The Art of Voiceovers
Music and sound in the Synther video game have to go in sync with visual aesthetics. Whereas the music is almost completely electronic (real instruments appear only on purpose; to emphasize specific location like the opera, or Chinatown), sound effects try to give a realism to the harsh and noir atmosphere of Vesser City. The Player cannot hear low quality ‘pixelated’ sounds like in older video games. But some audio elements are a combination of ‘audio pixel art’, and one of them are voiceovers.
The biggest issue with voiceovers was to come up with an original idea. My coworkers insisted on creating something similar to the ‘Sims’ video game series. I was very reluctant to do this, as my vision was slightly different. I did not want to implement ‘funny jabbing’ into the moody atmosphere of Synther. Instead, I wanted to use single bleeps like in the ‘Undertale’ video game.
However, this time my colleagues were not sure about this approach, so we had to discuss other solutions. We had a brainstorm and discussed many titles including Vangers or Banjo – Kazooie.
In the end, we decided to create our own language, and implement it somehow into the game. But that was another question. How are we going to do this?
First, I used a translator and pasted all phrases created in my unique language into the translating software. As the vision of cyberpunk comes from the east (the vision of eastern market that dominates the world) I wanted to create exotic language; something between Japanese, and Slavic. The result was nice, but there was no expression in dialogues, and because Synther is a detective game, the player will be able to figure out if the NPC is scared, angry, friendly etc. That is why adding emotions into dialogues was pivotal.
There was only one way to achieve that - find actors that will do the right job. I needed one female, and one male actor to do it. They got instructions, and explanations about the game, characters, NPC, etc. As the video shows it looks like they had a lot of fun while working on Synther’s dialogues.
When dialogues were recorded, it was time for post-production. And here is the fun part, where I decided to ‘pixelate’ Synther dialogues. Why dialogues only? I think that unlike graphics which has to fully resemble old video games (otherwise it would look awkward – having fancy HQ car right next to pixelated NPC), sounds may have a bit more freedom.
Moreover, this treatment was made on purpose, as lowering the quality of all sound effects would result:
1) A contrast between music and sounds
2) The constant feel of bad soundtrack quality, which unlike with graphics, the player can turn off if he or she feels annoyed by them, and will decide to play Spotify for example (which may happen anyway).
So pixelating only dialogues reduced the harsh 8-bit noises to a minimum giving still the feel of old video games, but allowing the player to enjoy atmospheric ambients, and detailed sound effects. Dialogues are one of few long interactive sound effects that may also encourage the player to interact with NPC’s just to figure out from the voice expression is he or she lies or is scared.
You can hear the final result in the video below.
To conclude. The final result may still be different, but so far I do not plan major changes in the Synther soundtrack. I hope that players will immerse into the Synther game and enjoy its aesthetics; both – from the visual and audio perspective