The Finals criticised by actors and designers for use of AI commentator voiceovers

UPDATE 5pm UK: Embark Studios has provided further details on its use of AI voiceover in The Finals, noting “making games without actors isn’t an end goal for Embark” and that the use of AI text-to-speech is based on real voices.

A statement shared with Eurogamer reads: “We use a combination of recorded voice audio and audio generated via TTS tools in our games, depending on the context. Sometimes, recording real scenes where actors get together – allowing character chemistry and conflict to shape the outcome – is something that adds depth to our game worlds that technology can’t emulate. Other times, especially when it relates to contextual in-game action call-outs, TTS allows us to have tailored VO where we otherwise wouldn’t e.g. due to speed of implementation.

“In the instances we use TTS in The Finals, it’s always based on real voices. In the Open Beta, it is based on a mix of professional voice actors and temp voices from Embark employees. Making games without actors isn’t an end goal for Embark and TTS technology has introduced new ways for us to work together.”

The original story continues below.

Forthcoming team shooter The Finals has been criticised for using AI for its commentator voiceovers.

Developed by Embark Studios, comprising former DICE employees, it’s currently in open beta – as announced at the recent Xbox Partner Preview showcase.

As part of its arena battle style, it includes voiceover from two commentators, but these have been developed with AI drawing criticism from voice actors and designers alike.

The Finals | Open Beta | PC & Console | Oct 2023

The use of AI in the game was actually revealed in an episode of Embark’s Meet The Makers podcast from July. Audio designers Carl Strandberg and Andreas Almström were asked about the voiceovers which were described as “authentic”.

“So here’s the kicker: what did the voiceovers,” said Almström. “We use AI with a few exceptions. So all the contestant voices like the barks, both of our commentators are AI text-to-speech. For things we call vocalisations like player breathing, vaulting, jumping, that’s something we use us in the studio to record, like just grunting. We can’t really get AI to perform those kinds of tasks yet.”

He continued: “The reason that we go this route is that AI text-to-speech is finally extremely powerful. It gets us far enough in terms of quality and allows us to be extremely reactive to new ideas and keeping things really really fresh. For instance if a game designer comes up with a new idea for a game mode, we can have voiceover representing that in just a matter of hours instead of months. We don’t have to do temp recordings that need replacing.

“I think we’re really coming into a new dawn when it comes to video game voices. And if it sounds a bit off, it still blends kinda well with the fantasy of the virtual game show aesthetically.”

Now that the beta is available, clips from the game have been shared including the AI voiceovers. Voice actor Gianni Matragrano (Evil West, Vertigo 2) shared one such clip, criticising the use of AI and highlighting the MTM podcast.

Disputing the speed at which AI can be used, Matragrano said: “We are constantly banging out rush order sessions for like, within a day or two. You can literally get pro-grade VO for less than a grand total, bang out a couple recording sessions and bam you have all the audio you need.

“When you need more, you can book another session. We actually make it very easy. And then it’ll just sound good and not be something even players who don’t really care about AI ethics keep complaining about.”

Others have shared Matragrano’s post with similar opinions.

“I’d like to again encourage devs to reconsider the use of voice in their games as simply an ‘asset’ in the pipeline of agile development,” said Bungie’s Pax Helgesen, who’s both a game developer and voice actor. He noted that AI has been used for temporary voices in the past, but always with the intent of being replaced by actors to make “something greater than what the devs imagined”.

Gearbox narrative designer Sam Winkler said: “Shipping content with AI VO is bad, flat out. Especially for a game that has so clearly polished every other aspect of its presentation to a gleaming finish, this sticks out like an infected thumb.”

“What really sticks with me is that they needed to bring in real actors to get the grunting, effort, and breathing sounds because the AI can’t do it,” said voice actor Kit Harrison (Genshin Impact, Dying Light)

“It can’t replicate the noise that I make when I stand up from my chair, but it wants to take MY job?! Don’t make me laugh.”

Said voice actor Zane Schacht: “Why the fuck do AI voice people act like hiring voice actors is some kind of arcane ritual. ‘We could have that in hours instead of months.’ Bro just send us an email and we will work with you. I’ve knocked out entire game’s worth of audio in a two hour session. It ain’t deep.”

The use of AI in video games has been heavily criticised by actors. Last month, members of the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union voted overwhelmingly in favour of authorising a video game strike, with the need for protections around exploitative uses of AI as a key element.

Here in the UK, union Equity is working to support actors and enforce their legal rights in the face of AI usage, but has called for urgent government action. Actors themselves remain sceptical about the use of AI in gaming.

The most high-profile use of an AI voice by a game developer is CD Projekt: the voice of Polish actor Miłogost Reczek was replicated for the Phantom Liberty expansion after he passed away, with permission from his family.

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