Meet The Team Behind Hollow Knight's Bewilderingly Ambitious Voice Mod
Hallownest Vocalized, a mod that brings voiced dialogue to every aspect of Hollow Knight, is one of the most ambitious fan works in gaming history.
The world of Hollow Knight, Hallownest, is one that lingers in the mind. Its intricate map, intriguing lore, and desolate yet inviting corridors have earned it a place in the annals of great metroidvanias, alongside the planet Zebes and Dracula's various castles. However, its chitinous inhabitants have chittered only in their bug languages for the years since its release--until now. A massive team of voice actors and modders recently released a mod called Hallownest Vocalized, which grants English-speaking voices to every inhabitant of the bug-filled land, from the lowliest grub to the toughest boss, and adds vocal narration to every text in the game's lengthy bestiary and various lore tablets.
Organized by director and YouTuber "Ccmaci," the project took shape over two years of constant production. By his own admission, his initial goal of giving a voice to "everything" in Hollow Knight seemed ambitious from the start, but ultimately doable. However, once he had enlisted more than 100 volunteer voice actors to fill the roles, he realized just how bold of an undertaking he had committed himself to. "The word 'everything' meant something larger with each passing month," he explains.
Ccmaci first played Hollow Knight back in 2019, and like so many others, he was utterly enraptured by it from the start. His enjoyment went deeper than simply seeing everything that it had to offer--he was so immersed that the world of Hallownest felt real to him in a way that no other game ever had. He was almost disappointed when he started his second playthrough and found that Hollow Knight's opening area, the Crossroads, had lost the magic. For the first time, he felt like he was navigating a 2D video game level, not an inhabited world.
"For this reason, Hollow Knight is my favorite game," Ccmaci says. "I feel it is one of the best ever made, so much so I spent two years crafting my appreciation into something physical: a love letter in the form of Hallownest Vocalized."
Hallownest Vocalized isn't the first attempt to bring voice acting to one of the biggest indie hits of the 2010s. In fact, he was inspired to start the project by a similar 2021 mod that fizzled out. The idea of it appealed to him so much that he decided to reboot the concept by putting out a casting call for the mod in August 2021, garnering more than 5,000 auditions in the process.
Ccmaci says that a key moment in the project's development came early in the project, when he was still unsure if he was going to pursue it. While scouring the game's files for cut dialogue, he became fixated on the character Leg Eater. He sat there reading the NPC's lines, imagining his hunched form croaking out the words. That's when he knew that he wanted to create a mod for Hollow Knight that would capture the emotion of each speaker in a direct way, for even those who skipped the game's dialogue the first time around to appreciate.
The team of voice actors and programmers that contributed to Hallownest Vocalized are mostly hardcore fans of the game (but not all; the voice of Myla, Shaleah Wagner, has never actually played it), and many of them belong to its durable fan community, which is still going strong more than six years after its release. But though they all agreed to the project on a volunteer basis, they took their roles quite seriously. Because Hollow Knight's Simlish-esque nonsense language gives the player an idea of each character's existing voice and their vocal tone line-by-line, these actors already had a blueprint to follow for their roles and had to do their best to embody each character's personality without simply imitating them. They also had to match the cadence and tone that Ccmaci was looking for.
For example, Hornet's voice actress, "Alycoris," did a deep dive into the character's motivations and overall place in the land in order to portray the heroine, who is one of the most important in the game--as well as the protagonist of its sequel, Silksong.
"Hornet was by far the most difficult role," she says (having also performed a number of other roles). "I did all kinds of character analysis on her to try and understand her better. She's a fierce character who is strong and puts up a harsh front. But out of everyone you meet in Hallownest, she's truly the only one who is looking for a future, and not an end. I tried my best to translate this feeling when I dubbed her."
This same approach applies to characters who not every Hollow Knight player might remember, such as the Solaire-esque explorer Quirrel. Fan-favorite character Zote--a conceited knight whose confidence outstrips his apparent abilities--was voiced by a contributor who goes by the name "Falconfetus8." Falcon says that he had significant problems recording all of Zote's many lines in the gravelly voice he adopted for the role, though he eventually recorded the Navy Seals copypasta in the voice just for fun. Quirrel's voice performer, James Weirich, was thrilled to play the role, stating that he deeply connected to the character on his first playthrough.
"There's a particular scene in the game that always stood out to me: where you find Quirrel resting on a bench viewing the City of Tears from a high vantage point," Weirich says. "The music, the artwork, Quirrel, and the sound of the rain... I sat next to him on the bench and really felt awe. I think it's instinctual for us to give voices to each character in our imaginations as we're reading text, whether it's a game, book, or even a silent film. My castmates did an amazing job, and I'm so damn proud to be among them."
Given the success of Hallownest Vocalized, it's only natural to wonder if similar mods may eventually emerge for other big-name indie titles that lack English language voice acting. And though Ccmaci is considering such projects himself, he has a few words of advice for aspiring modders. For one, he recommends getting a team of audio engineers to help process the raw files. Initially, he wanted to find engineers who were familiar with Hollow Knight's story and characters, but he eventually decided to do it all himself, which he describes as a mistake. He also notes that modders should impose lenient due dates when working with unpaid volunteers. It is ultimately a hobby project, after all.
As of this writing, Ccmaci has decided to wait for Hollow Knight: Silksong's release to decide whether or not to work on a hypothetical "Pharloom Vocalized" mod for the sequel. Given that we don't even have a release date for the game yet, this seems like a reasonable move. However, if he somehow had infinite money and time to burn, he would love to do a similar project for the Banner Saga series, which he describes as one of his favorites. At one point, he briefly considered trying to put together a Deltarune Vocalized project, but he decided against it, explaining that he hasn't spent enough time in that game's community to direct that project.
"Passion is the backbone of Hallownest Vocalized, passion built on years of soaking in the game's story and lore," he says. "Without that, I would not have done right by Team Cherry. I hope that Hallownest Vocalized shows the fans of other games exactly that, and are inspired to spearhead their own love letters, knowing anyone can have the potential to do so."