Talking Shite is an article on game theory, where we discuss how, why and what makes a game good, bad, interesting or just downright odd. Today, we set our sights on the place of voiced protagonists: where they work, what they add and what they potentially take away.
As the gaming industry becomes more advanced and more mainstream, we find a great number of games beginning to take the more cinematic route of story telling. Where beforehand games had the occasional cutscene, we find ourselves drifting far closer to techniques typically used in the movie industry. Special lighting effects, certain camera angles, a far greater emphasis on graphics, but more and more we find ourselves playing a character that has a voice of their own, where before we often were confronted with either a silent protagonist or one through whom we could converse with various dialogue options.
The advent of voiced protagonists is surely partly an advancement of technology, as it becomes easier to create believable lip-syncing animations and the various studios are able to afford the complex and expensive equipment and talent required to do voiced characters justice. But while a voiced protagonist grants us far greater and immersive story-telling experiences (being able to play a character that the developers created), it takes a great deal away from the experience of the player having a character of their own. If the character already has a voice, then how on earth are we to impose our own?
Yes, I’m going to talk about Fallout 4. Sorry.
The Fallout series has always had an unvoiced protagonist, up until the most recent installment. Taking after the likes of Mass Effect, our newest survivor uses a dialogue wheel with a brief synopsis of what the character will say. Often these choices are not fully explained, and while the voice acting is top notch all round in my opinion, it does feel as though the character you play is not really yours: it is less an RPG and more an action-adventure with RPG elements. It is the difference between playing a character in the game world and playing the game yourself. The former is all well and good, but one of the main draws of the Fallout series has always been the ability to do the latter.
Further, having a voiced character in any game with dialogue options is always going to reduce the number of dialogue options available. Recording these exchanges is a time-consuming and expensive process, and if you have a fully voiced character (who will be doing the majority of the discussion in the game), then this workload is enormous. As such, you will always suffer from having fewer things to say simply from real life resource restrictions.
However, the voice acting does have its advantages as well. Bethesda has never been particularly great at story-telling in its games, and often the main plotline is not the main draw of the game. In the Elder Scrolls games, often the best stories were to be found off the beaten path; the short little tales that stuck with you throughout the rest of your playthrough. Fallout 4 is no different, but being able to actually hear the inflection, the humour, the tone, the sarcasm, the hurt, the anger, and all the little nuances that a voiced protagonists grants really added to the main plotline in Fallout 4. Don’t worry, no spoilers here, but had the difficult decisions of this game been present in previous series, I doubt I would have had much trouble making them. But in Fallout 4, you really do feel the struggle of your main character as he (or she) comes to grips with the world he or she has now entered. It adds a touch of humanity to the pixels.
So in some ways voiced protagonists work extremely well. If you want to tell a story in a cinematic, heart-tugging way, then a human voice to convey that tale really adds to the power of your storytelling. But it detracts from the ability of the player to create a character that is truly their own, and it will always feel as though you are playing somebody else’s story, rather than your own. For a studio and a franchise that has always been about just that, it is a major move to make to take some of that experience away.
We’ve talked a great deal about Fallout 4 in this article: leave a comment in the section below if you agree or disagree, and let us know your thoughts on voiced protagonists. Do they have a place in RPG games, or should your character always be just that: yours?