Poll Question 204 – Should mod makers replace the voices of established characters?

24th December 2010

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

Last weekend I posted Joutomaa Redux, which featured a custom G-Man voice and today I beta tested a great new mod, that features a custom Barney voice.

Both mods got me thinking whether it was acceptable for mod makers to change the voice of established characters.

On the surface it seems an easy answer; of course they should. It allows mod makers the chance to tell stories and keep things within the HL universe.

But before I get people saying “It depends”! Yes, it does depend on the quality of the voice acting and the closeness to the original, but even then we have to worry about how well written it is.

You may remember the mod Outpost 16 where Alyx started swearing like a sailor and some felt that was wrong.

So what we are talking about here is not just similarity and quality BUT also the script itself.

I say YES, even if we do get the odd dodgy recording or script, I think in the long run it better than not having these characters used.

Actually, it’s a pity that the community hasn’t started a group that creates new, interesting and realistic characters that can be used by modders with custom voices.

On a side note, this is effectively the fourth anniversary of the weekly poll question. I can’t believe I have been posting a question every week for four years!

The Poll


  1. I voted “Yes”.
    Mostly because I’m agreed with Phillip in this statement: -“I say YES, even if we do get the odd dodgy recording or script, I think in the long run it better than not having these characters used.“-

    Btw a great idea about a community group that creates voice acting!

    Merry Christmas to all of you in here!

    1. tw a great idea about a community group that creates voice acting!

      It’s not just custom voices it’s new models that match the voices too. A while ago CubeDude and I were working on a project where he crated a new character model that had my head and I would provide voice acting for any mod that wanted to use the model.

      The idea was that it could have been some sort of resistance messenger that could be seen in multiple situations and therefore not too out of places in most mods. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of work, but if somebody is interested in taking over from Cube, please let me know.

      1. Vic

        That would have been a great idea!

  2. I take the point about the script itself but this should be done by a mimic.
    To change the voice of an established character is to change the character.
    In Joutomaa, I found the attempt to mimic G-Man rather jarring and verging on being effeminate.

    This is a very positive and constructive comment by Phillip “a group that creates new, interesting and realistic characters that can be used by modders with custom voices”..
    That is the way forward.

    Edit: I voted no.

  3. Major Banter

    I was the script doctor for Joutomaa, and spent a fair amount of time working through every line heard in that mod. While I’m well aware I didn’t do a perfect job with the citizens – because I wanted to change Meph’s script as little as possible (although the actor has to take a degree of blame for a bad flow) – I’m relatively pleased with the outcome for the Man In Black.

    I guess the key thing is that the Man In Black isn’t GMan, and isn’t specified as such. While all HL2 gamers will immediately make the connection, they’re not actually the same person. It isn’t obvious, I know.

    Which means the VA work and script are actually trying to emulate, not duplicate Valve’s GMan – and that in my opinion is postmodernism in practice.

    Why should a modder either replicate an original actor in HL2, or create an original character entirely? Why not adapt and modify?

    That is why I voted yes.

    I think the question words the whole point completely wrong. People shouldn’t be expected to go either way; they should have the choice to go original or replicate.

    1. O_o

      Soooo… don’t answer to me if it is a plot point in Joutomaa chapter 2, but the Man in Black is in fact a “G-man number two” only bound to Varkas and not Gordon Freeman???

      Well, this wasn’t really obvious, indeed 🙂 I thought that the G-man was, as always, omnipotent and the G-Man of HL2 and the G-man seen in all other mod’s following the lead character (such as your mod or the Citizen) is always the same :), in your developer’s mind!

    2. I don’t have a problem with any of the script from Joutomaa Redux, I think you did a great job. if you got the impression I was highlighting your work as an example of a mismatch between character and script I apologize, it wasn’t my intention.

      I guess the key thing is that the Man In Black isn’t GMan, and isn’t specified as such. While all HL2 gamers will immediately make the connection, they’re not actually the same person. It isn’t obvious, I know.

      That’s a very important point. I feel it’s natural for a player to believe that the character in Joutomaa is the G-man. Partly because beside a possible slight visual difference (I am not even sure there was any), partly because the voice actor seemed to be trying to sound like him, and partly because the script was doing the same. I feel that if the modder uses the same model, same sounding voice and same sounding script it’s up to the modder to specifically tell the player that they are not the character from the game.

