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Nick K, one of Grinding Gear Games' narrative designers who created some of Path of Exile's most memorable characters, recently participated in an interview where he talked about his creative process and the intricacies of video game voice acting. Here's an excerpt:
Hey Nick, thank you for taking part in the interview! Could you tell us how characters are developed and how voice acting plays a part in that?
Unlike a film or TV show, writing in games often happens towards the tail end of the development process. This is primarily due to the amount of time it takes to put together concept art, turn that into a 3D model, and then get that model game-ready. As a result, it's not uncommon to "see" the character before writing ever begins. This was true of Einhar, Niko, Alva and Jun, so I used the visuals to help inform the personality and background where it made sense.
Usually we will then start pumping dialogue out. I've personally found that the best characters are developed through writing dialogue (literally anything at all), seeing what works, and rewriting what doesn't. It's a very elastic and inexact process. We tend to then audition actors for the role once we have a good sense of 'who' the character is. In some cases we have a particular sound or vocal cadence in mind, and we try to find examples of that to provide the auditioning actors so they can try to match it or do their own take. Other times, as was the case with several members of the Immortal Syndicate, we have no firm idea of what we want the character to sound like, so we let the actors do what feels natural.
We listen through the auditions and decide on who we like, and often then try to tweak the script to fit the voice. This isn't always necessary -- actors tend to be able to work with almost any script you provide them, as long as it isn't a grammatical trainwreck like It That Fled. Even then, they usually still knock it out of the park.
Where do you get inspiration for these characters?
Often I will try to 'think' like a character or actor I enjoy as if they were in Wraeclast. Janus, for example, was partly channelled from Jameela Jamil's character Tahani in The Good Place.
Are there any tricks to making a character like Einhar who thoroughly captures the hearts of the community?
If there is, I haven't figured it out yet! I guess jokes? Einhar is a goofball, and it's easy to love a goofball, especially when they're harmless. I think it makes it easier to love a character who you can empathise with, so finding the emotional core of a character is pretty important. For Einhar, it's the burning desire to prove himself worthy to go to his idea of the afterlife.
Keeping a character consistent is really important too, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have to be accurate or trustworthy. Einhar truly believes the world is coming to an end, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is. Likewise for Niko's paranoid ramblings.
I think it's also important that a character's reactions to you seem reasonable within their personality. Alva is understandably upset when you keep upgrading the Traps rooms since you're just making her job tougher.
And since the next 3.6.0 expansion for Path of Exile is now a few weeks away, you may also be interested in this announcement dedicated to the upcoming Flame Totem rework:
While we're rebalancing many skills in our 3.6.0 expansion, we're also doing a full rework to two existing skills. One of these skills is Flame Totem, which is being repurposed into a divine-themed skill which has new mechanics that interact with Consecrated Ground and new visual effects to match its divine abilities.
In addition to its projectile speed and damage being rebalanced, Flame Totem's fiery projectiles will deal physical damage with half the damage converted to Fire. In addition to some new passives in the Templar's area of the skill tree, this should open up some new synergies with physical conversion.
While Flame Totem is active it creates Consecrated Ground around its base. Flame Totem's special Consecrated Ground also grants immunity to Curses to you and your allies while they are standing in it.
Consecrated Ground itself is also changing. In addition to regenerating the life of you and your allies, it will also cause hits against enemies in the Consecrated Ground to have increased critical strike chance. This will benefit Flame Totem's critical strike chance against enemies near it and your other skills against enemies near where you've placed your Flame Totem.
You can also check out some hideouts coming to the game with the expansion.