“The work of the imagination is much richer”: behind the scenes of the dubbing of a video game

It’s not enough to offer a great story, an exciting gameplay experience, or the latest graphics to attract players – they need to understand what’s being said too! More and more video games offer sound dubbing in French for better immersion. This is the case with “Vertigo”.

At Studios de la Seine, Thierry Bégaud (“Words of Magic”) directs Maïk Darah (in the left booth) in the role of Julia Lomas (on screen) © Radio France / Olivier Bénis

This video game, very loosely inspired by the work of Alfred Hitchcock (“Cold sweat” in French), was developed by the Spaniards at Pendulo Studios, and is distributed by the French publisher Microids. When it comes out next month, it will benefit from an English version, such as a huge share of video games on the market, but also from full French dubbing, a much less common situation.

At the Studios de la Seine, near the Place de la Bastille in Paris, we see many actors come and play virtual characters. The company “Words of Magic” is based there: for more than 20 years it has offered translation and dubbing services for video games. He is in charge of the French version of “Vertigo”.

“It takes a lot of concentration”

A work that resembles that of the cinema in certain aspects: in the recording studio, an actress is installed in a booth, while on the other side, in control, the voice and the image are held. But there is a peculiarity of size: on the screens, it is not the actors that we see, but the characters of the game, modeled in a simplified version, with the 3D lip movements of the final version.

The actress is Maïk Darah: you have heard her in the movies (she is notably the official French voice of Whoopi Goldberg), on television and perhaps in front of your console as well. For her, dubbing a video game “is something else”.

“It takes a lot of concentration. But there is more freedom of the game, even if we really have imperatives, because we are not always in the picture,” he explains. “We, the actors, summon us in pieces, sometimes half an hour, sometimes several half days, when the character is more important … It is lonely, so it should not last too long, because it is difficult to be alone in front of a microphone for whole days! “

Maïk Darah, actress, duplicates the character of Julia Lomas in Maïk Darah, actress, duplicates the character of Julia Lomas in “Vertigo” © Radio France / Olivier Bénis

Because to give voice to a video game, many times we are isolated in front of its character, to jump from one sequence to another, sometimes in different versions since the story depends on what the player does. This is where the artistic director comes in: he will guide the actors to remind them where the story is, their character, but also the decisions the player has made to get there.

Thierry Bégaud, translator and artistic director of “Words of Magic”, leads the dance of “Vertigo”: “For the actors, the rhythm of work is much more important, the work of imagination that they must contribute is much richer. The limitations techniques can be a bit destabilizing compared to dubbing techniques for movies or television movies. “

For those who specialize in this particular type of translation, one of the main difficulties to overcome is the non-linear side of the story. “It is something that can disturb, we are constantly forced to come and go: this happened, in this other case it happened, if he answered this, etc. My job is to try to give the clearest possible vision of what is happening.” to the actor. Knowing that even for us, it is not always very easy to follow! “

In “Vertigo”, for example, as in most narrative adventure games, the development of the story will be different depending on the responses given by the player through the character he embodies. Therefore, the actress must reproduce successively the three possible answers to a question, sometimes with very different tones.

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“A real advantage in terms of quality”

French dubbing is also an option – not all studios can afford it, especially in the less resourceful world of indie games. But for those who are willing to invest in that extra work, it also opens up the game to a wider audience.

“Will the game be in French? It’s a fairly recurring question among our fans, our customers, via social media or forums,” says Eric Nguyen, marketing manager at French publisher Microids. “We think it brings a more qualitative reality. In video games, we can choose the language, but in a large part of the market, people will default to the French version” if it exists. Based in France, Microids publishes games in different countries and tries to offer at least an English version and a French version, but also translations in other languages.

As for the casting, it also responds to specific requirements: “Or are the actors used to dubbing the characters in other media. [Microids édite notamment des adaptions en jeu vidéo d’œuvres existant en dessin animé, donc avec un doublage attitré, comme Astérix ou les Schtroumpfs, NDLR], or in original works, we have known voices, which people identify because they are used to the dubbing of film actors. If I take the video game series “Syberia”, the heroine remains the same and has always had the same voice for more than 20 years. And if we changed the voice, the players would be disappointed! “

“For large productions, it is unthinkable that a game is not completely translated and dubbed”, confirms Thierry Bégaud. “In video games, even more than in movies, the original subtitled version is not very comfortable: there are so many things on the screen that you have to follow, there is often action, rhythm … So reading the subtitle at the same time, it is a stronger restriction than in a film, where the information communicated is less dense “.

Time and money

All of this obviously comes at a cost, but it’s almost inevitable, says Eric Nguyen. “Narrative games are more expensive, because there is a higher volume of words and more characters. It is a bigger budget, but it is part of the cost of developing the game. We do not want that. The dialogues are something added at the last minute, it is something which is part of the development of the game because it is part of the immersion. “

Even if it means recording entire passages that will never be heard by certain players, because they will have made decisions that led to other dialogues, other conversations, other reactions … “That’s what is great, I think, in a video game”, enthuses Maïk Darah. “Chaque joueur décide de son jeu, de l’histoire, de l’implication des personnages, je trouve ça super. Donc je le fais toujours avec beaucoup de cœur, et supply sans dire ‘de toute façon, ils vont pas la prendre , that…'”

“Vertigo” will be playable on December 16, with thumbs and ears.

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