Giving Games a Voice, Part I: An Interview with Audio Lead, Mike Jung

June 9, 2022
 


[There are a lot of things...]

...that make video games great video games; while things like graphics and gameplay certainly contribute to the quality of a game, there's something else about your favourite games that cannot be measured in frame rates. Storytelling, bringing a fictional world to life and truly making it immersive, is what most developers are trying to achieve with their projects. Ever wondered what's behind the magical curtain of video game voiceovers? You're in luck, because we at Altagram have a whole in-house team of audio professionals to tell you all about it. In this series, we want to give you a look behind the scenes and tell you what it takes to become a game audio professional.

Keep reading to find out more in our Interview with Game Audio Lead and Voiceover expert, Mike Jung.

 
 

Hey Mike, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Altagram?


“I’m Mike Jung, I’ve been working as Altagram’s Audio Lead for a little over a year. I manage our audio department, and I oversee our team of coordinators, engineers, […] the whole process involved that we use to fulfill the vision of making characters and stories come to life.



What’s your background, and how did it get you into game audio production?


“We’re truly working in a niche,” Says Mike, “ That seems to combine many different departments of the industry: Project management, audio, the technical aspects of it, and also having a good knowledge of video games, obviously. Then it gets even more specific because we are dealing with recording voice-overs. Overall, it hardly gets any more niche than this.

How I got here is relatively simple - I’ve been working in audio production for 10 years, that plus my business background and passion for games brought me to Altagram, ultimately. I already had experience recording voices and managing talents, so I fit right in.“



What does your team usually work on? Voiceovers, sound effects,…?


“We offer a full range of services, but voiceovers are the main deal. That means, we try to really understand a game and find the right actors for the roles, and really try to make those characters come to life. We do also offer additional services as part of audio full service, including original sound FX, sound design, processing, specific post-production, stereo and surround mixing for trailers, and even music on request.“


Can you tell me a bit more about the whole process of selecting and recording voices for games?

“It often takes time between the point of receiving an initial project request for game titles until it’s time to begin rolling out the production, in connection with game development schedules and strategically planned localization management it can take months or longer between the initial request and the first recordings – and some projects need to be dealt with more urgently and can happen within a few weeks. Ideally, the client approaches us early with a concept about the game, and we provide them with an idea of the scope of the production. Languages, costs, schedules, everything. Until the recording production of the voiceovers begins, there is much planning, familiarization, groundwork, and preproduction to be done by the team to get a great result and smoothest production."

Once we get the final details from our client, we make everything concrete and start looking for actors. A lot of the process is project management. We have coordinators and project managers that really make that magic happen and multiply the original vision into many different languages with the help of the project’s native representatives.”


What kind of equipment are you using in the studio?

“Most of us working at Altagram are gearheads but in the end, we’re result-focused; It doesn’t matter as much what kind of coffee machine you own, it’s about the beans you put in. What is the image we want to convey with this character, story, and game […] That takes clear precedence over things like equipment.

That being said, we do use state-of-the-art equipment. For example, the Apollo X6, a modern and high-grade audio interface, to deliver professional sound and high technical reliability. As far as microphones go, we usually go for the [Neumann] U87, which tends to work consistently great with all types of voices. Some mics can really bring out certain talent’s voices, but this one is well known for delivering well regardless of the voice type or character dynamics we throw at it, it seems to do it all."


Whats the process of selecting actors like?


"We keep a database of voice talent along with samples of their voices regularly updated, along with details such as range, timbre, and dynamics, so we can quickly identify diverse voice options during a larger casting. Most importantly however, our staff and artistic directors involved in recording are personally familiar with the voice talent on the market – often we have a good idea which voices would do great for certain game characters and genres without needing to browse any database or samples in advance.

We then select a few picks and gather samples for our clients, so they understand our vision and can see if it aligns with theirs. Sometimes we don’t even know much about the characters that are being cast for, so we have to offer the client a variety of possible actors.

We will always first evaluate the material that we get sent for a project, depending on the situation speak with a client representative, and ultimately seek to understand their vision for the game’s tone, contents, and audience. Typically, at this point the team already has an idea of who could be fitting for the role, since we are already familiar with the professional talent pool.

