In Path of Exile: Betrayal we introduced 19 new voice actors which was a huge amount of writing and recording work. We thought this would be a good time to get a behind the scenes look at how the process works! To do so, we've interviewed Nick K, one of our game and narrative designers who created such beloved Path of Exile characters like Einhar, Niko, and more!

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.

Are there any changes you wish you could go back and make to past characters?

Dozens. Possibly hundreds. I don't think any writer is ever truly happy with any single body of work. Given enough time, you will always, always find things you could improve. Sometimes it's as small as changing or dropping a single word.

You have to just accept that something could always be better and try to use what you've learned in your next chunk of writing.

Do you imagine an accent for the character before you choose the actor?

Sometimes! Einhar was always going to have an eastern european accent. Jun's accent was sort of accidental. An accent accident, if you will. Korell's accent came from the actor (fun fact: Korell and Janus are performed by the same actor) and during auditions we heard several different accent suggestions from a range of actors.

Do the various cultures of Wraeclast have discernable accents that are used for each character from that culture?

Yes and no. Accents are interesting. A relatively small area can develop a wide range of accents. England is not a huge country, but there are dozens of very distinct accents spread across the island. A New York accent sounds different to a New Jersey accent, despite being neighbours. A person's accent doesn't always safely indicate where they're from, either. I personally have a strong American accent, but I lived most of my life in Australia. Also, despite growing up in New Zealand, Bex sounds like an alien.

So when we're looking at a character's accent, we want to be consistent where it makes sense, but an accent is also an opportunity to create differentiation between characters, and even give clues to a character's true origins. Einhar claims he comes from Oriath, but does he really? Certainly no one in Oriath sounds like him. He also claims he's an Ezomyte, but no Ezomyte sounds like him either. This sets Einhar up as an "outsider" from the get-go, making his colourful antics feel more acceptable in an otherwise murky world.

How do you pick which actor to play the character?

We listen to a lot of auditions and discuss who will best fit the role. We want to make sure, of course, that characters you interact with a lot don't sound too similar, which makes actors like Jay Simon (voice of both Niko and Einhar) all the more impressive, since you can hear both voices back to back and never pick up on any similarity.

How does the recording process work? Is it done at the GGG studio?

Nope! We hire out a studio for several hours and, if the actor is local, record it there. We've lately been using Native Audio. Several actors have home studios or live overseas, so instead we record them remotely.

Do we have someone there who gives guidance on the voice?

Since Bestiary that person has been myself, with the help of an experienced voice actor named Jeremy Birchall. He does all the tricky people-management stuff that I'm no good at, like ensuring the actor doesn't put too much strain on their voice and can last the entire recording session. He also has a very keen ear for accent slippages, mumbles and other subtle stuff. I mainly ensure that the names and words we invent are pronounced consistently and that the intended meaning of the line is coming across.

Are the voice clips edited in any way after they're recorded?

Yep! We have some fantastic audio engineers who go through the hours of audio we get sent, grabbing the best takes, and plug the files into the game. It can be quite labour intensive!

Some characters also require audio effects be layered over their dialogue. Riker Maloney and It That Fled both fit the bill.

How do you decide which takes are the best?

Usually it's just a matter of listening to the takes and going with your gut. Sometimes I'll note a particular take we should use that I heard during recording. Sometimes I'm wrong!

How long does the voice recording take? For example, how far in advance was Navali voiced?

This largely depends on the amount and difficulty of the material. Actors often find a rhythm and can rattle off a few thousand words of dialogue in a few hours. Short one-liners (like much of the Betrayal dialogue) tends to take longer per-word than paragraphs. I wasn't present for Navali but I think we had several four-ish hour voice sessions. Leo's recording for Betrayal took about an hour (which is ridiculously quick), while It That Fled took closer to four hours simply due to the completely outlandish nature of the sentences.

Where does the voice acting stand in the pipeline of content production?

In the broad scheme of an expansion it's one of the last steps, though after audio is recorded it still needs to be processed and put in-game. This can be a quick process if it's just some quest dialogue, or it can be hours and hours of work. Betrayal was an extreme case, as once the dialogue was recorded we had to create the system which handled all the conditions for each line, then ensure each line was hooked up to the right set of conditions. We have more than 2150 different lines for Betrayal, each with their own conditions.

Is there any difficulty involved in getting actors back to play old roles for new content?

There can be, yeah. Sometimes an actor doesn't want to reprise a role for various reasons, or has moved overseas, or has a scheduling conflict. Actors are often booked months in advance for roles in film and television, but we have a much quicker turnaround -- Betrayal was written and recorded in the span of about 2 months -- so there's not a lot we can do when an actor is unavailable.

Do any of the developers have cameo voice rolls?

Chris Wilson famously played the toughest of the Forsaken Masters -- Krillson. I believe the guy who opens the gate to Lioneye's Watch after you slay Hillock is voiced by Andrew Reid, one of our Audio Engineers. I think that's it? ...at least for now.

Are there any other cool characters coming down the pipeline?

I sure hope so! If there aren't then I'm doing something wrong. I guess you'll just have to stick around to find out :)
Posted by
on
Grinding Gear Games
Race, when?
RACE???
wpoo
I want to see the actors saying their lines. Could you please film future voice acting and post it for laughs and whatnot.
Bachelor, UNC fan, terrible guitar player, doggy daddy.
I’m starting to wish we have a video format for these interviews :D
IGN: Jerle_MSJ
Good stuff
Saved
wat
Race,soon?
so...Nick is the name who make the game crash with thousand of voices in same time in betrayal league?
The end of all that is - The winter has come - Hold the door - The North Remembers
I hope you have a good life on the other side of the wall
“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” Gen. James Mad Dog Mattis

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