• 04/30/15 03:19 PM
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    When do videos need voiceovers?

    Music and Sound FX

    Alconost
    This is a question we often hear from our clients. Recently we produced two video trailers for mobile games. The trailers were in the same style - epic battles, swords, Viking knights - but there was one big difference. One trailer had voiceovers and the other did not. Looking at the results, we wanted to share our thoughts about when videos need voiceovers, and when they don't. There are important pluses and minuses we think everyone should be aware of. And while we're at it, we wanted to ask your thoughts on the matter too. Here are the trailers:
    [media]http://vimeo.com/120471188[/media] [media]http://vimeo.com/120471186[/media]

    With voiceover

    Videos provide an enormous advantage when you deliver your message to potential customers: you can involve more sensory and cognitive inputs by offering visuals, sound and voice. People use their ears to augment what they see. When we see events that are "mute", we subconsciously think that something is wrong. We are less trusting and prepare ourselves for danger. In terms of evolutionary psychology, think of our ancestors who survived by hearing their enemies coming in the distance. After thousands of years of living in society, people are really good at picking up on the subtle nuances and intonation of how others speak! We use this information to form impressions of the people we talk with. So when we hear information given in a pleasant, confident voice, we begin to subconsciously trust the speaker. Voice, timbre and tone are an important way of influencing viewers. Voice is also the simplest way of conveying emotion and setting the tone of a video. [rollup="Example. Darklings II Teaser"]
    [media]http://vimeo.com/120479578
    [/media][/rollup] And if you have an information-dense video - such as a presentation or tutorial - voiceovers are a critical tool.

    Without voiceover

    If your video's main message can be expressed visually (as can be done for some simple and obvious products), voiceovers may not be needed at all. For products like these, it's hard to write a good voiceover text because there is almost nothing to say. [rollup="Example. Two teasers"]
    [media]http://vimeo.com/120470198[/media] [media]http://vimeo.com/120471187[/media]
    [/rollup] But if you skip voiceovers, you must compensate by putting more effort into graphics and animation. Sometimes a voiceover and music set the mood and the visuals do not have to be 100% polished in order to achieve the right effect. In a video without voiceovers, every second of video must be spick-and-span. But these videos can offer savings due to the absence of recording and studio work. The #1 advantage of going voiceover-less is that these videos are immediately understandable to any viewer anywhere in the world. And even if the video contains bits of text, these words can be easily localized into other languages.
    7624ed57eb0046508e03d0a6ea1090bb.jpg Localizing a video without voiceovers is easy! Just change the labels shown on screen.
    By comparison, localizing voiceovers takes a lot of time and money. Translating the text, finding voice talent and assessing pronunciation in languages you don't know - that's the easy part. The hard part is that all the animation needs to be redone for each new voice, since different languages have different timings. That is why making the visuals sync up with the audio in a new language can cost 50 to 70% of the amount of the original animation. The bottom line is that if your product is simple, you have a simple and understandable message for your viewers, and you want to cheaply make a video that everyone can understand, you probably do not need voiceovers. But if your goals are loftier, our advice is to do it right the first time and get the most out of your video by adding voice. What do you think?


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    I think looking at the first two videos you can really see where good voice-over makes the difference. The first one ,sword-vs-sword, is instantly engaging and it makes the video seem professional. In the second video for Landgrabbers my first instinct was to just click around the video for a few seconds. The voice-over makes you want to watch in a more linear fashion. On the other hand if you have a poorly done voice-over it instantly makes the game seem cheap and amateurish regardless of the game play footage. As to the matter of region specific languages there are always subtitles.

     

    Anyway, I think the most difficult thing for voice-overs is casting the right person. Very few games have the budget to get good union talent. Everyone starts non-union, but if you're good you don't end up there. It's a vast wasteland of amateurs and people who will never book work, and it can be very difficult to separate the good from the bad. I've made about 500 voice-over demos for people over the years and with enough time and editing you can make anyone sound good for 8 or 10 seconds of a 60 second demo. But that quickly unravels with real clients when you step into that booth and you have to do it on demand.

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    In the first video, the voice-over is continuous without pauses. Have you ever been in a conversation where one person keeps talking and talking without pause for breath, not letting you get any chance to speak? This video feels like that. This is emphasized by no pauses between sentences, where humans normally pause.
    Another example of the same thing is when someone on a forum posts a huge block of text without paragraph breaks. Those pauses are necessary for good human communication.
     
    Also, the video's voice actor pauses in the wrong places and emphasizes the wrong words. It feels off-balance and weird because of that; and in places you can tell where one voice-track stops and the next voice-recording begins.
     
    Here's my impression of the first few sentences of the voiceover, in more detail:
     
    "Bygone times of knightssss... valor, and gloryyyy... are now REAL again"
    Weird emphases and misplaced pauses.
    "Join in heartstopping BATTLE... and attack, parryyyy, and evade enemy strikes" 
    Two lists in just two sentences? It's like reciting a grocery list.
     
    "Feel the heat of  |  battttllle  | as you unleash | cold metal on your foes"
    | ---- Voice A ----  |  Voice B  |  Voice A again   | ---------- Voice C -------- |
    Three voices (four voice changes) in one sentence.
     
    "...unleash cold metal on your foes" "Create a one-of-a-kind..."
    The next sentence begins so soon afterward, they are practically overlapping. No pause for breath? The district manager at the board meeting is still droning on, is he?
    Well at least he dropped his faux "evil" voice, but now he's more monotone than ever.
    "...one-of-a-kind hero...", oh there he goes, it just took him time to get back to his gruff-character voice.
    "...with a color and flag <awkward pause> you'll defend to <changes voice> your dying breath...."
    <no pause for breath, another voice change> "Vanquishing the enemy will require the sharpest sword <changes voice> and sturdiest armor."
     
