Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Did I Say That Out Loud?

I was flicking through my Feedly this evening when I came across a piece on Pitchfork that for once seemed to be about someone I'd already heard of. Naturally, it wasn't a musician.You could say it wasn't even a real person, although we all know reality is a lie.

Back in the mid-90s, just before I discovered MMOs and thereby lost my fingernail grip on popular culture, at least for a while, I used to watch a quirky animated t.v, show called Daria. You may have heard of it. Apparently it was kind of a big deal. Not that we knew.

As I recall it was on Channel Four, possibly on a Sunday afternoon. I didn't watch it a whole lot but I liked it well enough. I particularly enjoyed the flat, deadpan delivery of the lead character, Daria Morgendoffer.

Around the same time the show was running, I was beginning to get back into video gaming after a few years' break. In 1997, I think it must have been, I'd bought a PC with my redundancy money, ostensibly with the intention of writing a novel. That never really panned out but inevitably some games got bought and among them was the original Baldur's Gate.

I'd scarcely begun playing before I discovered it was possible to swap both the character portraits and the characters' voices for custom versions. After a few experiments with making my own I took a look at some of the many versions floating about online and there I came across one that replaced the player character's entire repertoire of sayings and exclamations with lines from Daria. That's how I came to play through the whole of  Baldur's Gate as "a smart, snarky, sensitive teenage girl", to quote the Daria wiki.

This is also, surely, one of the primary reasons the first Baldur's Gate remains the only BioWare RPG I have ever - unequivocally - loved. The sardonic tone of these short clips (voice-acted by Tracy Grandstaff with admirable lack of affect) brought an astringency to the fantasy setting that undercut the sometimes ponderous self-importance of the narrative. Plus it made me laugh. Every time.

They say that once something's on the internet it'll be there until the heat death of the universe but if the original soundset I downloaded is still around then my google-fu isn't good enough to find it. I believe this clip features one of the soundbites it used. I'm sure I remember hearing my bard saying "I'm the Misery Chick" about ten thousand times over the course of the campaign.

All of which brings me to my point (and yes, I do have one, thanks). Earlier in the day I made a new Square Enix account and patched up FFXIV to take advantage of the new, improved endless free trial. No doubt I'll get around to posting about that in due course but for now I just want to mention the character voice samples.

In common with almost all Eastern MMOs, FFXIV offers you a choice of voices for your characters. You can have all kinds of squealing, grunting, yelping, groaning or giggling. The range runs the usual gamut from hysteria to...well, more hysteria. If you want anything more nuanced, though, well you're kinda outta luck as Lana Del Rey might say (Now there's an idea...Lana as the voice of your Miqo'te. That's a cash shop killer if ever I heard of one. I'll give you that one for free, Square, just make it happen).

Actually, it's not even fair to pick on Eastern MMOs. I've been playing a lot of LotRO of late and my Dwarf there can't go two seconds in a fight without growling or yelling "yaaarghh!" like a drunken pirate. It's really quite distracting.

GW2 has a seldom-mentioned function that allows you to replace any or all of the in-game music files with your own selections culled from your no doubt extensive and eclectic library of math rock and hair metal. If that can be a thing then why not voices?

I'm guessing that just about all MMO sound files are client-based, even when the character spouting the nonsense isn't my own. When I hear some passing mesmer boasting how she can run faster than a centaur, presumably that's the game triggering a sample that's already installed on my PC, so why couldn't it trigger a sample of my choice instead?

There doesn't seem to me to be any technical reason this couldn't be a standard add-on for games that allow such things. Maybe it is and I just haven't noticed. Oh boy, I hope so!

If not then someone better get right on it. I don't even mind if I have to cull and compile my own samples. I'm hearing voices already...


  1. Ah, Daria. She has certainly weathered the test of time better than Beavis & Butt-head, the show from which she was spawned. That was a different time, when MTV still occasionally played music videos... though they had unloaded much of that to MTV2 and VH1... before the whole combine was swallowed by The Real World and its spin-offs and the reality TV that came after. I think I'll just go sit in my office and play .wav files of modem connection sounds now.

    1. MTV will always have a weird connection with roleplaying games in my mind. In the 1980s in the UK it was very unusual for anyone to have "Cable TV", which was the only way you could get the then-new MTV, but one of those people was the guy at whose house the gaming group I was in for five years used to meet. He usually had MTV on when we arrived and he put it on if we took breaks. There was also a time when we all had to stop for an hour while he watched American Football and tried to explain the rules to us, without much success.

  2. I don't know about other games, but I'm pretty sure WoW, at least, does in fact allow add-ons that allow you to replace or insert audio effects with clips of your choice. I'm not 100% sure on that, but I seem to have some vague memory of hearing it mentioned at some point. It does seem like the sort of thing that should be possible, anyway.

    1. Oh that's really interesting! I googled it and found this Reddit thread immediately. It seems to be mainly concerned with getting the old gun sounds back or blocking sounds you don't like but the principle is there. You could replace anything sound file the game uses with anything you want, if you were prepared to do the work.

      I don't think, from memory, that WoW uses a lot (maybe any?) voice samples for your character though, so it wouldn't have exactly the effect I was looking for. I think that more modern MMOs tend to have all the files sealed in "paks" and the like so the average computer user wouldn't be able to fiddle about with them the way we used to be able to do with EQ files. Also I'm pretty sure that "modding" any client files is a serious breach of ANet's excessively paranoid EULA and it's GW2 I'd really like to play around with, since it uses so many voice clips.

    2. Planetside 2 has this as well, in a huge add-on that I believe is called Recursion. There are tons of voice-packs for it as well as custom ui's, crosshairs etc. The Devs gave it their official blessing too.

      - Simon

  3. I turned off character chatter and player instruments in GW2 the moment I saw them in the configuration menu.

    When they added the option to disable combat music, my frequently interrupted strolls through the countryside were far more pleasant.

    1. I love the chatter and the instruments in all MMOs but I often turn combat music off. Why it always has to be so blaring and brassy beats me - what's wrong with the skirl of the pipes?


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