:

--- Quote ---Amplify: 20 db. Allow clipping.
High Pass Filter: Frequency: 1000 Hz, Roll-off: 24db.
Distortion: Type: Leveller, Noise Floor:  -80, Levelling fine adjustment: 100, Degree of levelling: 5.
Bass and Treble: Bass: 0, Treble: -30
Amplify: -6.0. Allow clipping.
Skip to selection start
Import2: I used a radio mod for DCS that had radio start/end static and so used the Import function to put a "Radio start" sound at the start of the given track and a "Radio end" sound at the end
Skip to Selection End
Cursor to Project End
Select All
Loudness Normalisation: LUFS: -8. Through some experimentation, I found that the retail FS2 voice files sat at around a -8 LUFS, and so that's what I normalised my stuff to. YMMV.
Export as .ogg.
--- End quote ---
I also got around adding warning sirens, cockpit alarms, beam fire audio, static bursts, and background chatter and yelling to some of the messages, especially to messages that get sent when ships are taking fire. It could potentially be a quirk of mine, but it's those little things for me that really sell combat audio.

Step 7: Put them into the mission.

Personally I didn't use the functionality in FRED to rename all of the messages to whatever convention you stipulate within it (there was some stuff I wanted to keep), so I had to copy the filename into the mission for each message. This didn't take too long though, and it's good to see how it all sounds in context so you can work out whether anything requires changing.

Step 8: Re-time your message events/lists.

I found that after putting in actual voiced messages that I would have to re-time my send-message-lists. I know there are FREDers reading this who are having an aneurysm over the fact that someone still uses send-message-list (and yes, this DID make putting checkpoints in BoN after the fact really ****ing difficult  :lol:), but no matter whether you use chained events or what, generally there'll be some re-timing involved. For this, as a single screen Neanderthal, I had my voice/special folder open on the left with one of the columns showing file length (godsend) and had FRED open on the right and just went through and re-timed all my sexps. Way, way better than listening to the whole damn exchange and re-timing stuff.

Step 9: See how it sounds in-game.

Even after all of this, and benefitting from all of the experience of the community, there'll be some lines that don't play in the order you want them to, or that still sound too quiet. I found the higher pitched an actor's voice was, i.e. some of the younger sounding female VAs, the more likely it was that it would sometimes still sound too quiet after loudness normalisation and would require more amplification at the start of the edit chain and a much lower LUFS to get them on par with everyone else's lines.

Step 10: Do a credits file/mission/post.

Or all three if you feel like. Obviously this is the literal least that you can do for someone who has volunteered their time and vocal cords for you.

Voice acting makes the game more immersive, and one of the reasons I got into Freespace was the sense that I felt like I was really out there in space.

Positive testimonials are not going to make the flea circus any more appealing, particularly if you are not in majority english speaking country and have to wrangle VA from wildly different timezones. Working wizh people from overseas for VAs hasn't worked out for me in the past and I am very comfortable not trying again.


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