      Why should a modder either replicate an original actor in HL2, or create an original character entirely? Why not adapt and modify?

      There’s not reason why they can’t, just make it clear. Although, for me as soon as you make those kinds of changes, it IS a new character.

      I think the question words the whole point completely wrong. People shouldn’t be expected to go either way; they should have the choice to go original or replicate.

      They do have the choice, but unless they make it clear that the character we see isn’t the one from the game, they are almost cheating the player. I don’t see that my questions is worded wrongly. All I am asking is if a modder is using the actual character from the game, not just the model, then should they change the voice. If not, they perhaps they should ensure that the model is sufficiently different to make it obvious that it’s not the same character.

      1. Devath

        Hey, I like how every topic is somehow related to joutomaa, I’m happy to see it did spur new discussion on gaming.

        Yes, Banter is indeed right, the original script and voice was based on “Man in black” from books of Stephen King, a man who has many names and forms. “His goals typically center on bringing down civilizations, usually through spreading destruction and sowing conflict.”

        However as time passed, it became very clear I had to scrap the original character (part of this was caused by lack of proper model, nobody had the time to do it.)

        So I made decision to merge the character script and voice to mimic gman. Kinda what Valve made with merging captain vance and eli maxwell to make Eli Vance. Also it fits the halflife universe much better than having brand new key character.

        Obviously getting Michael Shapiro do the voice acting (Gman hl1/hl2) Was just out of the question, eaven if I had hes voice it may have sounded different. (Remember how odd he sounds in hl1 compared to hl2?) I’m pretty sure Valve edits the voice files with their own settings.

        I myself think the result was pretty satisfying, considering how hard the voice actually is to mimic and how many people I had to audition for this role only. I allways had the feel gman had capabilities beyond that of a normal human and he was kind of “personal demon” related to the character he was appearing to. That would explain why he sounds a bit different when speaking to Gordon/Eli/Filip.

        Someone mentioned in the review gman was giving Filip too much credit for the action he had done, eaven if he didnt do anything special. Yes, I agree it may appear like that. However, the idea behind this was that the gman has already seen the future and chain of events Filip is going to cause. Just like he shows Gordon parts of the “future” citadel hes going to travel.

        Should the player expect the character in Joutomaa to be gman, yes. Thats why I had to modify the script and voice to mimic the gman. In my opinion he just sounds a bit different when speaking to Filip.

        If you remember overwatch in episode 2 wont sounds anything like overwatch in halflife 2, It’s kinda the same thing.

        To the question, I voted yes. It’s allways better to have voice acting and facial animations than leave it out, however it should be done with care. It’s very important to not break the illusion or change the characters too much. It would be disaster if Gordon suddenly started talking or became different character.

        Also as you may know, it is very difficult to get the original actors to do the job. In my opinion better change the voice actor to help tell the story than cut the whole thing out.

        Thanks for your time and happy holidays to everyone.


  4. I say YES. Definitly YES. IF this doesn’t deserve the character. I mean, if a guy try to do the G-man saying “hello, dude, ya know that tha right dude in tha wrong place can do all tha difference, yo!”, I will instantly go mad.


    compare Coastline to Atmosphere using 95% of all original Breen speech and G-man speech, I was like “MEH?” all the way… It just sounded too weird!!!
    and other mod’s such as Awakening with new speeches for Breen and G-man, or Joutomaa Redux, and it was well done, I was more in the mod than if it was re-used original audio. It serve well the mod.
    The same for Alyx in Outpost 16!!! I know people complained about how she was foul-mouthed and very dirigist, but it was so cool to hear Alyx with another good voice, and adding greatly to the ambiance of this port-folio.

    The last poll was about “how an intro can put you into the mod”, well it’s the same for custom voices.

    I think this is also difficult, and not so many modders do that. Because HL has a massive and integrist cult following, people don’t want to hear the G-Man speaking like a normal human being, they don’t want to hear Alyx saying kiss me baby, I love you Gordon…
    Remember also Strider Mountain (poor SPY, I love his map’s but the defaults are so big sometimes 🙂 ) when they transformed Gordon Freeman in a character… Conventions, always conventions!!!

    It is easier for Total Conversion, they don’t have to submit to “vocal conventions”, so we are more sympathic for custom voices in that, even if they can sound bad sometimes.

