Adam Ritchie: behind the scenes of videogame voices | Friday Stories blogs
Behind the “It’s me Mario'' Mario Bros, “For Demacia” Garen-League Of Legends, or “Hadouken” Ryu-Street Fighter, there is more than an actor: a whole team of experts working to give them a voice. Like Adam Ritchie, Senior Voice Designer at Massive Entertainment, whose job is to make characters speak.
Adam has more than a decade of experience in the industry working behind the scenes of titles like Tom Clancy's The Division 2 and Fable Legends. In his upcoming talk at Friday Stories, he will share how to give characters a voice. A journey through casting, recording sessions, assessing the material, and the process of putting the voices in the game.
“Could I have a job in games sound?”
When Adam was younger, his two main interests were music and computers, so he decided to study Music Technology at Lancaster University. Although he was a gamer during his childhood and college years, his journey into the industry began after graduating, when he asked himself the question: “Could I have a job in games sound?”
This journey started with a pile of job applications sent out to every single studio in the UK, even those without job posts. At that time, the advice was to start as a tester, which was the most entry-level position.
“If you can hack as a tester, you can do anything,” remembered Adam.
That advice was the first step in his 13-years videogames career. In 2008, he got a job as a tester. After some networking and a few months, he started working as a sound professional for his first project.
Even though the answer to his question was a Yes, he didn't even suspect that 8 years later, he would end up moving to Malmö and
working as a Senior Voice Designer at Massive Entertainment.
How did he do that?
Voice design: a happy accident
The now Senior Voice Designer started his career writing music and doing general audio tasks. But during his second job, without much experience, Adam Ritchie, along with a producer, created his first voice file for a game.
“We sourced the recording studio, found the actors, prepared the scripts, and all by ourselves.”
That was the beginning of 5 years doing less music and more voice stuff and sound design, an experience that ended up bringing him to Lionhead Studios. Adam had initially considered applying for a Sound Design role, but due to his experience with voice was offered the position of Dialogue Supervisor.
In 2014, Adam Ritchie worked on a version of Fable Legends, a game he was always a fan of. When Microsoft closed the studio in 2016, he moved to Malmö to work as Senior Voice Designer at Massive Entertainment, where he has spent the last 5 years.
Although doing voice design wasn't in his mind at the beginning, it has become a happy accident.
When characters speak
Every character's voice has a story, but these are not only epic or fantastic tales. They also contain the experiences of audio, dialogue, design, narrative and voice experts, which closely collaborate during the game development process.
“In a nutshell, a Voice Designer is a Sound Designer that works with voices. It is not just making cool noises; there is also the implementation and the context,” explained Adam.
Most of the job is making sure that players don’t become too conscious about the voice work, “then they can feel the game as a cohesive experience,” said Adam. It’s all about aligning with the context. Voice designers must work closely with the narrative team, writers, label designers, artists, audio, actors, and external recording studios.
“If the character says something happy during a sad moment, it also breaks the game. It isn’t a bug that stops the gamer from playing, but it stops them from enjoying it.”
According to Adam Ritchie, there isn’t a fixed formula about the responsibilities of a voice designer, it depends on the studio and the project, but some typical responsibilities are:
Designing and prototyping: Collaborate with narrative and design label teams to align a voice concept with the game context.
Defining characters: which characters to add to the game, what are they going to be like, what is the purpose of each dialogue, which class of dialogue needs to be the voice for (combat, conversations, etc.).
Casting: Find actors that fit in the characters’ contexts. If it is a niche requirement, it can take a long time to find an actor with a particular accent, age, nationality, etc.
Defining the voice’s technical aspects: guide all technical aspects. How the recording process should go, what the files need to sound like, manage the voice database and provide material to the development team.
Coordinating recording studios: Outsource external studios to record actors’ voices.
Organizational work: Keep schedules and people (internal and external) on time.
Raising their voices
The lifecycle of a videogame creation includes many facets and expert teams. When do voice designers enter the development? Ideally, at least one person should be involved from the beginning, answered Adam Ritchie.
Dialogue and Voice Specialists are the kinds of “nice to have” roles if you have the budget, so they are not common in small studios, explained Adam.
“You can see studios with 20 artists and only 1 or 2 sound experts, even though the sound team produces as many assets as the artists. It is a division of labor, I think.”
Voice designers make characters speak, but also gamers. In the videogame world, players talk, feel and interact through their characters, so they should feel represented.
The acting can’t distract the gamer from other things. For example: if the character is from Bogotá, you have to nail the accent, because Colombians will feel a connection and be excited to play the game, and if it doesn’t sound natural it ruins the game and even offends people, pointed out Adam
“It is a behind-the-scenes role. People take voice for granted, and an important part of our job is to let them do that.”
The Great Journey and our events are made possible with the support of the European Regional Development Fund, Region Värmland, Karlstad kommun, Karlstad Innovation Park and Embracer Group.