Voice Acting in Virtual Worlds
A video game can have an incredible ability to whisk you away into a world of fantasy, pulling you headlong into quests to solve problems, rescue characters – and even save the planet. But in order to create this immersive experience, all of the elements of the game need to come together seamlessly – from the visuals, to the sound effects – and especially, to the video game’s voice over.
Voice over work in the gaming industry is notoriously challenging. Gaining entry into the industry can be highly competitive, but for those who can break in, they must navigate the demands of producing unique vocalizations and constructing characters under sometimes vague direction (game developers often need to keep various details under lock and key).
However, for those who are curious about what it’s like to be the voice behind the characters, M. Murakami, voice over artist, has a lot of insight to share. Over the course of her multifaceted career, Maya has voiced projects for various video games, as well as brands like Lego, Sam’s Club, Purina, Xerox, Walmart, and more.
Within the gaming realm, she embodied many characters across a variety of game types including puzzles, role-playing games (RPGs), and games series, and she’s worked on localizing video games too (voice overs in English for games that were first released in other countries).
Here’s how Maya takes care of her voice as she creates characters, and constructs imaginative voices for a form of entertainment that she loves.
Protecting Your Voice During Video Game Recording Sessions
Screaming, gurgling, grunting – while these aren’t directives you would normally find in an e-learning script, they are considered commonplace in video game voice over. Not only can these vocalizations be challenging to create, but when done improperly, they can strain your voice.
In order to prevent vocal damage or strain, Maya recommends careful planning – as well as solid training.
While some art directors try voice changing software, most directors get the performance they are looking for from the voice actor during a session.
For instance, how sessions are scheduled can make a difference. Maya purposefully plans out her sessions (whenever possible), so the most taxing voice over work occurs last. This allows her to save her lower register and warmth for other work, like advertisements. Generally, when she’s attending a session in a recording studio, the production crew also follows this line of logic – saving the most demanding work for the end.
Additionally, Maya believes in training. She’s a trained vocalist (in a previous life, Maya was also in a band), and has completed classes at the world-famous Kalmenson & Kalmenson casting agency in Los Angeles. She believes that having a focus on both performance and vocal health has aided her throughout her career, giving her stamina and confidence.
How to Create Unique Video Game Character Voices
The fact that game developers are directed to keep video game storylines and ideas under wraps means that voice actors can have precious little to work with when it comes to creating character voices.
In order to work well under such constraints, Maya has a few strategies to create characters when she doesn’t have enough detail.
For instance, when she gets an idea for a new character, she makes a recording of that voice so she has something to go to – she refers to it as her own character bank – when the time comes.
Maya also cites improv classes as being instrumental to helping her adapt more easily to less direction and sharpen her creativity.
Additionally, Maya leverages physicality to dig deep and create characters on the fly. While it may seem like a stretch to use body movements to inspire changes in your voice, it’s well-documented that many voice over actors, and even mocap performers, leverage body movements to find the right sound.
Opening the Door – Getting Started in Video Game Voice Over
If you’re looking to start voicing video games, Maya has a few suggestions.
“I would recommend people play the types of video games they’re interested in auditioning for because you’ll learn a lot,” she says.
Maya is an avid video game player herself, playing everything from sports games to online role-playing games. She thinks that this has helped her have respect for what the creators of the game are aiming to do, and the world that they’re trying to piece together. It’s also given her appreciation for the importance voice can play in creating an immersive virtual world.
Of course, it stands to reason that playing games would give you a different view as a voice actor. Paying attention to other voice actors’ performances might teach you a thing or two about what sounds good – and, even, what you’d like to avoid in your performances.
She also advises that experimentation and putting yourself out there by taking creative risks are two important things you can do in auditions. However, she is still careful about ensuring she gets difficult names or accents just right, as she wants to respect the game’s creators and players while honoring the experience they are trying to create.
“Sometimes it takes a little bit of practice and research to pronounce things correctly and to learn that world, especially if it’s an existing world, but I think it’s all worth it and I’m really down for that challenge because I think it’s so cool to be a part of something like that,” she says.
If you’re just getting started, continue reading on our guide to voice acting for beginners.
Ready to try your hand at video game voices? Sign up for a Voices account now!
About M. Murakami
M. Murakami’s vocal range, easygoing nature, passion for performance, and commitment to client satisfaction has fueled her fast rise in the world of voice over. She’s voiced national TV spots, video games, children’s apps, business explainers, and more. She can be anyone from a youthful millennial to a professional 40-something. M. Murakami has been hired on Voices over 1000 times.