Why voice acting is behind the success of some of the App Store's most popular games
Let's be honest, we never think of the voices in videogames unless they suck. It could be a space marine, a mage or maybe that monster with a silly accent. The thing is that a lousy job in this department could ruin hours of work and the end product that we see on the App Store. And still, if everyone is happy with the result, what happens in production stages remains fairly obscure for the majority of us. What do Mountain Sheep, Crescent Moon games, Thunder Game Works and Chillingo have in common?
Today I have the pleasure to chat with Ray Chase, one of those unknown voices that you've probably heard already and never thought about it. At this stage, everything from characters to narrations has to be done by real people. We cannot deny it feels a bit weird to put a name and a face to the characters we've been so close to, so let's jump right into it.
Hi Ray, why don't you start introducing yourself telling us what you do?
Hello Julen and AppFreak readers! I'm a voice actor living in Los Angeles, living the dream with my dog Milo. I grew up in Las Vegas and came out here to go to school at USC (Fight On!). I've always wanted to do voices ever since I was a kid and my dad would make up silly stories at night with tons of incredible voices. After school, I pursued it relentlessly, and finally I can say I've done a lot — commercials, video games, animation, audio books, etc.
What games and characters have you voiced in the past?
My very first app was Death Rally by Remedy, which was a really cool starting point. I was the mean sheriff guy, who looks to be about 250 lbs heavier than me. I was really surprised when I heard I got it! I've also done all the voices in Trenches II (including the as yet unreleased countries…shhhh!), Knight's Rush (all monsters), and I was the Buddy in Kick the Buddy. Less known games include Evertales, S.E.D., Potions Bar and many more.
Don't tell anyone, but doing video games is some of the most fun work imaginable
I'm pretty sure most of our readers are familiar with those. When did this love with App Store games begin?
I hate to say it, but I was one of the late-comers to iOS. I've only had a smart phone for two years… but I haven't looked back! I think it is very much unexplored, especially as there were people like me who thought only games like Doodle Jump were useful on phones. But after going out on a limb and actually paying more than a dollar for some games brought me face-to-face with some incredible gameplay suitable for something you hold in your hand.
Do you see this as a unexplored market? Perhaps as a trampoline to higher budget console games?
I was really impressed with how much depth you can get in an iOS game. Even though games are by far the highest selling apps, I think they should be advertised way more than they are. There are so many people I talk to who can name only one or two games total.
Animation and video games are a usually a route for your profession. Do you think the App Store has reached the maturity level to require professionals?
Definitely. Although, of course, the coolest thing about the App Store is that anyone can publish on it, so amateurs have a clear route to become professionals by virtue of solid gaming.
A game like Waking Mars by Tiger Style had a strong narrative element but it was unfortunately unvoiced. I think it was very disappointing to see such a good effort with the music but no dialogues at all. What do you think drives decisions like this?
I think it's a combination of factors. One is money. You HAVE to have music. You HAVE to have game art. You don't have to have VO. Money saved. The other is that actors are weird and scary. You have to go out and search for them, audition them, choose the right one, and then hope they can deliver good quality audio and pronounce the words correctly. And then you have to communicate with them to get just the right read, which might not go right. There's a level of trust you have to build, which is really tough to do over the internet. And I think that scares off a lot of game designers, for good reason.
The coolest thing about the App Store is that anyone can publish on it, so amateurs have a clear route to become professionals by virtue of solid gaming
We never hear about the voiceover work, and if we do, it's for the wrong reasons. I'm not sure whether you're familiar with Gameloft's titles, but those get often criticised. How does this affect the end quality feel for a game? Do you think there are a lot of amateurs getting these jobs instead of professionals?
Sigh. Yes, unfortunately a lot of people with a USB mic on their desk and no training think they can be voice actors right out of the gate and go on sites advertising their abilities. They find they get no responses, so they lower and lower their prices until they get hired by someone who'll throw them twenty bucks. Then the end result is horrible — gamers can't identify with the characters because they sound inhuman, which distances us from the gaming experience. And then people don't hire voice actors as much, and when they do, they think twenty bucks is a fair price for good quality tracks.
When I try to think of good examples in iOS, the Carcassonne tutorial always comes to mind. What do you think are the keys for getting it right?
Whaaa…? (goes back to play copy of Carcassonne) Holy wow! I completely missed that tutorial. What a delightful gentleman! Uh…keys to getting it right… You need to have a clear idea of who the character or narrator is. If it's an empty voice no one cares, but if it's someone really dramatic, or silly, or snarky, people identify with the game more. Now when I go back to play Carcassonne, I'll feel like I'm playing with my old friend, the Narrator.
In what stage of the development cycle do you get a call to start recording?
Hmm…go to a studio, what a novel idea! :) All the apps I have done have been from my home studio, across the interwebs. I realized quickly when I graduated college I'd have to learn how to be my own booth engineer and editor in order to survive. Good thing I grew up around technology!
Do you get to see the assets and get a feel before going to the studio? How does your work compare with doing books or other type of projects?
I get asked to come in usually a few months away from completion of the project, so by that time there's tons of artwork to look at. That usually helps more than character descriptions — seeing a character and figuring out where his or her voice is coming from.
Don't tell anyone, but doing video games is some of the most fun work imaginable. I love doing things like Knight's Rush where I play a bunch of monsters — just going in the booth and yelling and spitting and screaming like crazy for twenty minutes. Or also Trenches where I had to do a bunch of accents, that was my favorite. For a kid who grew up with Monty Python, it was a dream come true! I also love working with Thunder Game Works in that they let me fool around with the script and make up some funny stuff, which is really freeing. I really felt like part of the team.
What would you tell any developer or producer reading this? Why is voiceover important for their projects and why should they spend some extra resources on it?
Voiceover really brings the human element into a game. There's a reason men and women are hired every day to read promos for TV shows and products — we can connect with them. Otherwise ad agencies would just put the words into a text-to-speech program and call it a day. Adding voice to your game raises the level of involvement, it makes them play with the sound cranked up. It can make us laugh or cry or be amazed. It pulls us in… and never lets us go. How's that for a cheesy ending?
Thanks Ray for your time to talk to us. Most of us don't even think about voice acting when playing games and this brings some light to the field. I'm sure we'll continue to hear you in more awesome titles on the App Store, even if we don't realize it's you.
You can find Ray's reels, examples of his work and information on how to get in touch with him on his super-arcade style website http://www.raychase.com/