Got a live one? Adding live actors to games

Voice actors offer a great deal to a game’s story and writing, and developers have successfully used actors to help block scenes as well.  But just because the industry gives a lot of love to computer animation doesn’t mean you can’t use actors for live action in games as well.  What do live action actors add both good and bad, and how do you navigate working with them?

Great actors can only improve upon great writing.  Actors can “write a sentence” with their eyes.  If well cast, they provide a degree of believability that is impossible with a bad actor.  When I worked in television, I was constantly amazed how a good actor can add sparkle to just about anything.

On one TV show I worked on, a bunch of characters had been kidnapped.  All the characters each said basically the same thing — they missed their families dearly.  I had gotten used to only half-listening to the performances, but when one actor, James Reynolds, came on and began to speak about being separated from his family, I couldn’t help but pay attention.  He was that good.  Ideally, including live action sequences will do the same — keep the player riveted to what might otherwise be just another cut scene.

In Red Alert 3, they elected to use actors in live action scenes.  And not just any actors.  They looked for big names.  One of the key reasons they did so was for marketing reasons.  Now, good marketing never hurts, but if serving marketing comes before the serving the story, it can hurt the player experience.

In a Gamasutra article articulating the approach to hiring RA3 actors, one commenter said that the female actors were cast more for their sex appeal than their appropriateness for the role.  It reminds me of a mock Batman script where a character is described as the “sexiest woman in the world” and she wears glasses because she is also the “smartest woman in the world.”  In both animation and live action, you must walk the line between believability and appealing to your target audience.

Even with big name actors, however, it turns out the live action scenes were still cheaper to produce than the same amount of time rendered cut scenes.  Are live action cut scenes the wave of the future?  I’d say no, unless the gameplay looks and feels as realistic as the live actors.

What’s your take on live action scenes in games?  Do you have any burning questions regarding working with or casting actors for live action?  Drop a comment!

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Filed under Game Industry, Writing

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