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THE FINALS Uses AI Text-to-Speech to Voice Characters

It's "just a matter of hours instead of months."

Image credit: Embark Studios

THE FINALS from Embark Studios entered open beta on October 26, and many players have had a chance to check out its maps, gameplay, and voice acting. The latter, though, has recently caused a ruckus as it was found out that the company uses AI to voice characters – a really controversial thing to do.

In Embark's podcast, the game's audio designers Carl Strandberg and Andreas Almström were asked who did the voiceovers, and the answer surprised and enraged some people.

"We use AI with a few exceptions, so all the contestant voices like the barks and voiceover commentators are AI text-to-speech," they said (via PC Gamer). Other, smaller stuff, like grunting and pain noises, was done more naturally. 

But this is not what baffled voice actors, it's the reason why they do it. According to the developers, having AI on board makes voice-overs "a matter of hours, instead of months." 

"The reason that we went 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 … if a game designer comes up with a new idea for a game mode, we can have a voiceover representing that in just a matter of hours, instead of months."

This statement offended some voice actors, who fought against the implication on social media. Gianni Matragrano, who has voiced Gabriel from Ultrakill among other characters, argued that hiring an actor is simple, it doesn't take months at all and ensures greater quality than what AI can deliver.

"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," he said. "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."

He shared that he suspected AI was used but didn't want to say anything in case he was wrong and hoped it was just a placeholder. But now, when the game is out in beta with 150,000 concurrent players, it's "definitely just their vision."

Matragrano was supported by another voice actor, Zane Schacht, who wrote: "Why the fuck do AI voice people act like hiring voice actors is some kind of arcane ritual … I've knocked out entire games worth of audio in a two hour session. It ain't deep." 

Pax Helgesen, a sound designer and a voice actor himself, commented: "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." While it does, in his opinion, have a place in game development, it's used as a "stand-in that would be good enough to validate if an idea worked in context" and shouldn't replace people.

After the issue was brought up, Embark Studios told PC Gamer it uses a mix of "recorded voice audio and audio generated via TTS [text to speech] tools in our games, depending on the context." It once again pointed out that TTS is there to have tailored voice acting in a short time.

"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."

Actors have been steadily pushing back against the use of their voices for AI training purposes, but it seems the issue is not going anywhere for now.

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