Bang Zoom! Entertainment, a leading full-service audio post production company and producer of original entertainment content, recently completed an extensive array of English ADR (Audio Dialogue Recording), editing and final mixing for Volumes 2 and 3 of the acclaimed .hack//G.U. trilogy of video games for the PlayStation ® 2 computer entertainment system from NAMCO BANDAI Games America, Inc. Both games are currently available in retailers nationwide.
With a global market for new titles, particularly between North America and Japan, expert localization services are now a critical component of game development. Bang Zoom! Entertainment has brought to bear an arsenal of talent and services used widely in the anime arena for new RPG game titles (many based on anime and manga series) slated for domestic release.
NAMCO BANDAI Games America approached Bang Zoom! Entertainment to work on the .hack//G.U. series after hearing of the facility’s reputation for providing superior ADR and localization services for hundreds of well-known anime titles. It retained the company to develop, record and mix a new English soundtrack for the .hack//G.U. series - a sprawling project as each game possessed more than 6,500 lines of dialogue - but it was all completed in a scant six weeks.
.hack//G.U. encompasses three volumes based on a popular anime and manga series set amidst a fictional online role playing game in the future. The two new PlaySstation 2 titles have been highly anticipated following the critical acclaim of the first edition. Following the premise of the animated series, players again return to the fictitious Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) setting called ‘The World’ to continue protagonist Haseo’s journey as he and his friends look to escape from what has become a digital trap filled with dungeons and monsters.
NAMCO BANDAI Games America producer Masahiro Knittel flew to Los Angeles from Northern California and ensconced himself at Bang Zoom!’s studios to advise the team throughout the recording and mixing process. Bang Zoom! Co-producer Mami Okada interfaced closely with Knittel and strong rapport quickly developed that helped facilitate completion.
“I was immediately impressed with the professionalism and high quality of voice over production of Bang Zoom!, and I knew that my project was in good hands,’ Knittel says. ‘ADR director, Tony Oliver, and I quickly developed a close producer-director relationship in the studio, which I believe really strengthened the process of recording, resulting in very convincing performances by each of the actors. I thoroughly enjoyed working with everyone at Bang Zoom!’s studio, and I doubt you’ll find a more friendly and accommodating environment to work in. I am very pleased with the results of the studio recordings. These guys are on the top of my list when considering future ADR projects.”
Work commenced as a vast collection of the original Japanese dialogue was delivered, checked for quality and organized into a cohesive format. Sound engineer Jeff Prosser explains, ‘A huge part included putting all the Japanese files into Pro Tools for easy reference. We would refer to these files regularly for comparison in order to get the correct emotions or intensity from the English voice actors. It became a roadmap for the entire project.’
Corresponding video elements were also delivered as Quicktime and Matroska (Kodak) files, which were then transferred into a Final Cut Pro editing suite as a single continuous video file with an all important streaming time code to be used for script timing.
Critical was that the new English dialogue sync exactly to the movements of each character’s mouth without changing the meaning or context of the original Japanese. ‘The key was to make it sound natural,’ says project ADR Director Tony Oliver, himself a renowned voice actor best known for his portrayal of Rick Hunter on the famed Robotech anime series. ‘Sometimes the rhythm of the speech must be altered a little to fit, but the meaning of what is said must always remain true to the original intent. That can be challenging and often requires substituting words and altering syntax until it seems natural. Each of the voice actors also adds their own rhythm and personality.’
To convincingly achieve the key role of Haseo, Bang Zoom! brought in noted voice actor Yuri Lowenthal, who performed on the original .Hack video game as well as an array of other game and anime productions including Afro Samurai, Bleach, Final Fantasy XII, and several Naruto game titles. All of the recording was done sequentially, according to how the actual game unfolds, so each actor understood how the plot evolves and could tighten their performances in-line and understand the motivations required for each scene. Recoding used tried and true Avalon 737SP pre-mics and Neumann U87 microphones.
‘The biggest challenge with this title was the sheer amount of dialogue,’ recalls Oliver. ‘It was way more than a conventional narrative because of different outcomes possible with each scene based on moves the player makes. But convincing performances must be recorded for each outcome. The difference with video games is that the dialogue for each resolution must be performed and mixed in such a way to preserve the continuity of the entire game. It’s critical for there to be the same intensity and emotion in each of the lines spoken. I think we definitely achieved that with this project.’
Time constraints for the project were very tight and Bang Zoom! chief engineer Patrick Rodman began mixing completed tracks as ADR sessions continued to progress. All three of Bang Zoom! Entertainment’s mix/ADR rooms were used simultaneously for .hack//G.U. ‘I level matched each of the over 5,000 newly recorded files by ear then began processing the dialogue, which included matching the new dub with the same effects and vocal treatments present in the original. Mixing was done entirely in Pro Tools using a Digidesign Control 24 console.’ Rodman also meticulously balanced and matched EQ, reverbs and pitching using various Pro Tools and Wave plug-ins. Rodman, who has been with Bang Zoom! for 8 years, was well-suited to work on the .hack//G.U. series, having worked previously at Monterey Post where he contributed to the soundtracks of several Warner Bros. animated titles including Pinky & The Brain, Batman, and The Animaniacs.
‘As games become more sophisticated the players and fans demand a more convincing and compelling level of acting,’ concludes Eric P. Sherman, President of Bang Zoom! Entertainment. ‘Likewise, because .hack//G.U. is based on a popular anime series, there must be synergy between the two and a higher quality of skill is required to do that. We are now applying our expertise gained from working on numerous anime titles to a new range of games that require localization for domestic release. .hack//G.U. was a very successful project, completed on a tight schedule, and we look forward to fans reveling in the new adventures and new English soundtrack the game presents.’