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Expeditions: Rome Dev Diary #11 - Voice-Overs

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Expeditions: Rome Dev Diary #11 - Voice-Overs

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Wed 1 December 2021, 00:47:08

Tags: Expeditions: Rome; Logic Artists; THQ Nordic

The Expeditions: Rome special event teased earlier this month out turned out to be a contest to produce a cover version of one of the game's musical tracks. Hopefully someday THQ Nordic will tell us when they plan to launch the game, but for now they're moving on from music to voice-overs. You may or may not recall that Rome is set to feature full voice acting, and the eleventh dev diary is all about the challenges Logic Artists faced while producing it. The actual recording was done by UK-based voiceover studio PitStop Productions, who have previously worked with Obsidian and Larian, and it sounds like they did a pretty good job. Here's an excerpt:

It’s no secret that roleplaying games tend to be on the verbose side. Though we here at Logic Artists have always prided ourselves on writing more concise and less waffling dialogue than our competitors, our games have always been long and heavily story-based, so inevitably our dialogue word count always ends up in the hundreds of thousands. As an independent game studio, the cost of recording that much dialogue is prohibitive, and so the best we could do on Viking was to record combat one-liners and a few very select lines of dialogue to set the tone for each major character.

Thus you may be able to imagine how overjoyed we were when THQ Nordic rolled in and told us to go ahead and record every single word of dialogue for Expeditions: Rome. Now, on Rome we have made a concerted effort to keep the dialogue even more concise and punchy than before – we’ve almost eliminated use of narrator text during dialogue, and worked hard to put as much of the actual actions of what’s happening in the scene into the actual game world, so you can see characters move and animate instead of having it described to you. Even so, Rome is the largest game we’ve ever made by a pretty large margin, and so we still ended up with over 300,000 words of dialogue.

Early in the project, we needed to record some voice-over for a vertical slice – a sort of prototype that would serve as “proof of concept” to demonstrate how the game would end up looking and feeling when it was finished. We sent out some test lines and character descriptions and solicited auditions from a few different studios, but none of them really struck a chord with us. Then we found Pitstop in the UK – the quality of the acting they sent back to us was phenomenally better than the other studios we’d tried. We knew at once we had our partner.

Recording all that dialogue is not done overnight. We decided to split the task into three “batches” – the first batch would include all main story dialogue up to but not including the finale. The second batch would be the finale and all side quests. The third and final batch would come after our content lockdown and would be for corrections, late additions, and anything we’d had to add or change as part of polish or bug-fixing.

The first step in the whole process was to send Pitstop all material we had on the game, and sit down with their directors to work through what the story was about and what kind of aesthetic we were going for. We sent a list of every character in the game, with demographic details, descriptions, and notes about where, when, and how they would appear. The game has 270 unique characters, so this was no small thing for them to deal with. After looking over this list, Pitstop sent us a questionnaire for each of the roles we had identified as our major characters, asking about their backstory, personality, relationships with and attitudes towards each other, and above all where their personal character arc would take them.

Now we were ready for the casting. Pitstop’s casting director Josh divided our enormous character list into 40 distinct roles. For the minor characters, he assigned actors that Pitstop already knew and had worked with before. For the major characters, sample lines from our script were sent out to agents, and we got back recorded auditions from a large group of actors trying for each part. We had a blast listening to all these different interpretations of our characters.

For some parts, the choice was self-evident – for example, for the role of the player’s patron, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, the voice of James Gillies immediately stood out as having the precise perfect mix of stern authority and fatherly warmth that we had in mind when we wrote our take on the famous imperator. Other characters were much harder to nail down and required several different casting calls to find someone who hit the mark. Julia Calida in particular was a very difficult part to cast, and it took us three attempts to find Rosie Jones, who brought an appropriately brooding tom-boyish edge to the part.

Some characters we chose to deliberately cast against type – perhaps a manifestation of our natural tendency towards shying away from the expected. We have an antagonist played by an actor who always plays heroes, and a loyal old mentor played by an actor who is always cast as a villain. Their performances add a layer of nuance to their characters that we might never have got if we had gone for the obvious casting choice.
The devstream about this topic is scheduled for December 1st. No special announcements planned this time.

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