    For example, in Get a Life which is a french mod so I can easly understand the voices and the general tone (as opposed to custom english voices, which I can understand, but less detect the badness of the voice), sometimes there was some bad voices, but this wasn’t terrible because there were other characters than the regular of HL.

    But, overall, if modders want to do custom voices for characters of HL, I IMPLORE them to do so!!! It will be aways, IMHO, worth the effort on the road of doing a “cult” mod!

  5. I only said no because if I’m used to a certain character sounding a certain way, and it changes; it bothers me a little bit. I wouldn’t mind if the voice acting was incredibly similar to the original (yes, I realize that is difficult to do.)

  6. I voted NO because I think the Main Characters should remain the same, a new voice bothers me a little. I’m just a game player and not a mapper or voice actor so I have no idea of the work that goes into either keeping an original voice or incorporating a new voice.

    Voices of characters wouldn’t make me feel differently about a map or mod itself, for me its just a personal preference. Its kinda like replacing Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman ( showing my age here) in Casablanca, it wouldn’t necessarily turn it into a bad movie, just different.

  7. Kyouryuu

    Adding talking NPCs as a means of driving a story or moving the player forward is always a good thing to do. It adds credibility to having the mod exist within the HL universe. I think in terms of voices and established characters, it helps to go with a character that doesn’t have an especially memorable voice. A re-voiced G-Man tends to stick out like a sore thumb because we all know about his speech idiosyncrasies and cling to every word he says. The same is true for Dr. Kleiner and Alyx as well.

    But what about Barney? Or Dr. Mossman? Or generic Combine babble? Vortigaunts? Those voices are pretty non-descript.

    The other thing you have to remember is that Valve isn’t especially consistent about the voices either, despite – in many cases – the same actor providing the voice. The G-Man in Half-Life 1 sounds a lot more wobbly and elderly than he does in Half-Life 2, where he is deeper and more gravelly. Barney has a little more inflection in HL2 than he does in HL1. Eli sounds nothing like the scientist he was based on, and nor does Magnusson.

    I’m not saying that you can have Mossman show up and start talking with a ‘valley girl” accent, but there is some leeway here that gamers who would say “No” to this poll aren’t acknowledging.

    For that matter, the voice is half the battle. The other half is the facial expressions and movements. If you can make those convincing, it’s more likely that you can get the player to buy into your version of a character even if the voice isn’t 100% perfect.

    1. Or Dr. Mossman?

      For Star Trek (TNG) fans and BattleStar Galactica (Re-imagined) fans, the voice of Michelle Forbes (as Ro Laren or Helena Cain) is very descript! 😀

      1. I’m not a big enough fan of TNG to even know who that is, I’m sorry! XD

  8. They never do facial expressions in mod’s, do they??

    1. There’s nothing that technically stops anyone from making expressions and choreography, save for taking the time to do it. And that’s a pretty big obstacle for a lot of modders! 🙂

  9. You know, I’ve played through outpost 16 multiple times, mostly because I keep hearing that Alyx was “swearing like a sailor”, and I just don’t get where people are getting this from. Now, I played through it again after reading it here, and the worst I hear her say is ‘shit’. I went through the sound files afterwards, and there’s only one that I would consider an actual swear, but I never hear it in game because it’s drowned out by what’s going on outside and the music.

    As for replacing voices, I don’t mind, though if notable character is being used and it’s not supposed to be that character, it should be made clear. In Joutomaa, I sort of got that it wasn’t supposed to G-man, but his speech mannerisms, method of player communication, and teleporting to random places seem to suggest otherwise. On the other hand, if they are using that character, they should try to find someone that does a decent imitation of them, so the suspension of disbelief isn’t completely broken.

  10. GoodGuyA

    I myself can do a killer G-man impression, and if the people are good and true enough to the voice than why not. Whatever that mod was that had Alyx in it (the one with the Helicopter), well that mod was terrible but the Alyx impersonator is actually quite good. Let impressionist talent shine. It’s a good thing.

    1. Y’know, even if I convinced myself that I did a good G-Man, I still wouldn’t want to be the one doing the voice for my own mod. Because it means I’d have to listen to myself saying that line 30+ times while doing the choreography and facial animations for that scene, and I really can’t stand hearing myself talk. XD

      1. GoodGuyA

        I’m right there with you man. I hate my voice as well, but sometimes we must sacrifice things for art. I’ve grown used to myself after a while of freelance voice acting, and I can forget it’s me when I do my G-man impression since I can get my voice so deep.

