Or, "How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Not Blame the Voice Actors".
It goes without saying that previews are important in today's cutthroat game industry. Previews are designed for the fans to get excited about the game. These fans excitedly tell their friends about how awesome the game looks. These friends tell their friends about the sick gameplay, and so on down the line. In the end, the hype is generated and you have a nice bunch of people lined up ready to purchase.
The trick is getting the word out, effectively. A good preview
will have people foaming at the mouth and ready to simply throw their money at the company developing it. If you don't put out any previews at all, you can easily get lost in the shuffle, no matter how good you are.
Wonderful story. Varied gameplay. Vibrant world. Budget title in the space of a month.
Then there's the third option: completely whizzing it down your leg. Hey, any publicity is good publicity, right? Well, maybe, but don't forget gamers are vocal, vocal people, and they stick together. Once your "fail" is apparent, it will not be forgotten easily.
So, we have a developer. Let's call them "Konami". They have a long-lasting, much-beloved series. A series which has earned them legitimacy amongst their peers. This series is known for its mature themes, its unique approach to psychological horror, and its dark, moody, depressing atmosphere. This is a series that produced some real gems in its infancy, but lately, it seems that the steam has been running out. A misstep here
. An ambiguity there
. And suddenly, it seems that the future of the series
is a little rocky.
But the teat cannot be considered completely dry just yet, can it? Weren't the early Silent Hills some of the most renowned games of their generation? The answer, of course, is simple. Remake the best of the series and release to a whole new generation of gamers to bask in and enjoy. Of course, we don't exactly have the budget for a full remake, but it was just last generation, right? No need to go hog wild on massive upgrading costs. Let's just upgrade the graphics to HD and it should be sufficient. Oh, and crap, we owe residuals to that guy who did James.
Let's recast the voices.
And now we reach the crux of the subject:
That's right. Take a good long look. Taste it all.
So, the problem is obvious, right? Konami, in their infinite greediness and lack of respect for the old actors, got a few bums off the street, handed them a mic, and presto. Franchise suicide.
Or is it really that simple?
Well, let's put aside two things for this article. One: whether the remake should
have been done in the first place. That's a discussion on the concept of remakes as a whole and what they mean for all of us. Really, that's a whole other article. Two: whether the voices should have been recast. The decision has obviously been made on that one. I imagine the initial idea was to keep it on the down-low, but former James actor Guy Cihi saw to it that everyone would know about this from the get-go.
When his rather angry tweet came down that he would not be reprising his role, the cat was out of the bag and all of Konami's money issues came rushing out of the damn as if the Otherworld had taken them over.
So, with all that having happened in the past, let's take a look at this preview as it stands alone in the present and see where the problems are. I spot three big ones.
#1: The overall tone of the preview: Placation
Remember earlier in the year when Congressman Anthony Weiner was outed for his practices of suggestively tweeting younger women? Remember at the close of it all when, instead of immediately sinking into obscurity, he tried to placate the masses with a heartfelt speech regarding his departure from Congress and his desire to seek rehabilitation? Remember how we all forgave him and wished him well in his endeavors?
Not pictured: Nobody buying it.
The point is that the entire tone of this preview is basically saying, "It's not as bad you think it is." When you go out of the gate admitting there's a concern, you've already put yourself in a bad position: beneath the crushing press of those who believe you're talking out of your ass. In the case of this game, now viewers think the problem may be even worse because the developers themselves have taken the time to address it publicly and have given credence to even the most loony of critics.
It's another step worse in this case because they've even given us a talking head (more on him in a second) directly addressing the issue. It's one thing when you respond to the concern, but if you're going to have one of the members of the dev team live and speaking directly about the problem, the problem becomes all more real.
#2: Senior Associate Producer: Tomm Hulett
Putting aside the mystery of why Mr. Hulett felt the need to personally address viewers, let's talk about his performance in this preview, specifically. He seems a bit off. Nervous perhaps. Stumbling over his lines with awkward delivery. But it doesn't matter that much, right? I mean, he's not an actor, so he doesn't have to sound like Patrick Stewart if the important part is the game footage that follows, right?
Unfortunately, any public speaking professor will tell you that that's just not true. The idea of an opening address is to get your audience's attention as well as set the mood for everything that's to follow. In this case, putting across a lack of confidence will only instill that feeling into your audience as they continue to watch what you've put together.
Oh, and one more important thing. This is a preview about acting
. When the first "actor" is the worst performance of them all, everyone else who follows will be brought down by it, even if they're Shakespearean in training.
#3: The actual watered-down presentation
It may seem as if I've been dancing around what everyone feels is the real issue here, that horrible series of cutscene vignettes with the new audio layered over it. Honestly, I'm not going to defend this presentation. It's horrible. It looks horrible. It sounds horrible. The question is: why?
The easy target is the actors. Obviously, that's what has changed from the original, so that must be the cause, right? Oh, if only the process were that simple. Sound in video games (and in any media) is a vastly complex process that the actors are only a small part of.
