Bethesda Game Studios once considered giving the playable character in Starfield a voice. In fact, they got so far as to hire a voice actor. But ultimately, they decided not to go ahead with the idea.
Lead Designer Emil Pagliarulo talked to Polygon recently. As reported by Dexerto, this is the line of thinking that led Bethesda to think twice about their decision:
“In pre-production, the plan was to have a voiced protagonist. We hired an actor, we got the voice, we listened to him, and were like, ‘You know what, this guy is too specific.’
So then what are the options? Do we have, like some RPGs do, four voices? Do we have one voice, but hire someone else who’s more convenient?
We realized that the only way to really do it and let the player be the person they want to be was to have an unvoiced protagonist.
There was a time in the industry where every protagonist was voiced. It was a AAA thing. We started realizing, ‘You know what, maybe that’s not the case, maybe fans will actually enjoy the game even more’.”
Why was voice acting even a thing in AAA video games? It all boils down to the popularity of customizing every aspect of creating a character. It was partly a flex on how the technology had progressed far enough that players could make characters with different personalities. Of course, voices aren’t just niceties that one could add with no consequences. The voices themselves will be named with the kinds of personalities that these kinds of characters have.
Subsequently, today custom characters are handled a little differently. Not quite as quiet as Link in The Legend of Zelda games. Rather, it’s a matter of allowing the player to fill in the blanks themselves with how they imagine their character to sound like. Games are now built around this idea, because we now do know that doing it this way makes it easier for the player to feel closer to the character, to the point that they can genuinely identify with them.
It is interesting that Bethesda’s staff felt that the voice actor they got now sounded ‘too specific.’ That would not have been a thing in older games because most video game protagonists fit a particular type. And it’s testament to how the industry has changed that that isn’t true anymore.
Starfield will be releasing on September 6, 2023, on Xbox Series X|S and Windows via Steam. It will also be Day One on Game Pass.