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Voice Acting in Indie Games: Finding Awesomeness in Yourself and in the Casting Calls

After voicing a character for the indie game Camp Sunshine, the author gives some tips on voice acting and navigating the world of indie game projects.

Back in the spring of 2016, I auditioned for a voiceover role in an indie retro horror game. Looking back, I hope my experience can help you enhance your own awesomeness as a voiceover artist, indie dev, or whatever it is you do and love!

Camp Sunshine: The Project, The Reception

There were some exact sentences the devs wanted, but it was for a situation that required continual feedback from the character, that could be looped or cut to the length of time the player took to figure out what to do--up to several minutes. I put myself into the mindset of the character, and improvised. (More on this below).

I have worked on a number of indie projects that have fallen through. In my experience, it seems some of these approached voiceover artists too soon. When there is no playable demo, or no script, it can be difficult to judge if the team has the committment and ability to see the project through.

Camp Sunshine was already greenlit on Steam when the casting call was posted. The developer I worked with communicated promptly and kept me updated. He sent me a video demo of the area my character was in, with the in-game effects applied to my voice.  When Camp Sunshine by Fossil Games was released on Steam in late October, I have to admit I was very excited.

For me though, the biggest moment of truth was when I found a gameplay video of Camp Sunshine. How would this gamer react to my character? (Here it is--but there's plot spoilers!)

The gamer seemed to be put off. "Don't...don't whisper that way," he says. Normally it's not the reaction you hope for in regards to your own speech, but for this character, it was exactly the response we wanted! And the Steam reviews? Overall positive!

Looking back at the experience, I realized it's been a serious level-up in two areas.

Voice Acting Awesomeness

If you asked me what made this year more awesome in terms of voiceover work, the answer is easy. I took acting classes, studied with a voice acting coach, and made some serious upgrades to my home studio (iZotope RX and a new microphone).

The character I played was very anxious, fearful, and desperate for help. As a naturally anxious person, this was not a stretch for me to get in character. I thought about the times I have been extraordinarily anxious, and how my throat would pinch and my voice would become very strained and soft and high. It was combining those physical characteristics with the mindset of being trapped somewhere dark and terrifying that informed my performance.

I think I will always have a proclivity for shy, anxious, or quirky characters. They're just so natural to who I am. But I want to take on other characters as well. Strong, royal, whimsical, wild--I was able to explore many different types with my coach. And again, the physical attributes are so important. How do you stand? How do you breathe? Where is there tension? Where does your voice resonate in your body?

This is something I practice every day, and if I can sound like a strong warrior, I really believe any voice actor with determination can also change their sound for a character that might not come naturally at first. And honestly, a good coach is more than worth the money.

Indie Game Awesomeness

I think many of us breaking into the field have had the heartbreak of projects falling through. And there's really no way to be 100% sure a dev or team isn't going to go radio silence on you at some point. But looking back at my experiences so far, there are some key things I'll pay attention to when looking at jobs or casting calls:

  • Is there a playable demo? Doesn't have to be a full game, but a demo shows the code, the art, and the vision are cohesive enough to create a working concept. Sketches alone with no playable content, or character "ideas" versus a script ("She sounds like Triss Merigold but more sarcastic and outspoken, she will make fun of the player here") are warning signs to me that the concept might not be concrete enough at this point.
  • What is the state of the game? Is there a publisher? Is it greenlit, early access, in beta? In most cases you'll want the basics in place before you bring in voice talent.
  • Does it sound like the devs know what they want for the character? "American female, 20s, high register, whispering, fearful, desperate for help" gives me a pretty good idea of how I'm going to voice this character.
  • How is direction handled? A different project I worked on this year called for a number of "exertion" sounds. Upon submitting my recording, the dev had some specific feedback. The character was a soldier. Could she sound more throaty and powerful? Working with someone who can articulate what they're after is fantastic.
  • Is there a timeline? Of course deadlines are sometimes extended and setbacks come up. But having an overall plan that is followed as much as possible helps ensure the project does not end up in limbo.
  • And, of course budget and funding. Has the project been crowdfunded, is it paid for out of the devs' pockets, or something else? How will you be paid? What amount? When?

Best wishes on your upcoming projects!

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