Earlier this year, New Zealand, like much of the world, went into mandatory lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus -- right in the middle of development for Harvest. Thankfully, Harvest was relatively light on narrative, and we were able to record Oshabi's dialogue after restrictions had been eased. Harvest's simpler story let us put more effort into Heist, which was intended to be much more story- and character-driven.

I'd started concepting characters a month or two before development began in earnest, and had run through more narrative ideas than I can actually remember. From the outset, this looked like it would give Betrayal -- the previous dialogue heavyweight -- a run for its money, but at least we were on track.

Then, on August 11, it was announced that Auckland, where GGG operates, would be put in lockdown again.

Uh oh.

At that stage, we had maybe two out of thirteen scripts complete, but we'd luckily already cast the majority of characters, and writing can thankfully be done basically anywhere there's a steady supply of coffee and snacks. But recording the characters, well, that can't be done from home.

...Usually.

The first character we were to record was Kurai, voiced by Miriama Smith. She was, at the time, in managed isolation (AKA quarantine) as she'd just returned from a shoot in Australia. The team at Native Audio went to her hotel and handed off a home-recording kit, and the bulk of Heist's story framework was recorded in her hotel room, with us listening in from our homes.

It was a trial by fire, and a necessary one, because it turns out that was how we'd be recording nearly all of Heist's characters. Many of the people we'd cast had home studios -- some even lived in, and recorded from the UK -- and the ones that didn't either got a home kit temporarily or went into the Native Audio studios under very rigorous hygiene restrictions.

The end result isn't perfect. One of the main reasons to consistently use the same studio is to ensure all characters have the same quality to the voice, and in Heist, there are a few characters that distinctly sound a bit different when heard in isolation. But we had to record dialogue earlier for Heist than most leagues so we could implement them into our new conversation system.

Given the circumstances and challenges we faced, the end result is honestly pretty stellar.

We implemented a new system for handling conversations for Heist. This system lets us rank dialogue by priority, with higher priority dialogue cutting off lower priority dialogue and preventing any new lower priority dialogue from playing. We did this specifically to avoid the Betrayal issue of characters yelling over each other in an unintelligible mess. Then we made our poor programmer Josh make a bazillion exceptions to this so I could intentionally have characters talk over each other. Making Huck and Tullina awkwardly and repeatedly talk over each other is probably the greatest abuse of my power I've achieved while working at GGG, and hearing it brings me endless joy.

In a future post we'll talk about how we build out some of the lore for this league, and some interesting facts and connections you might not know about, so keep an eye out for that!
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