  11. JenkumKhan

    Yes, especially if it’s innovative and funny like filling the mod with profanity like GTA or Scarface. Or at least make swearing as death/pain sounds, like Combine saying “C**ksucker!” when they die, or Rebels shouting “F&&k you asshole!” when they’re hit.

  12. Gradius

    It -does- depend though.

    1. Are you going to make use of some new dialog or just use vague rewordings of existing stuff? If you’ve not got something to say go with the old stuff. If gman is just going to do his “rise and shine” speech then there is little need to rerecord a worse sounding version.
    2. If you’ve got voice actors, text to speech should never be used (portal prelude may you rest in audio hell)
    3. If you’ve got voice actors native to the language they’ll be speaking. Regardless of how good your fluency is on paper if you’ve got a heavy accent and still pronounce words the way someone looking on the language from afar would it’s going to be a varying degree of jarring.

  13. Hec

    I voted yes, if that makes the mod great!, I mean at least in the story part, altough this could be a risk if the voice is just horrible like in some mod often happen so I think if the mod developer has a good voice and in the original caracther “style” it could be acceptable for the well of the mod story, but if the developer hasn’t a good voice enough then don’t even think to do that!!!!

  14. Tetley

    I’m saying yes. The reason is, as you said Phillip, it keeps things in the HL universe. If the quality of the voice acting is bad, not close to the original and/or doesn’t fit the character then that ok as long as the mod developers get enough feedback on that so next time they know better how to go about implementing an already existing character into their mod. It’s part of the mod developers self-improvement in terms of making a mod.

  15. I voted no, but more for the case of Outpost 16 than Joutomaa. Personally, I found the voice acting for Gman (even if the mod author insists that it isn’t actually Gman) to be acceptable. Even if it wasn’t spot on, it at least gave you an impression of what it would have sounded like if it had been voiced by gman’s original voice actor.

    Let’s face it, voice actors are out there, but trying to mimic an established personality is not easy to do, and holding up an entire mod, or forcing it into a different direction to wait for a voice actor who can be perfect just isn’t feasible. As long as the voice actor at least manages to capture the basic mood of the character, I don’t actually consider that “changing” the character.

    Of course then there are mods like Awakening, where the voice actors don’t even sound REMOTELY like the characters they were voicing. I realize that it is an older mod, and fan voice acting wasn’t as well established, but it doesn’t change how bad the voices were in that mod, so I do consider that to be a case where the voices were “changed”
    On the reverse side, it’s entirely possible to completely capture the pitch and cadence of a character, and then completely miss that character’s personality and essence. This is what Outpost 16 managed to do. The voice actor sounded so close to Alyx that I thought it might have been the official voice actor for her, but the script had her swearing with the slightest provocation, and while there are a handful of places where Alyx DOES swear in the official games, Outpost 16 had her using swear words that Alyx had NEVER used, even when Judith interfered with rescuing her father, when she was captured by combine, when she found out Gordon was captured by Breen, when she was all but killed by a Hunter, and at the end of Episode 2..This part of a character’s voice is even more important than how it sounds, and so this absolutely qualified as “changing” the voice.

    So with this method of judging what qualifies as change, I definitely vote no.

    1. On the subject of cussing, it bugs me. Sure, I swear all the time, but when I hear it frequently in a game, it feels like a 8-year-old with a fascination for a new word wrote the script. Especially when it doesn’t fit or feels tacked on to the sentence. In the recent Citizen 2, when you have the rebel working on the garage door mechanism while Larry watches – that is a very awkward exchange of swearing. No one looks angry. No one sounds particularly angry either. And yet here we are, d**n this and s**t that. The mod does it generally well, this was just an isolated example that came to mind.

      Use swearing wisely. Use it to punctuate events or reinforce just how angry someone is. Don’t use it every other line unless you’re going for extreme camp. 🙂

      1. See, I don’t actually mind having a non-cannon character swearing. At that point, I can just tack it up to being part of that character type, some people swear even when they aren’t angry. It’s simply part of their vocabulary. Sure it doesn’t generally leave them as being the most likable character, but that’s how it goes sometime.
        The problem is when you turn a character who has already been established into something they aren’t.

        (Note: I haven’t had a chance to play through Citizen 2 yet)

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