    And etc... 
     
    Voiceovers (when used) should augment, not dominate, video trailers. The trailer isn't about the voice-over, it's about the game itself. They shouldn't be continuous, and shouldn't be trying to constantly tell you what your emotions are. "With a flag you'll defend to your dying breath". Yeah, whatever mate *yawn*. Don't tell me (the customer) what I should think, feel, do, say, or buy. Nobody likes being bossed around or manipulated.
     
    About the continuous speaking, there ought to be periods of no-dialog with just visuals and non-voice sound effects.
     
    As for the sentences have awkward mid-sentence pauses, remember: commas are short-pauses, periods are full-pauses. When reading text aloud, pause at the proper places. You aren't pausing at the periods.
    Exception to the "commas are short-pauses" rule: When reading lists, don't pause at the list-commas. You're sometimes pausing on the list-commas when you shouldn't be, but not pausing at the commas you should be pausing at.
     
    This is my suggestion. Maybe it'll help, maybe not. But it's worth a try, and might help you hone your craft.
     
    (Note to any writers out there: The same goes when you are writing a book or in-game text dialog. Try reading your own work aloud or in your mind, half-pausing at the commas and full-pausing at the periods, and see how well it flows)
     
    You're also splicing separate voice-over recordings (complete with different tones of voice) too soon after each other.
    I'm not a voice actor. I've never done voice-acting before, so take this with a bucket of salt: When speaking a sentence of dialog to record, have you tried "warming up" to the sentence by actually starting at the previous sentence? It seems to me while listening to that trailer, that when people begin talking normally in real life, the first few words of their first sentence sounds different then the words that follow, as they ramp-up into the sentence.
     
    By recording each sentence separately like some of the voice-over was, you get an artificial "ramp-up, ramp-up, ramp-up" at the beginning of each sentence, instead of the beginning of only the first sentence in each portion of speech. By starting at an earlier sentence, and then going into the actual sentence you want to record, you might give it a more natural sound. I'm theorizing.
    It really doesn't even need to be the previous sentence. It could be any sentence spoken with the correct phrasing leading up to the current sentence to be recorded.
     
    The second video I found lacking in information. The first words presented were "Grabbing is fun!". Yeah, alright, whatever. I have no context for that information, because I don't know how this game is defining "grabbing".
     
    Then there's 20 seconds before any more information is presented onscreen; instead, there's a bunch of flashy special effects, and examples of gameplay (scaled down to small sizes purely so the special effects get more screen-space!)... again the examples of gameplay had no context, no details. I had to guess what was happening onscreen. Lucky for me, I've played Tower Defense games before, and this game is loosely derived from that genre, with multiplayer features, so it was easier for me to understand. (It's basically a cross between Galcon and tower defense. Looks fun)
     
    To consumers unfamiliar with the genre, their thoughts may be more like, "I don't understand what's going on; this game looks confusing and complex, I'll go play something else."
     
    I would've had more text explaining the basic actions, "Capture enemy castles!" and zoomed in for a closeup of an example of an enemy castle getting captured, instead of zooming out for an example of particle effects and rotations that aren't even part of the game.
     
    Special effects also shouldn't dominate the video trailers - the trailer isn't about the voice-overs, and it's also not about the special effects. Focus needs to be on the game, in my opinion.
     
    As a game developer, the trailers are good - I don't want to bash them and make you think they are entirely wrong - I'm obviously dissecting their flaws, not their strengths (for example, I actually really like the rotations and special effects of the second, just not at the expense of useful information). I wouldn't scrap them, but I would've sent both trailers back with a short list of changes.
    As a consumer, I don't like either trailer, though the second one was the nicer of the two. The second one would've been redeemed because the (unexplained, undemonstrated, unfocused) gameplay in the second one is to my taste. I would play the game despite the trailer, not because of it.

    That's my opinion, anyways. smile.png

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    To be honest I usually watch a game trailer with the sound on my MAC off.  If I see a trailer that looks good I will then plug my headphones in and re watch it.  If a trailer takes longer than 5 seconds to actually show me the game I'll just skip it and move on.

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    Voice over is not right for each video, depending on the mood and message you are trying to convey. For those who choose to use it, it can really add a lot! However, bad voice over makes for a bad video. 

     

    I want to note here that you don't need union talent for a great voice over. Contact your local talent agency. They will have non-union talent available to audition for you, and you can negotiate your price. 

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    To be honest I usually watch a game trailer with the sound on my MAC off.  If I see a trailer that looks good I will then plug my headphones in and re watch it.  If a trailer takes longer than 5 seconds to actually show me the game I'll just skip it and move on.

    I agree with this. Most of the time I do not have sound on and I assume this is the same as a lot of people. Sound shouldn't be vital to a trailer and should capture the user quickly before they move onto something else.

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    Funny finding this article (as I polish up on after effects and do storyboards). I've been preparing to attempt a proper trailer for my game, and working out were to focus the voiceover time? Thematic story setup or gameplay focused? How much material can you reasonably cover in one trailer? So many things to consider...

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    Interesting read. I think it deserves pointing out that typically game trailers for larger games tend to avoid voiceovers. For such games, gameplay and game footage is often appealing and more expressive of the final intended experience. At least that's my theory.

    @LordVTP: try to put a link to your game when you mention it online - extra publicity is always welcome.

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    interesting discussion and great tips! It's going to come in handy for something I'm hopefully working on over the next few months - thanks! 

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