Getting the Best Voice Over for your Game - Casting and Directing

I find a lot of indie devs are not familiar with working with voice actors and might appreciate some help when it comes to the recording process. So I thought I'd share my insight on the subject. The big question is:

How do I get the best voice over for my game?
This is a combination of casting and directing. First If you can, hire on a casting director/voice director so they can handle things. They will be familiar with the recording and auditioning process, how to work with the actors to bring out their best performances, and will handle doing things like highlighting lines in the scripts, organizing voice files, and scheduling recording times (If doing a live session).
But if it's up to you and your studio, then pick the person on your team who is the most involved in the character's stories. Most likely whoever is the writer. They will have a clear idea of how the character should sound and what their personality is like. 

Casting Process

There are plenty of places you can go to post an audition for free. Details of these sites, their different advantages/disadvantages, plus price ranges (actor wise) can be found here:

After you have decided your budget and where you will post your audition, it's time to put together the audition material itself. 

  • First off, give some details about the project itself. Name of the game (if you can), a trailer, concept art, genre or lore. Knowing what type of project it is can help determine a vocal style. (Kids app vs hardcore MOBA)
  • Secondly, give the actors the following information so they can determine if they'd like to audition for it or not:
  1. Is the project Union or Non-union?
  2. What's the going rate? (Or are you asking for a quote?)
  3. How many lines or hours of work do you expect this particular character to take? Do you want one voice actor to voice multiple characters?
  4. Will this be recorded in a studio of your choice, or a home studio? Do they need to be local?
  • Give some background info on the character. Not their whole life story, but just enough so the actor can get a feel for what type of person they are. Are they bright eyed and bushy tailed? Are they the moody antagonist? Maybe there's another character they're in love with. These sorts of bits of information will help determine how your actor will interpret the script. Also include a voice type if you have one in mind. High pitched? mid range? A bit husky? An accent? All useful to know. 
  • Choose lines for that character that show a wide range of emotions. You want to be able to determine somebody's acting range. Maybe they're good at being the perky energetic cheerleader, but struggle with more emotional scenes like dealing with a death or running from a murderer. You need to be sure your actor can deal with whatever curve balls you throw at them. Also, try and choose lines that are around a couple sentences long. Somebody might sound great for a short phrase, but longer lines usually have a few beats (changes in thoughts) in them. This will also help determine acting skills. If they can keep an accent too! 
  • If your character is speaking to somebody else in a scene, include that characters lines as well. Acting is reacting, so it's a lot harder to do if you don't know the context of the lines. For example: "what do you mean?" can be read so many different ways. If you include the other characters line "your father just died", now that actor has a much better idea of what you're going for. I also suggest including a scene setup. Where does it take place? On the battlefield? in a cafe? This will also give the actor clues on how to perform. If they're on a battlefield, they'll probably need to be shouting or sound more urgent. 
  • Include a picture of the character if you can. This can actually tell an actor a lot.

For good examples of a well thought out and written audition package, you can check out these links here:
Sample Audition 1
Sample Audition 2

Depending on which site or sites you chose to post your audition on, the submitting process might be different. You might get a bunch of email responses, or you'll have a list of auditions compiled all on one site. Have fun listening! 
Ok, so now you've picked out your cast. At this point, if you've got 2 or 3 people that you can't decide on, feel free to do a callback audition. Pick some more lines for them and hopefully you'll be able to narrow it down to one.

Recording Process

Before you get started, prepare the script for your actor. Don't just give them the full script. Highlight their lines for them. Or if your script isn't dialogue heavy with lots of character interactions, then format your script with the different situations and intentions. 

Here's a good example of a script ready to give to the actor:
Script Sample

You can either direct your talent live in a booked studio (Which costs money, but the quality will be amazing) or over Skype/Discord/SourceConnect, etc from their own home studio (which is free but studio quality can very). Directing them live will you give you the chance to make adjustments on the fly and draw out the kind of performance you want. As opposed to them recording the lines, emailing them to you, you writing back the changes you want, them recording again, etc, etc.
General Directing Notes:

  • If you don't like how an actor is reading something, don't tell them what NOT to do. Tell them what you DO want. "I need it happier"."Can you make her a little scared but still composed?" "Ok, this scene is really action packed, so I need some more energy from you"
    Not all actors react to direction the same, so being able to listen in live will help give you a better idea of how to work that particular actor. For example, If you say "a little more energy" and the actor hardly changes performance, maybe you need to tell them "a lot more energy". While another actor will give you the perfect take the first time round. It's always an experiment when working with a new actor, so just be flexible and patient and you'll get there. 
  • Be positive. Actors can be sensitive, if they think they're not doing a good job, it could get into their heads and effect their performance. So when giving direction, I suggest doing the criticism sandwich. Positive feedback, your adjustments, positive feedback. 
  • When recording, whether live or not, have the actor read each line 2 or 3 different ways. Different speeds, energy and emotional intentions will help give you options to choose from when it's time to place the files into the engine. Sometimes you don't always know what fits until it's actually in there. And this will help prevent having to book the actor for another session. Saving you time and money, 

Ending notes

Remember, if an actor is not working out and they're not giving you what you need, You are totally allowed to drop them and find somebody else better. The only issue with this is money. Because if an actor has done the work, they need to get paid (details should be outlined in their contract). So to avoid costly re-casting, don't skimp! If you really want great performances, shell out the money for the actors who have had professional training, are WORKING actors, and know their way around a mic. It will make a world of difference for your entire recording process and final outcome. 


About the Author

Tamara is a full time voice actress who has voiced over a hundred different characters for games, animation and more. She has been working professionally in the field for over 5 years and has also done marketing work for several indie game studios. You can hear her demos here and review her official credits here