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In your digest this week

From the Administrative Enclave

GhostAvatar for Bureaucrat

Unless there's a last minute arrival of a truckload of people who oppose it, GhostAvatar is about to be re-crowned Bureaucrat. Congratulations (again).

Should old blogs and forums be locked?

Energy X has proposed to block blogs and forums after 6 months. have your say here.

News from home and abroad

If you're going to San Francisco....

Brian Fargo will be on the "Crossover Era" Panel at this years' Gamesbeat. Other big non-fallouty names include Tim Schaffer and Will wright. Tickets for Gamesbeat are a mere $595, or $750 if you want to attend Mobilebeat as well. On the off chance that anyone can afford a ticket, the news digest is hungry for any on-the-spot reporting you can do. You can book your tickets here.

Blind Scribblings on "Hardcore" modes and "Dumbing down" games

Interesting article on Blind Scribblings regarding hardcore mode, and whether or not games are being dumbed down, using Fallout: New Vegas, JES's mod and Wasteland 2 as points of reference. take a look and tell us if you agree.

Chris Avellone on Voice Acting

Rowan Kaiser at Joystiq has written an article on the use of voice acting in games. She quotes Chris Avellone in the article several times

Was this a normal issue facing RPG developers? I started a quick conversation with Chris Avellone of Obsidian Entertainment – designer of famous RPGs like Planescape: Torment, Fallout 2, Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas expansions – about player choice in cinematic RPGs, and he volunteered, unprompted, some of his issues with recorded speech. "I don't enjoy doing cinematic conversations for a variety of reasons, but I have done them as part of my job."

Avellone described three main issues: first, that it disrupts his design process; second, his personal preference in terms of role-playing; and third, that their hard work that may not bear fruit.

In the first case, he says: "...on the resource end, the flexibility for fixing and editing voice-acted speech often interferes with the later stages of production as well – working on Alpha Protocol vs. Fallout 2, for example, were much different experiences, and I enjoyed F2 more." This aligns him with Braithwaite's experiences.

When I asked him if he had any particular example, he couldn't pick just one, saying, "My best example of voice inflexibility is just about any game I've worked on that was fully VO'd. Whether Alpha Protocol or [Knights of the Old Republic 2], the recording and localization must be done much earlier than the end product. If a quest is edited, changed, a character dropped, a mission removed, an error found, then you spend a lot of time editing lines and trying to work with the story cohesion." Having played Knights of the Old Republic 2, a game with tremendous potential but one which was clearly hampered by lack of development time, I could sympathize. Huge swaths of that game were removed, rendering the original end of the game an incoherent mess. Modders have patched in parts that were removed, but they lack much of the polish of the original game. The amount of time spent fixing the issues of recorded dialogue must have played a part in the lack of time available to meet the publisher's release date demands.

On the personal level, Avellone says, "Often, conversations where the player is voice-acted detracts from my experience (I want to imagine what my character sounds like, not what a voice actor puts in my mouth)." Now, I don't entirely share this belief, although I do dislike it when a game, especially a role-playing game, makes the character who is supposed to represent "me" sound ridiculous (see the infamous Final Fantasy X scene above for the most notorious, if over-hated, example).

However, I do find that voice acting often disrupts the pacing of the games to their detriment. I tend to read much faster than people speak, especially people trying to enunciate clearly for a recorded story. The slower pacing can be grating, especially if the writing and the voice acting aren't done well.

That's one of Avellone's main points as well: "RPG cinematic conversations are incredibly labor-intensive and something that only a few studios excel at." He cites BioWare specifically, saying that they succeed where so many others fail. "BioWare is good at cinematic dialogue because they have the resources, skilled personnel (and the resources to hire specialized personnel as well), and a pipeline built and established from iterations of a conversation system across several similar titles, which is a damn smart way to do things."

In fact, Avellone isn't even sure that the rewards are worth the effort and hassle: "I am questioning whether developers should ever try to that, as I don't feel there's any value in playing catch-up to someone who's already got it down unless you're adding some new mechanic to the experience." This seems a little extreme to me – The Witcher's use of voice acting struck me as surprisingly effective – but I'm likewise unsure if the rewards match the hassle.


However, there are cases where good voice acting is critical to a game's success. Obsidian Entertainment is currently working on South Park: The Stick of Truth, which Avellone described as " example where, by the nature of the franchise, removing the voices would hurt the title." He did note "...that doesn't mean we have to voice the (Player Character)/New Kid, however." He also cited the recent Batman games as similar examples, made better by their voice acting. "Arkham Asylum/City benefited from a number of the Animated series actors, so that's another example. Then again, those are established, set characters in a set universe."

So Nukapedians, what do you think?


Relic of the war that wasn't

Like all wars, the cold war was responsible for the acceleration of technological development in many areas, but perhaps the best known of all of these was in space. Thanks to developments from the Cold War we put men on the moon, can see our houses from space, and can have some robotic voice tell us where to turn rather than paying attention to driving our cars.

But, like anywhere else, rather than just a great place to take pictures from, it was thought that space itself would be a battlefield.

Almaz (apparently Russian for "Diamond") would have provided the Soviet Union a window to the world. Orbital manned satellites] armed with 23mm cannons (the same as found on Soviet fighter and bomber aircraft) for defence would give the soviet union an advantage in any battle from space. Three people would crew each of the 5 intended stations.

OPS-1 (publicly called Saluyt 2 for secrecy reasons) took to the skies on April 3, 1973. Although it successfully launched, an accident after launch depressurised the station leaving it unusable. OPS-2 followed in 1974 with more success, and was even crewed for a short time as well as conducted test firing of its canon (whilst unmanned), leaving orbit in 1975. A third launched in 1976 and also had crews for parts of 1976 and 1977. A fourth, with upgraded weaponry was designed before the projects cancellation.

Ultimately, the project was called off due to improvements in automated systems, and high maintenance costs of the manned systems.

However, all is not lost. This is one of the few relics you can visit - however you will need a very healthy bank balance. Excalibur Almaz, based on the Isle of Man (just off the coast of Great Britain) has purchased the Alamz system and hopes to use it to offer trips to the moon using the equipment by 2015, at a cool £150 million per ticket... I hope thats a return ticket.

Your next news digest

Presuming there is enough news, will be on Friday; apologies for the lateness in this edition, but there wasn't enough to go to press Friday. Have a good one. Agent c (talk) 18:55, July 7, 2012 (UTC)