Thursday, December 1, 2022

Disco Elysium: Bringing a Million Words to Life for The Final Cut

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There are over a million words in Disco Elysium. This is not hyperbole. For a reference, imagine the entirety of The Lord of the Rings – all three books, plus The Hobbit for good measure – twice. And all of those millions of words, most of which were previously silent onscreen, are going to be read aloud in the game’s next Final Cut edition. The full voiceover is coming to Disco Elysium, and – as you can probably guess – It was no small feat, wanting to know more about how this feat was achieved, I sent a few questions to developer ZA / UM. In response, Disco Elysium lead author Helen Hindpere sent me 1,549 words of responses, written in such a way that I felt our interview had become an extension of the game itself. Words, it seems, are as essential as breathing the studio.

“I just watched an interview with a Soviet poet from the 1950s,” Hindpere tells me. “Arvi Siig, one of my heroes. He said: poetry must belong to the masses.

“I was like: f ** k yeah, Arvi! With all my heart I agree. Disco Elysium is a wild and unique adventure, but it is also intended for the widest possible audience.Currently, the original, mostly voiceless form of Disco Elysium is only available on PC and Mac. But with The final cut, it will arrive on PlayStation in March, and on Xbox and Switch later in 2021. And with those additional platforms comes the potential for a much larger audience. “Games are so much more accessible with a full VO [voiceover], especially RPGs, ”says Hindpere. “And that’s also crucial for the console experience… TV screens just aren’t made for reading like monitors are. You need VO. “

Adding voice acting isn’t just about making Disco Elysium accessible to more people. ZA / UM wrote the game with VO in mind, so the Final Cut script remains “99% identical” to the original version. As such, the addition of an actor brings Disco Elysium one step closer to its intended vision.

“Our intention has always been to simulate how real conversations work,” says Hindpere. “Not filmed conversations, not even book conversations, but real conversations. Ours are possibly the most extensive dialogue trees ever written. This is because Disco Elysium is a conversation simulator. The VO brings us even closer to that.

Of course, for these conversations to come to life, it takes the right talent. The original version of Disco Elysium has a small amount of voice acting that stands out for its genuine and rambling feeling, in part generated by a “motley group of disbelievers, friends and friends of friends,” for which ZA / UM remain grateful. These recordings function as the model of The Final Cut approach.

“We had to express the all character this time, not just the beginnings of the dialogues, ”notes Hindpere. “Your conversations take you psychologically to some pretty extreme places. So we redid the casting with professional actors. Much we have kept too – from the original. Favorites like Kim Kitsuragi and Evrart Claire (Jullian Champenois and Tariq Khan). It’s a mix. Hope we kept that colorful vibe, only now with some extra acting chops.

Finding the right cast has been a sprawling task. “You need people from all over the world to do this kind of project,” says Hindpere. “One day – a Moroccan rapper from the Canaries. The other – a Taiwanese rapper from Taiwan. Then a Liverpudlian scouse comes in and absolutely tears him apart in Cuno. The casting process was very global. That’s how we found the right voices, I think.Finding the ideal actors for actors like The Deserter and Paledriver was one thing, but the biggest challenge ZA / UM faced was finding a voice to bring the whole experience together. “The narrator is the voice of Disco Elysium,” says Hindpere. “He reads all non-direct speech. It means every object, every parenthesis, etc. Only when we miraculously ran into Lenval Brown did we know: ok, we have the voice of Disco Elysium now. We can really try to do it.

Brown, whose voice can be heard in the trailer above, is a jazz musician when he doesn’t bring video game dialogue to life. He plays about half of the script for Disco Elysium. As a reminder, it’s half a million words, the same as Tolstoy’s War and Peace. “No Lenval – no Disco Elysium VO,” says Hindpere. “It’s so central.”

The role of the narrator in Disco Elysium is much more than a voice to guide the player between conversations. In addition to being a storyteller, Brown is also the voice of 24 different skills, which manifest as individual “ characters ” in the protagonist’s mind.

“It seems like a natural fit for each skill to be voiced by a different actor, but trust me, that would be horrible,” says Hindpere, answering the most obvious question. “Raspy, cartoonish, hyperactive. There is something about Disco Elysium that not many people realize – it’s actually a very quiet and comfortable game … It’s comfortable, like watching a dark crime drama series – all curled up on the couch with your SO. Or read a book. He has that vibe. Taking the skills as storytelling, rather than a bunch of harpies tearing you apart, was key to maintaining the experience level.

“As a final note – I’m going to get pretty thorough now, but hey! you read an interview with a developer of Disco Elysium to get what you pay for – in our psychological system, all 24 skills reside in the same part of your character’s brain: the posterior neocortex, where modern science says consciousness resides », Adds Hindpere. “The molding sheet literally says: NEOCORTEX POSTERIEUR. Thus, the skills all share the voice of the posterior neocortex. There are also different brain voices in the game: the ancient reptilian brain, the limbic system, and the spinal cord (all tell your dreams). These have different voices, because they are really different parts of your character’s brain.

Finding the right actors, inviting beloved voices, and recording over a million words took ZA / UM about 14 months. The little studio has done almost all of this as the world suffers the impact of what Hindpere calls “the microorganismWhich meant Zoom recording sessions and a lot of reprogramming.

“It was also a challenge for the whole studio,” says Hindpere. “Everyone is on VO in one way or another. We have our own trio of in-house directors working with the actors. In addition, each editor on call and performing quality control. We all share the responsibility of getting it right. Final Cut really has to be the ultimate edition of Disco Elysium. “

Disco Elysium: 18 screenshots

Besides being the Ultimate Edition, I also think The Final Cut will help deliver the world’s truest version of ZA / UM. I am guilty of having spoken lyrically about the world of Revachol and his height, but Hindpere reminds me that Disco Elysium is also weird, wild and wacky.

“Disco Elysium has so much in common with the Eurodance Scooter group and the 2006 comedy ‘Dude, where’s my car? »As with … what have we been accused of recently? Hantology? Existentialism? », Says Hindpere. “We’re about that, but we’re also about Scooter. Faster, harder, scooter! “

And… well, yes. Everything is in the title. Disco Elysium. Of course, it’s wild. It’s a game where you can have debates with your own tie, after all. The Apocalypse Cop route, in which you act as a prophet of the end of all things, comes with playful absurdity. The full voice work will bring these aspects to life in a way that balances out the dark and haunting sound of British Sea Power’s score, which will hopefully make it a version that conveys the full spectrum of British Sea Power’s personality. Disco Elysium for the ears and the eyes.

“It’s pretty luxurious,” says Hindpere, summing up the impact VO has on the game. “High production values ​​usually do. But it also feels more direct and personal. “

Disco Elysium already feels like it’s talking directly to the player. But currently, the relationship is like an author talking to a reader. That in itself has a special kind of intimacy, and that’s certainly part of why I find its story so impactful. But the promise to relive it all, where that relationship is replaced with a more authentic conversation, is something that excites me about The Final Cut. And for those on console who have never played this groundbreaking RPG before, the next incarnation of Disco Elysium will hopefully be the best possible way to experience it.

Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK news and entertainment editor.

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