Thursday
Apr242014

Buy-Before-You-Try & The Infinite Sadness

Kickstarter Logo

On risky investments and how to deal with a pre-order happy industry without loosing your mind and emptying your wallet.

Malcontent arising from pre-orders and Kickstarters indicates mismanaged expectations about risk and fuzzy thinking about what is valuable to you as a consumer.

There's been a strong push for commercial exchanges with a high risk disparity in the past few years. Some folks have happily adopted while others have been burned by the practise. Regardless of how a game turns out, you can curb your disappointment if you manage your expectations about how these work.

Your Money's Worth

Burial At Sea, Bioshock Infinite DLC

The decision to pre-order a game or fund a Kickstarter project ideally revolves around 3 things: money, value & risk.

The money in your pocket is the potential of value. When you have it, you're able to choose between anything you'd like to experience and enjoy, as long as it's available for purchase. Use it and this ability to choose is lost but hopefully you've gotten something neat in return.

Pre-orders and their ilk ask for your money now, in exchange of a thing that is yet to come. To trade real, present assets for the promise of future value means you take a risk on an unknown and lose flexibility in the process.

An equivalent exchange demands these higher risks are ofset by equally higher rewards. Value is personal but it's always in your best interests to figure out if the deal you're offered works for you.

Different Flavours For Different Risk-Takers

Nowadays, there are four high-risk commercial offerings: pre-orders, season packs, early access games and Kickstarter projects.

Pre-orders have traditionally been justified on matters of supply: pre-orders ensure you are able to obtain a product as soon as its available and before supplies run out. For digital games, supply concerns are virtually meaningless. Pre-order in the digital world greatly benefits publishers and, unless it also greatly benefits you, there's no real reason why you should do it.

Burial At Sea, Bioshock Infinite DLC

Season packs are pre-orders in a different guise. They tend to be a worse deal: you're generally not told what the DLC will entail nor when it'll release. The fact that these are peddled before the game is even released means you could invest on additions to a product you don't enjoy in the first place. A product that might not work in the first place.

Early access games stand on a shaky middle ground. On the one hand, they offer a tangible way to enjoy a limited version of the game while you wait for the project to be finished. For those on the fence, it's also easier to track down early build reviews or gameplay footage.

On the other hand, the developers aren't as pressured into actually finishing the product. Many early access games sit perpetually on a sort of perennial development limbo, its developers either unable or unwilling to pull the trigger and finish the project.

Kickstarters are the riskier of them all. Pledging to a project means you are donating money towards development. While you are offered rewards for doing so, these are usually completely ephemeral at the moment of purchase. The products are not yet built, not even conceptualized sometimes. The whole project might be a flop, change mid way or take way longer than advertised.

Kickstarter is a good deal when you can get all or most of the value out of your donation from having funded the development of a project, rather than from any rewards you might obtain from it.

The Bottom Line

People should use their money as they see fit. The question to ask yourself is why. Why should you invest your money in the promise if something of ephemeral quality and even dubious function? Only you can answer.

Monday
Apr072014

Industry Chat With Nico Uusitalo

Recording Studio

On how the voice over industry plays with indie game development and the process of bringing a character to life.

A couple weeks back, I sat down with Nico Uusitalo – a young voice-over actor, among other talents – to have words about his current projects. We talked about the voice-over industry, past experience and influences and the challenges of his craft. Here are the relevant bits:

So, I hear you're a busy bee right now, what's going on?

Yeah, I've been recording the upcoming Frozen Colony 2014 trailer and working on a new demo reel. I'm trying to find new voices and accents and revisiting the old to bring them to a new level.

I've also been working for a company during my internship, making a 3D promo animation for them.

It's been fun, but busy!

The voice over business doesn't get a lot of press. Folks I've talked to on the indie side say it's a pretty small community. Would you say this is correct?

It's not talked about much when you look at TV and Radio commercial voices but the video game voice-over scene is pretty big, especially if you look at the Los Angeles scene where they also do motion capture for games.

Talking my level, yeah, it's pretty small. I haven't really gotten to know other actors in indie game projects yet, it's pretty separated. The project leader talks with one actor at the time, they do their job online and send the clips for review. So I don't get to talk much to my co-stars.

I'm guessing that helps to bring costs down and de-centralize development.

Yeah, it would be difficult with international game development teams with different time-zones and locations. However, sometimes in teams that are built very close together, you get to chat with the other actors too and make some amazing puns about the project ;)

I think interaction with other members of the casts would be positive for your performance. Do you think it would make your job easier?

Yeah, it would make it easier to kind of like react to the other actor's performance, like in physical acting and dialogue with the co-star who is standing next to you.

But it can be a fun challenge and you can really show what you've got, cause you're all alone out there and you have to make it sound like you're right next to your squad member, even though your co-star is actually 5.000 kilometers away from you!

With good directors it's possible!

How much value do you think players put in sound and voice acting. Is it something you feel is valued from the consumer side?

