Localizer notes. Voice acting in games

    As promised in previous articles, I continue a series of notes on localization. This time we will talk about scoring games.

    At a time when localization was only taking its first steps, one could only dream of recording studios with professional equipment, sound engineers and other delights. Nevertheless, quite worthy results came to light that pleased the hearing not only with the original translation, but also with decent sound quality.

    When we received the first orders demanding not only to translate the game, but also to voice it, we had to urgently take measures to resolve this issue. In the office room where we worked (a room of about 40sq.m), the saw rustled, the drill was buzzing and a couple of sheets of drywall tightly hid one corner from our eyes and extraneous noise that could ruin the whole raspberry. At least it seemed so. Nevertheless, the noise was constantly trying to get inside, so a sign with huge letters “There is voice acting!” Was placed on the door, which called for minimizing the noise emissions of those nearby. So the kettle and microwave waited for a break, and even tried to make the sound of the keys on the computer quieter. And to the random “Aaaa-p-chhii!” Instead of “be healthy” from the booth came something like “... your mother ...”.

    But it was not only the noises that made the work of the soundmen difficult and tiring. The corner, with a voice booth, huddled on a heel of no more than two square meters. Therefore, it could accommodate only a small table, a monitor, a keyboard and a sound artist. Then, to speed up the work, I also went there and, let's call it, a “sound engineer” who helped me choose the necessary files for voice acting. So the booth was crowded, hot, and also dark (the monitor and desk lamp served as lighting). When the doors opened about once every half an hour and people came into the light, it seemed that they had at least a shift in the mine face - wet, squinting into the light and breathing deeply with life-giving air.

    Before moving on to more technical details, I would like to especially note the artists who so heroically endured the difficulties of work. While budgets allowed, we invited real theater artists who really knew how to control their voice and were able to give characters a special flavor and character. Unfortunately, the financing of projects was not so large as to voice all the roles by different people, so usually each artist took on several roles. But how did they do it! I still can’t forget the talent of Cyril, who knew how to change his voice so much that he freely parodied Dr. Livesey from the movie Treasure Island, voiced several characters so that it was impossible to determine what the same person was saying, spoke Chinese so that the Chinese mistook for his own, although he simply gave out a memorized set of sounds.

    In general, I take off my hat. This is far from easy. A few years later, when I had the opportunity to launch another “studio”, under more modest budgets, I had the opportunity to test the role of sound students of the theater institute. A whole group of 20 people unanimously responded to the announcement of work :) But in the process it turned out that not everyone would read a paragraph of text in front of the microphone with expression. People went astray, lost their breath, or an inexplicable fear of the microphone simply manifested itself - a person who has an excellent role in the theater simply could not speak normally knowing that it was being recorded. Mystic.

    It's time to pay attention to the technical side of the issue of scoring.

    To begin with, of course, the room where the voice acting takes place is important. As I said, drywall does not really help in sound insulation. The next "studio" was lined with a thick layer of paralon. It was quiet inside and ... soft. Involuntarily there were thoughts about a mental hospital, especially when you consider that the door was closing outside. In such a room, everything is perceived differently. There was a funny case - a game tester checked in this room for passing Silent Hill 4, and four times in a row from and to ... After that, he probably had been afraid of sudden movements and sounds for about a week.

    Equipment. Variations are possible here. In the beginning it was a regular computer with a Sound Blaster sound card. She has a low noise level when recording. Later there was a special mixer that took on the task of setting sound levels, adjusting sensitivity, and more. Particular attention should be paid to the microphone. If in the 90s a regular microphone from a tape recorder could still be used with the proper skill, then then buying a professional microphone for recording speech is already a necessity. Moreover, as it turned out, the variety version of the microphone behaves much worse than the special announcer with wind protection. Let the sound industry experts forgive me for such an amateurish presentation, I personally am not a super expert in this area and do not know how to spend hours discussing the frequency characteristics of microphones, amplifiers and other shamanistic attributes: ) So I’ll say simply, if you want the sound to be good, consult a professional about the technique. And better, of course, contact a normal studio and do not worry your brains.

    When reading the translated text, certain difficulties arise. Usually in games, the sound is divided into files. One file - one phrase. And well, if the game itself determines the duration of the phrase by the size of the file time. Worse if the playing time is tied strictly to events in the game, or simply spelled out, no one knows where. Then the soundman has an interesting task to read the text so that the Russian version fits into English. Which is often quite difficult, since Russian phrases themselves are a bit more English. If the translators “forgot” about this moment and translated everything “on a grand scale”, then everything goes in the second round. Texts go to correction and shortened. One needs to have a flair for reading a paragraph of the text to calculate the speed of speech so as not to go beyond the given time. But do not rush - otherwise the character in the game will still spoof, although the phrase has already been said. Given these nuances, the total scoring time is not even close to the time of the material. It may take half an hour to sound the unfortunate five minutes. Small files are also dragging the process, physically. The file must be opened in the program, find the translation, read out, save. It would seem simple operations, but on a large number it is simply horror. I remember the voice of hockey, where there were about 20 thousand of the same type of short phrases of the commentator. Probably a week has gone. It was just torture for the artist, when from the booth came “First, first, first. Second, second, second ... ”and so all the numbers of the team, and then the declension of numbers and players and other combinations of phrases. I don’t know who the developers thought up, but the soundman went out on a smoke break with a cup of coffee and on autopilot continued to mutter phrases.

    To at least slightly reduce the time it takes to open and save files, we later applied the technology of gluing all small sounds into one “sausage” with markers for Sound Forge. As it turned out, it was more convenient for scoring and translation. Conversely, by markers, all this was programmatically cut and inserted into place.

    Sometimes there were interesting translation problems. For example, when a phrase has one beginning and several different endings. Although it would seem, why did developers save so much on sound? I had to come up with a Russian version of the phrase. Which is not always simple, given that the phrase in the game could refer to either a male or female character, depending on the game situation.

    One more task when it is necessary to sound videos with the Voissover method. When the whole game is in Russian, and an English dialect is heard in the video in the background, this is somehow not very good. Often it turned out to do the so-called "backing track". A feature of studio recording of a stereo track is something like the inversion of sound in channels (again, specialists forgive me). The voice is written as if in the middle. And if you make an inverse overlay of the left and right channels, you get a mono sound free from the speaker’s speech. Hmm ... the explanation does not pretend to be an Oscar, but the technique is simple and is done in three movements in Sound Forge. To whom it will be interesting, rummage in a search engine.

    There are still quite “banal” problems. Oddly enough, game developers have not always used standard sound formats such as ogg, mp3, wave in their creations. Always beenits clever people who invented their sound format and their compression. Therefore, over the years of work in this area, I managed to learn a lot of interesting things about digital sound coding, varieties of ADPCM compression, write your own codecs for packing sound. As it turned out, this is not always easy. It seems that you will make your converter from the usual wave to the game format, and in the game there will be some clicks in some places of phrases. It turns out you need to add form filtering, make sure that the sound level does not fall over certain limits. After all, if ordinary sound uses 16 bits of information, then in ADPCM it is commonplace to squeeze it into 4 bits depending on the variety. Now for those who are interested in this area, the sox library is available in which you can draw many useful algorithms.

    Perhaps this time is enough.

    Wait for the next releases.

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