At the IGDA Presentation Night Tuesday, Raphael Colantonio told us what the difference between a "big" game and a "small" game is: on a big game, you get to do everything over and over and over.
Game making is iterative: you build something, and test it, and put it in front of players, and see what works. Then you throw some stuff out and build some new stuff, and test it, and put it in front of new players, and see what works.
On a small game, you can only iterate so many times. We're running up against this on Contrast. I had a great conversation today with Guillaume, the game designer (and company founder). Actors are really, really expensive: like, a thousand bucks a day with all their buyouts. They are also really, really better than your game design team at voicing characters, which is why you hire them.
The most money-efficient way to work with actors is to build the game, test with scratch dialog recorded by whoever, animate the characters, and then get the actors to come in and do voices.
The problem is that actors trying to match pre-animated characters cannot give you their best performance. You get a much stronger performance when the actor voices the character, and then the animators, at their leisure, put the character on the screen. For one thing, the animators have the actors on video as reference footage, to capture gestures the actors made organically.
When Tom Hanks is voicing a toy or a fish or whatever for a Pixar movie, he's usually doing it first. Then the animators bring the characters onto the screen to match his performance.
Artistically, the best way is to bring in the actors right away, and build the scene around them. But then, you inevitably have to throw out some dialog, and write some new dialog, and bring the actors in again.
This makes actors rich. (Or, at least, pays their back rent.) Small studios like ours can't afford to do this too many times.
There is no solution here. There is only a trade-off. I lobby Guillaume to bring in the actors as soon as he can afford to. Derek, our producer, tells us how much earlier than the last minute we can afford to bring them in.
You'll have to see the game, when we've done it, to see how well we've succeeded in making that tradeoff. But I did get an awfully big compliment from a level designer today, who felt that the finale scenes we're coming up with were something new in games: nuanced, without being muddy. We both left the meeting inspired to kick ass.