Gamers pay a lot of attention to the voices, and can be very critical, especially in AAA-games. It's a key part of the experience, it's a way of telling the story or action that the player is doing.

In actions, for example if you get shot at, those HRGYARGH sounds were made with hours of hard work. Or if the player is sprinting, etc. In storytelling, believable voice-acting is key to make the story believable too.

A good example is Half-Life: Arrangement, a mod I'm voicing the protagonist in. I wasn't originally casted as the lead, but joined later on as a replacement actor when the original actor disappeared.

I was scared what the community would say, because the mod had already built a fan-base. The fans of the game approached the voice-test page with lots of good feedback, and I was really relieved! It could have gone south really fast if the fans didn't like the new guy voicing Fred Thompson.

Voice-acting is a key element of the game, so of course they pay attention!

Good voice actors can transforms a small bundle of pixels into a believable persona. Are there any performances (indie or AAA) that you consider great benchmarks for your line of work?

I started voice-acting thanks to David Hayter's gravelly voice when I played Metal Gear as a kid, and his performance has been a huge influence.

Also Troy Baker's and Nolan North's phenomenal skill of transforming into completely different types of characters and nailing it every time. They both have so many amazing performances that I can't list them all – but my biggest influences from them are probably Joel Miller (Baker) and Nathan Drake (North).

My personal favorite actor is Elias Toufexis, who also does the movements of the characters in performance capture, like Baker and North too. His way of interaction with his fans is just amazing too, I really look up to him.

Great performances that changed the whole way I see my future are definitely Adam Jensen, Nathan Drake, Joel Miller and Solid Snake. Wow!

I also loved Roger Craig Smith's performance as Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and Robin Atkin Downes as Kazuhira Miller. Those guys. My idols.

How has working with developers and directors to find a character been? Tell me what works for you and how you navigate the hairy process of bringing another's brain child to life.

Sometimes it's very hard, because there are many phases you need to build and have stay there during the whole process, which might be years.

It's a difficult, but a rewarding process. There are a lot of things you need to be aware of:

  1. Voice
  2. Age
  3. Personality
  4. Emotion
  5. Action

Those need to stick there during the whole progress. I usually change my voice a lot while acting and usually play men twice older my age. That's okay, of course – but the voice needs to stay the same during the whole game if you go there.

It's really a process of trial and error. Finding the right voice with the director's directions and just working with the things I know about the character and the storyline.

For example, I get to know the age, personality and some background story. Delivering the right voice with the right emotion is left for me when I get the lines to deliver the final performance.

It all gets easier with experience and the directors give really good tips and info about where in his life that character is in that scene.

Let's get specific. You mentioned the Frozen Colony 2014 trailer. Tell me a bit about your role and pitch the thing to me.

Frozen Colony is a completely original mod in the Crysis franchise. Completely new story, new characters and play-time comparable to Crysis: Warhead.

I'm playing Rick Morgan, a member of the resistance. The main rebel, the coolest of them all. Okay, I added that part.

The character is based after my looks and we actually share some personality traits too. He's a supporting character, who helps the protagonist during the game. If everything goes smoothly, I might be able to provide facial motion-capture for the character too, but we're still discussing and researching that.

It's a fun character to play and it's been awesome to work with the directors Clyde and Sean Vassallo, who became my close friends during the process.

The 2014 trailer should be coming soon, but I can't confirm any exact date yet :)

Nico Uusitalo

Nico Uusitalo is a young, professional voice-actor based in Finland. He specialized in voicing video game characters much older than him, and often finds himself voicing a gruff, rugged mercenary. He's currently studying Computer Science, and also works as a 3D artist and upcoming game developer.

Thursday
Mar272014

Achievement Got! The Trek To 100%

Double Helix's Strider

On neurosis, collectibles and fear powered to-do lists.

I stared at it, the map showed the items I would need to collect to be rid of this charge and get back to the game I liked. It was exciting, the map was an artifact of hope. A part of me, however, wasn't feeling too hopeful.

Just what do you think you're doing? I ignored it, I was almost done choosing the path that would require the least amount of backtracking. Then I heard a snicker, my own, when thinking of using a spreadsheet to track my progress and I knew I could ignore my own, wiser, self no more.

Here I was, plotting to complete a set of tasks I had no interest in with the perverse pleasure of doing the unwanted efficiently. I had stopped playing Strider, a game that I really enjoyed, and was now wrestling with neurosis.

What started as the tale of a super assasin tearing down a corrupt regime now survived on the fringes, as a shameful story of efficiency and perfection, of being good enough and getting the achievement.

I never know how it starts, how the pain of not having it all forms inside my head. It thrives on the fear of missing out if I don't get to work on doing everything. I research and prepare to make sure I don't shortchange myself from anything... perhaps with the exception of an enjoyable experience.

And in those games that let you go back after the end and collect everything? I usually never return. But instead of seeing this as a simple lack of love for collectibles, I see it as a terrible affront, a missed opportunity for the chance to achieve a perfect, complete and ultimately satisfactory experience.

Madness assisted by broken game design. Flee while you can.