Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords Designer Diary #4 - Voices

The directors responsible for the excellent voice acting in The Sith Lords discuss the challenges that they faced.

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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords
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If you played the original Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic or its sequel, The Sith Lords, on the Xbox, then you know that one of the hallmarks of this role-playing series is that it sounds like a Star Wars movie. Not only are all the sound effects, from the lightsaber, blasters, and droids, authentic, but the quality of the voice acting is also excellent. The responsibility for the professional level of voice acting in the series belongs to Will Beckman and Darragh O'Farrell, the voice directors at LucasArts. In this edition of our designer diaries, the two discuss the challenges they faced in making The Sith Lords. You can listen to a sample of the voice-work in the game here. The PC version of the game is due out later this month.

Meet Darth Sion, Sith lord and all-around bad guy.
Meet Darth Sion, Sith lord and all-around bad guy.

Voices of The Sith Lords

By Will Beckman and Darragh O'Farrell
Voice Directors, LucasArts

The Knights of the Old Republic series is one that is near and dear to our hearts, so we were very excited to work on Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. When we set out to do the original Knights of the Old Republic, role-playing games often had some dialogue voiced and the rest was text. We felt it was time that this convention was done away with and something more cinematic and immersive was introduced. We suggested that all the characters be voiced, even seemingly insignificant non-player characters. That's right, all of them. At first the reaction was kind of, "Well you can't do that, that's not how these games are." After the initial shock, everyone said "Well, why not?" Obviously it turned out to be well received and people seemed to realize that just because the RPG genre had been a certain way in the past didn't mean that it could not be so much more.

When we set out to cast and record The Sith Lords we knew we wanted to stick with something of a formula. We wanted to keep the same sort of genuine Star Wars feel that was so successful in the first game. Having worked together for a number of years we were pretty comfortable codirecting the project, since we tend to share the same sense of aesthetics. Voice-over was a very big part of the original game and we knew there would be a significant amount of pressure on the voice-over in The Sith Lords to match the excellence of the first game. We also learned from experience that these games were often written more like adventure game text than a film script, so we were going to need great actors to make paragraphs sound more like snappy dialogue in a feature film. We also wanted to get some fresh voices and expand beyond the usual pool of voice-over talent that has performed in most video games.

Our dedicated voice-over group at LucasArts developed a system for creating the studio scripts and tracking voice files from the writing of the script to the international localization. Cindy Wong, our incomparable senior voice editor, worked closely with developer Obsidian to wrangle the dialogue into cohesive studio scripts. With a game like The Sith Lords, there is a huge amount of organization required to extract the dialogue text from the game engine into a database and then to produce studio scripts of a theatrical quality. A big part of LucasArts' success in voice-over through the years is due to having an experienced and highly specialized team.

Once the script was created, we set about casting the project. Right away we knew that Kreia, an aged Jedi, was the most important character and was going to be something of a challenge. Working in video games you don't get a chance to cast many women of that age group, since most of the characters are younger heroic types. We really poured a lot of work and research into getting her right. We knew since she was going to speak a lot that her voice would have to match the character model without being witchy or grating, and I think we succeeded in that regard.

Darth Sion was another one that was a big challenge, because we really wanted to come up with a great classic Star Wars villain voice. We felt that it would be cool if he were English, but it turns out that English people generally don't have very deep voices, so it was tough to meet expectations. In the end we went with a Scottish guy, but we were wary of not going too Scottish, otherwise you might end up with a caricature, at least to the American ear. I think that's one of our favorite voices in the game.

Based on the concept sketches, Visas Marr was a mystical and very cool character; we wanted someone special and maybe a little sexy to play the part. We ended up casting the beautiful Kelly Hu of X2 fame to voice the part. She is a great talent, a really fun and professional person to work with. And being a black belt in karate meant she could play the part in a live action series!

Atton Rand was obviously intended to be something of a Han Solo type, possibly even voiced by a Han Solo imitator. We didn't like the idea of imitation--after all, there's only one Han Solo--so we decided to give the character more of a unique identity. We saw Atton as a rogue and scoundrel with something of a dark side. We still wanted someone whose voice reminded us of a young Harrison Ford but brought their own personality to the character. After going through a ton of auditions that all sounded pretty similar, we ended up casting Nicky Katt. Nicky is another one who could play this character on camera, because he looks a lot like how we pictured Atton based on the concept drawings. Nicky, in addition to being a great actor, also has the tempo and energy needed to carry that first part of the game where he has a lot of dialogue.

In addition to all the script preparation and casting, producing the sheer volume of voice-over in The Sith Lords was a tremendous job. We both spent an entire summer basically in the studio. We were handing the recorded material off to our editors as fast as we could. The whole time we were also juggling other projects as well; it was a very busy time. We started in June and wrapped up in early November, pretty much going full speed the whole time. We're all very proud of the voice-work in the game and are very much looking forward to pushing the bar even higher in the future.

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