Saturday, 13 June 2015


OMUK are veterans of voice recording for video games. Based in London and founded in 1996, they have recorded voice for more than 600 games, including The Witcher, The Book of Unwritten Tales, and Telltale Game's Game of Thrones. So when I and a dozen other indie game developers were invited to an evening at their studio I was surprised to discover how small an outfit they are.

The team in London, including founder Mark Estdale, numbers only six. They are a friendly and welcoming bunch at their studio on Packenham Street. The evening was a chance for voice talent and developers to meet each other and to meet OMUK – to find out how game voice recording is done.

Ensemble recording

Some of the games they have worked on...

I sat in on two demo sessions. The first was an ensemble recording – multiple actors in the booth recording together. This eases things for actors, particularly newer ones, as they have someone to bounce off, and can give a more natural result. But even here, the actors still have to be careful not to overlap when speaking, as the separate lines are still going to be sliced up into separate sound files.

OMUK use headset mics as opposed to a more traditional free-standing mic. In traditional voice recording you want the feeling of space that a free-standing mic gives – the actor can move closer and further away, and that gives the recording a different shape. But in a game, the audio is going to be played back within a 3D virtual world, and it might be further or closer to the player depending on the situation. Headset mics give a consistent sound for all recordings which can then be altered to sound further or closer from the player algorithmically.

The sound-engineer relegated to the corner

Another way in which OMUK differs from a traditional studio (and I'm taking their word on all of this, of course, not knowing much about the industry) is that they have tried to focus a lot more of the interaction between the director and the actors. The sound engineer is off to one side, rather than front and centre, and the director is close to the dividing glass. Additionally, their practice is to always have open talk back - so the actors can always hear what is being discussed in the other half of the room; they aren't excluded.

The three actors did multiple takes from a funny scene in Book of Unwritten Tales 2 and it was great to see how they fitted into the roles more as they went along, and to see the feedback loop from director to actors and back as they went around. Mark Estdale, their CEO, is passionate about great acting in games.

Game immersive voice recording (GIVR)

One of thing that stands in the way of great acting is communicating the situation to the actors. Games are nonlinear media, and recording typically jumps around between different states in the game in a way that is bamboozling for the actor. Traditionally, studios explain the situation to the actor with a few lines before the take, but in our second session OMUK's Vicky pointed out the problems with that approach.

First of all it takes time, and time is money. You need to explain who the character is, what has happened before, where the scene takes place, and more. You want all of these details to inform performance, but it's a lot to get across. Additionally, it's tiring and difficult for the actor to take all that information in verbally.

As well as the time it takes to communicate, you also may not be communicating the right things. You are relying solely on the director's ability to translate between the script and the actor, but the director may misunderstand the situation. As a game developer, how confident do you feel that a director at a studio has a handle on everything happening in your game, just by looking at a script?

GIVR assets sharing the screen with the script

OMUK attempt to solve this problem with the fancily-termed "GIVR" - game immersive voice recording. What this means is that they spend a chunk of time in pre-production, before they get the voice actor in, lining up as many assets from the game as they can - screenshots, concept art, background music, sound effects, even a running build of the game. So when they come to do a take, rather than telling the actor the situation, they can show them. They also include other voice recording from other actors if those have been done already. This approach seems simple, but OMUK stressed that this had made a big difference to the games they have used in on.

It was a great evening, and there was plenty I haven't included, including meeting the founders of The Mocap Vaults, and a whole host of interesting voice actors. If you get the chance, OMUK is an interesting place to visit.

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