Let me state the bottom line from the beginning here: this is not finalized audio. Listen to it again. There's no echo. There's no mixing, no layering, none of all that other sound-related jargon that I can't think of at the moment (Fuzzying? Graining?) Heck, not even the background music has been inserted. It sounds like the voices are coming from a studio recording, and that's exactly what it is. The makers of this preview have taken recordings straight from the studio, plopped them onto the corresponding video, and called it a day.
This is obviously the greatest sin of this preview. In an effort to show that the voices will be nothing to worry about, they have done the exact opposite. They've taken their foundations and passed it off as a completed structure. They've given us a sandwich with nothing but bread.
And it's a shame, too, because, as Mr. Hulett stated, the ADR director for this project is Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who has been directing for more than a decade and acting for even longer. I couldn't begin to list her many roles in acting, but I will mention she did the ADR direction on Cowboy Bebop and even the recent Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. In short, she's a damn professional, and the makers of this preview treating her work like this is a travesty.
So, here we are. A proper cow flop of a preview with the blame completely misaimed. Still, I refuse to have this entire article be doom and gloom, so perhaps I could offer some fan-based advice as to how this all could have been averted, and I mean besides the obvious of "submit finalized audio". I realize that hindsight is 20/20, but bear with me, because I think this could help in the future.
If possible, make light of the situation.
Also known as the "Diablo 3" maneuver. I'm sure we all remember the big hooplah surrounding Diablo 3 accused of "being too colorful", and Blizzard's perfectly apt response. Not only does Blizzard get points for being self-deprecating, but it makes the complainers look like whiners and tools.
Blizzard to whiners: Suck on our pink.
When I saw Jim Sterling's response
to the preview, I thought it was, to be kind, somewhat lacking in professionalism (sorry, Jim, can't win 'em all). The crazy thing is that if I saw it coming from the developers themselves, it would come across as cutting and self-aware. If Mr. Hulett had taken a few hours out of his day to "herp" and "derp" over the video, and yet introduced it straight faced, he would have had biting satire, and a chance at a much better response than what we have here.
If making light isn't possible, try to sweep it under the rug to bring up later.
This seems a bit underhanded, but from a business standpoint, sometimes pretending there isn't a problem is a decent method to getting people to forget about it, especially considering the title in this case is still months away. Make your trailer introducing the acting some ways down the line and don't make the entire trailer about it. Just make sure you finish
it. There is a risk taken here, though, because gamers have rather long memories.
Just don't placate
Have actors introduce acting. Heck, introduce them, period.
Here's a fine example
of actors being the ones to tell you about their experiences recording, and in this preview's case, it may have beehooved them to call up Ms. McGlynn and have her introduce it. She's beautiful, speaks well, and is quite charming. Also, since she's actually connected to the process, she can explain what you're about to see better than a producer.
I could be convinced turning James into a howler monkey is a good idea if it came from that voice.
To the second point, tell us who the actors are and maybe we'll feel even a tiny bit better about the production. Voice acting has become a big business since games went to CD, and in the last decade, a large stable of names have assembled that are synonymous with talent. To put it another way, they didn't identify any of the actors in that preview, yet from hearing them so many times, I was able to pick out Ms. McGlynn herself as Mary and Maria, and I'm pretty sure that's Troy Baker as James. Obviously, both very talented people, and worth the name recognition.
Remember why people love your game/series, and play to that, instead of focusing on minutiae.
This is the overriding bit of advice from this experience, and honestly, it seems like Konami's missing the boat on this one where Silent Hill is concerned, especially if the new game's announcement is to be taken seriously. Gamers have said time and again why they like Silent Hill: the story, the atmosphere, the overall feeling of loneliness, despair, and personal fear. It's not the combat, or the quality of the graphics, and it's certainly not the voice acting.
Consider the performances you got with the original cast of Silent Hill 2. That game is still being held as the best of the series despite nearly being the one with the worst voice acting (Silent Hill 1 being the reigning king of that).
Also, consider something you can't
change: the visual models. They're as big of a mess as they were from the original release with overstated gestures, smiles that look more creepy than sexy, and, just... Eddie.
Geez, with that face, how could James NOT fall for her?
Acting is a combination of both the visual and audio presentation, and quite frankly, I can't imagine even the best performance looks good next to those visuals. So, if you're going to introduce the voice acting, maybe you shouldn't even be showing
the visuals. Just give us audio over
production stills, or something to that effect.
So, another day in the saga of the Silent Hill series closes with them digging themselves further into a trench, and the worst part is that this could have all been avoided. I hate to be the guy to say it, because it does sound kind of entitled, but it's really worth it to remember your fans, and why they got into this. That's the best way to keep them, and it gives them
credibility as they try to talk up your greatest accomplishments to a new generation.
Heck, even just throwing them a bone with something they always liked may be enough.
On second thought, never mind. You don't seem to be any good at that, either.