Christopher Hill




Spoken With(out) Speech

Examining "Beep Speech" and its Role in Characterization

Co-authored with Sam Pollacco

For as long as video games have been presenting characters, game designers have been faced with the question of how to give those characters a voice. Voice acting a full game is a resource-intensive undertaking, both technologically (especially in early games) and financially — the matter of fair pay for video game voice actors is an issue that is still of great concern for the industry (Plant 2022). Another aspect to this is that, to communicate the right kind of connection the players should have with characters, full voice acting might not be the best option available. Simlish is an example where the developers at Maxis deliberately chose to have their hapless characters speak in gibberish to make them seem relatable, but not attached to any one locality (although their success is debatable) (Lam 2018; Stoeber 2020; Adams 2011).

One way in which this dilemma has been tackled by designers is to indicate speech using synthesized "beeps", synchronized with text appearing onscreen. By combining the visual and audio cue, the impression of spoken dialogue is created, with the audio cues of the beeps semiotically and, critically, non-verbally, indicating that speech is occurring, while the accompanying text-box provides the verbal content of that speech. This approach can be seen in games including Earthbound (Ape & HAL Laboratory 1995), Undertale (Fox 2015)/Deltarune (Fox 2018), the Ace Attorney (Capcom 2001-2021) series, and Animal Crossing series (Nintendo 2001-2020), and others. This has been described by Stoeber as "Beep Speech" (2020). In this paper, we will explore the many ways in which beep speech manifests and has been developed upon, and the ways in which game designers have implemented it to convey the emotion and personality of their characters, as well as mediate the relationship between player and characters.

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Presented at Ludo23, University of Edinburgh

Mythological Narrative and Aesthetic in the Music of "Hades"

Darren Korb’s soundtrack for Supergiant Games’ Hades was nominated by both BAFTA and The Game Awards for best music/soundtrack awards. From listening to the music in isolation it would be simple to see why in and of its pure musical conception and execution, but what this paper argues is that the true power behind Korb’s work lies in its interactivity with the game’s mythological setting and narrative, explored in three facets:

Firstly, the role of instrumentation and compositional technique will be examined, exploring how Korb uses a combination of soundworlds: traditional instruments from around the Aegean, and modern soundworlds of rock and sci-fi, to support the artistic direction of Hades as a game set simultaneously in ancient mythology whilst remaining strangely out of time.

Secondly, how the specific example of Orpheus — perhaps mythology’s most famous bard — and Eurydice’s story within the game is supported by their songs, and their synthesis into a duet between the two characters; how they act as a narrative foil to the player character through their songs, and how their musical place within the game interacts with the various tellings of their myth.

Finally, there will be a discussion of the use of wider soundtrack to support the gameplay loop and the theme, attempting (and often failing) to ascend out of Hades. Primarily this will involve an examination of the use of the “No Escape” leitmotif, and how its melody, instrumentation, and implementation in-game enforces a sense of hopelessness and futility in the escape effort, simultaneously challenging the player to defiantly succeed in their mission.

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Presented at Ludo22 at Royal Holloway, University of London