Author Topic: Voice Acting Your Campaign  (Read 2830 times)

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Offline mjn.mixael

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Voice Acting Your Campaign
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.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2021, 01:13:09 pm by mjn.mixael »
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Re: Voice Acting Your Campaign
That's extreme useful! :) :yes:
Could you wikify this too?


Offline DefCynodont119

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Re: Voice Acting Your Campaign
Yeah, This should be stickyed somewhere.  :)
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Re: Voice Acting Your Campaign
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.
« Last Edit: December 15, 2019, 08:44:38 pm by starwolf1991 »
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Re: Voice Acting Your Campaign
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.


Offline AdmiralRalwood

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Re: Voice Acting Your Campaign
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.
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<MageKing17> God damn, I do not understand how this is breaking.
<MageKing17> Everything points to "this should work fine", and yet it's clearly not working.
<MjnMixael> 2 hours later... "God damn, how did this ever work at all?!"
<MageKing17> so
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Offline General Battuta

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Re: Voice Acting Your Campaign
In my experience the most time-consuming part is prepping the scripts with stage directions and pronunciations.


Offline Dilmah G

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Re: Voice Acting Your Campaign
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:

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.

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:

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.
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.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2021, 07:02:59 am by Dilmah G »

Re: Voice Acting Your Campaign
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.


Offline 0rph3u5

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Re: Voice Acting Your Campaign
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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