We then select a few picks and gather relevant samples and notes for our clients. It’s important to be sure we are in harmony with the vision for the game’s cast in each language. Often we have limited information about the game characters that are being cast for, so we need to actively contribute to how these characters could be voiced and contribute to the game’s quality and atmosphere, in a way which must be well-aligned with the project.

Another method is live casting. We bring talent into our studio to audition, along with the client (in person, or virtually) so decisions can be made based on interactive inspection and direct engagement with the client representative."


Sounds like a high pressure situation, doesn't it?


"I think it’s quite fun actually, to get involved. But because fully staffed studio and production time is quite costly and time sensitive, there is pressure to get things done efficiently. We just try to make things as smooth as possible, so we can keep things going. Our workflows and methods are tuned especially to avoid causing stress on the client, team, and talent, in the interest of all - and a better result."


 
 
 

What have been some of the more exciting projects to work on?


"While we cannot talk about most of our projects for NDA reasons, some we can mention are the most recent Life is Strange, and Ghostwire: Tokyo, which came out in March 2022, maintaining top 10 status on global sales charts a few weeks during the launch. Altagram provided 8 languages full audio on that title, among other services in a larger package. I’m really happy to say that reviews of the regional audio are excellent.

For Life is Strange, for example, we logged over 80 recording hours just for the main character. Keep in mind that ideally, you want to have a session of a maximum of 4 hours of recording, before an actor’s voice might be affected in subsequent sessions.

Games with a large cast of characters are always challenging to keep track of and keep consistent, especially when a game needs to be dubbed in many different languages"

So every voiceover for every language is recorded here in Berlin?


"Typically not – when we are recording languages that don’t have a sufficient professional talent pool in the region. We select from one of our preferred recording studios located in the target language region, coordinate and collaborate with every team involved around the world.

We mainly record German voiceovers in our Berlin studio, as well as some English US/UK, and French projects. Everything else is preferentially done by working with a selected vendor in the native country with a full native staff for the best result.

With the experience of numerous titles and languages Altagram has gathered over the past years, our network and position is strong and provides advantages in quality and price when producing a complex multilingual full audio localization. Our Berlin headquarters acts as the central hub for master audio processes and completes all groundwork tasks surrounding the recordings themselves, which impact all languages done native on location."


Do you get to work with any recognizable voices in the industry?


"We do work with top talents. Especially if you are familiar with German-dubbed media, you will definitely recognize a lot of the voices we have been working with. We work with professional voice talent who don’t only have experience and credits, but most often some kind of degree in the performing arts. "


What is the difference between voiceovers for traditional media and video games?


"Well, it’s a different media, so the whole thing is very different. To get into specifics, when you’re actually in the process of game production, it’s not a linear workflow. Meaning, that you have to understand the game and know what’s going on, and how characters are constantly developing.

Along with that, you must use your assets, aka your actors, in a way that portrays those constant developments. Context as well is really important, knowing whether this text will pop up as an infobox to the player directly, or if it's part of a dialogue, etc. "




What skills does someone need to work in your field?


"There are several routes into it. Since our business is so niche, we are constantly looking for people that are specialized and highly skilled in their own fields. Maybe you’re really great at post-production and tackling immense amounts of files, or you have a great hand for artistic direction, with a strong knowledge of how voices appear in-game, and you’re really passionate about telling good stories. That combined with the production part of it, sets you up for a good path. Also, perhaps you are a business enthusiast who is into project management, and has a foundation of knowledge in audio production and localization"


And personal skills?


"You should be dynamic and resilient to stress. You also need to have a good way of communicating with your client, to ultimately fulfill their vision and make them happy. And a good amount of passion for the industry, of course.

And always remember, it’s all about the team. We all need people that we can trust and collaborate with, and each individual needs to flourish in their positions in their own ways. This is really how it works, and it can only happen when everyone’s involved. What a diverse and excellent team who is happy and proactive can do is exponentially more valuable than what a single person can ever do by themselves, that’s equally true for an experienced lead, or almost any team in fact. As a manager, it’s, therefore, a key responsibility to be proactive and foster that situation. I adapt my approach depending on each individual, their current skills, and how they are interested in developing. When management is doing a good job, we are all growing and learning together continuously, all while having optimum output on every project under dynamic conditions."

If you're curious about hiring Mike and his team's expertise for your next project, don't hesitate to contact us . If you'd like to join our team yourself, why not head over to our careers page. See you soon!

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