Music and sound effects are commonplace in a mobile game, but often the use of voice work is overlooked. Usual reasons include a lack of budget or experience working with voice talents. See the session video below if you want to learn about how the use of voice can bring your characters and stories to life, and if you’re taking the first steps into casting, creating a script and working with voice talents. At Casual Connect Asia, Jeremy Goh, Co-Founder of IMBA Interactive, discussed voice work, noting that “good voice work can give your game relatability and personality, as well as a source of rich feedback for your players.”
Jeremy co-founded IMBA Interactive with Gwen Guo and Sharon Kho in April 2013, having previously done freelance work as a sound designer and music composer. “The company came to be simply because we wanted to do what we love and be appreciated for it,” said Jeremy. “These days, we find ourselves pushing the standards and value of audio in games via creative work, and through advocacy and education.”
“Before games, I used to play a lot in music groups as a percussionist (I still do), and I also was a sound designer at a local TV station,” he added. “Definitely my previous career experiences have informed me very much creatively and technically, but these are aspects that are ever-evolving for anyone’s careers.”
Dream of an Imagineer
Earlier in life, Jeremy said he wanted to be a Disney “Imagineer” or animator, since he used to draw a lot. As his love for music grew, he couldn’t be happier working in his current field, since he loves the abstractness of working in sound and music as a medium.
“I think very much of what I do today stems from me playing percussion for the longest time,” said Jeremy. “I have been playing since I was 13 (I’m 31 now). I feel it has to be something about the duality of percussion instruments, it being both music rhythmically and organized ‘noise’ that led me to be both interested in music composition and sound design.
“I love playing video games, and I believe games are indeed the future. Plus, the industry and community is filled with so much vibrancy and positive vibes. So, to me audio plus games equals the perfect marriage to keep my career busy and ever-refreshing.”
When it comes to others pursuing the same career, Jeremy advised them to play lots of games, which he did. “Experiment a lot with audio hardware and software and don’t be intimidated by technical know-hows for a start,” he added. “Also, be part of communities that share knowledge and that will most definitely accelerate your career in some way or form.”
Jeremy said that he loves the job because no day is ever like the previous day. “There are new challenges and projects every day,” he noted. “Being experimental and being surprised by the results is great.”
The Case for Voice-Overs
When it comes to indie developers bringing in voice actors, it can be a challenge for them or even a burden. Jeremy thinks that indie developers should seriously consider bringing in voice actors, however.
“Firstly, they should be clear on WHY they need voice overs (is it the best way to convey something? Could it potentially be more economical?),” noted Jeremy. “Once that is sorted, they’ll need to understand HOW to go about creating a good voice asset: profiles, scripts, proper direction and a certain level of technical expertise is needed. Consult an expert just to be informed, before throwing the idea away.”
Jeremy says that there are no shortcuts to hunting for voice-over talent. “We work with several voice talents and learn about their strengths and weaknesses,” he noted. “Sometimes we also receive recommendations or ask for them. We tell people that we create voices, so sometimes talent will come to us.”
On the subject of voice-overs, Jeremy says they can be broadly classified into two types: narration and acting. “That’s not to say that the narrator can’t also be an in-game character,” noted Jeremy. “However, narration tends to convey story directly to the player, while acting roles tends to ‘speak’ to players from within the game world.”
While Jeremy acknowledges that having no voice-overs is better than having bad voice-overs, he said that leads to other consequences. “When developers opt for ‘no voice acting’, they must think of other ways, be it visually or in the game design, to convey the information,” he detailed. “If you leave a gaping hole of a lack of voice, players will notice.”
Jeremy also advised if you want the highest quality audio product to do voice-over recordings in a controlled studio environment. “At IMBA Interactive, we do it very much in a controlled studio environment, especially if the voices aren’t destined for any manipulation after that,” Jeremy detailed.
Jeremy starts the creative process by seeking to understand the project or brief as thoroughly as possible. He also listens to as much music as possible, along with behind-the-scenes footage to get inspiration. “Following that, I’d create a palette of sounds (or instruments) just as a painter would select colors, and begin creating something from there,” said Jeremy. “Everything else forward is pretty much iteration and feedback. “
When asked about how developers should communicate to composers, Jeremy said, “Try your very best to not use broad terms, or even text, for that matter. For example, telling us you need something to be ‘epic’ doesn’t really mean much. ‘Epic’ has thousands of possibilities that it almost doesn’t help. The best is to provide visual and aural references, especially if you already have something rather clear in mind. There’s no shame in that. Nowadays, it is so easy to find a YouTube link and point to the exact timecode of the part of a music or soundtrack that you like.”
As far as what Jeremy would compose if given a choice, he said, “I would love to compose for a game centered around Latin and Jazz music, because that’s what I love listening to!”
The (Hopeful) Future of Mobile Audio
Looking to the future, Jeremy hopes that the sound on mobile games will improve. In general, he’d like to see more care given to sound effects, vocal work, and integration. “Mobile platforms are beginning to be the gateway to many immersive experiences, and I hope game developers learn to see the value in having immersive sound,” Jeremy stated.
On the subject of rising trends, Jeremy said he is “definitely looking into AR and VR, now that Apple has officially integrated their hardware ecosystem to develop for these platforms. Mobile devices are also starting to slowly overtake their deskbound counterparts, for even content development and not just consumption. Many new technologies and production techniques have to be learned, and definitely keeping abreast of all these and what it means to game audio.”
David Radd is a staff writer for GameSauce.biz. David loves playing video games about as much as he enjoys writing about them, martial arts and composing his own novels.