After years of being touted as one of the video game industry’s most reliable studios, it seems only fair that Bungie should encounter some criticism. But with Destiny inching ever closer to release (with the Beta coming to Xbox owners at the end of July), it isn’t the game design, enemies, or even fiction that has drawn the ire of some gamers – it’s the narration.
The talented voice cast for Destiny was deduced long before the studio made it official, with both Bill Nighy (Love, Actually, Shaun of the Dead) and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) lending their talents to the game. Both actors boast impressive resumes, but when players were finally let into the Alpha following E3 2014, some issues arose. Namely, that Dinklage’s performance – as the player’s AI companion, ‘Ghost’ – was uncharacteristically flat, at best, and downright boring and lacking personality at worst (you can hear the voice-over for yourself in our series of Destiny gameplay videos).
The studio stayed quiet on the matter, while other developers and press made it clear online that the issue was a significant one, as opposed to nitpicky players making jokes at the game’s expense. Now the developer has weighed in (sort of) in Bungie’s weekly update, as Community Manager Eric Osborne explains that the criticism of Dinklage’s voice work had obviously not been missed by the development team:
“Hey, we read the same forums… In fact, the Ghost dialog has already been updated for Beta. It will be updated again for launch on September 9th, as well.
“Funny thing about Alpha builds…they’re not done. Please pardon our Moon dust!”
Hopefully some of the issues with Dinklage’s lines can be corrected with the expected addition of robotic effects (as heard in the game’s E3 trailer), but nobody was criticizing the voice-over for sounding too human or unaltered; it was Dinklage’s direction and performance. Bungie might be able to accurately claim that the game isn’t yet finished, and they’ll be “updating” the voice-over in one way or another, but it stands to reason that the voice-over put in place will be the one that remains to release. Of course, only time will tell.
Much of the anger voiced by some fans at narration and voice-over they deemed lacking was due to the rumored cost of development, with Activision boss Bobby Kotick claiming that all told, Destiny would come with a $500 million price tag. At that price, any aspect of the game deemed sub-par would be downright inexcusable, but Bungie COO Pete Parsons told GamesIndustry.biz that the estimation wasn’t quite as it sounded:
“For marketing you’d have to ask Activision people, but for development costs, not anything close to $500 million. I think that speaks a lot more to the long-term investment that we’re making in the future of the product.”
In the update, Osborne reiterated Parsons’ statement:
“We’re pouring everything it takes into Destiny to ensure it meets our fans’ expectations, and our own. Activision is, too. But the budget for Destiny, including associated marketing costs and pizza Wednesdays, is nowhere near 500 million dollars.”
It’s strange to see that it isn’t the gameplay or next-gen aspects of Destiny being most heavily scrutinized, but the public reaction will be even more fascinating if the finished game ships with lengthy voice-over that is genuinely lacking in an otherwise AAA production. Can one weak link break the chain? Bungie has proven themselves in the past, but there’s no doubt they were caught off-guard.
What do you make of the ‘controversy’? Do you think the voice-over is a genuinely important part of the player experience, or was it all an overreaction?
Destiny will be landing on the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One on September 9, 2014.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.