The 10 Commandments of a Gaming Reel - How not to tank your demo


10 Commandments for a Kick Ass Gaming Reel


Over lockdown I've had the opportunity to take a few workshops with fantastic Gaming Casting Directors like Adele Cutting of Soundcuts, Tom Keegan, Randall Ryan of HamsterBall Studios, and listened to lots of great podcasts and advice. The pearls of wisdom gleaned meant going back to the drawing board with my demo so I wanted to share some of the mistakes that I and other people sometimes make with this reel. This is just my opinion so feel free to take with a pinch of salt, as with anything creative there will be an element of personal preference and subjectivity.


Rule 1: Thou shalt not put in every voice and accent you can do


I'm the first to admit that in previous iterations I totally did this. Focusing on doing accents and voices rather than creating interesting living, breathing, believable characters. It's a tough ask as you have under 2 minutes to demonstrate this and to some extent you do want to tick off those "stereotypical gaming archetypes" but also show you can actually bring something new and interesting to the table. And please do try and include some characters we may not have heard before rather than a load of soundalikes from your favourite games.


Consider also what characters you actually WANT to play. Sure, we may not have the luxury to pick and choose our roles at the beginning of our career but if shouty military lines aren’t your thing, don’t feel like you have to include them in your demo just to tick a box.


Rule 2: Thou shalt only include characters you can sustain consistently


If you slip out of voice or character or you can only do comic lines or dramatic lines in that voice, don't put it in. In fact if you even have to think about the accent when recording the line, maybe think twice about including it.


I've heard many Casting Directors say they cast someone on the basis of a great Gaming Reel but in a pressured live environment, they couldn't deliver that voice consistently or without straining. Remember that for some games you could be recording for hours at a time. You don’t always get well written lines in games either, (trust me), so you need to be able to make whatever they give you sound good, realistic and consistent even if it's just an emote. The accent should be firmly embedded in your muscle memory so you can focus on the many other aspects of performance.


Rule 3: Thou must ALWAYS include the following voice in your demo reel…


Your own. The best accent you can do in a gaming reel is probably your natural one, or subtle variations on that. Nobody else can do you better than well, you (and you have way more XP). It’s a good idea to open your Gaming Reel with a character close to your natural voice, not just because it’s probably your best, most believable character but also because it is useful to Casting Directors to know your native accent.


Rule 4: Thy Gaming Reel is not your Animation Reel.


Leading on from the first few rules, understand your Gaming Reel is aimed at a different market and serves a different purpose to your Character/Animation Reel....but there will be some overlap. I had real trouble getting my head around this one until I actually started playing and researching more games (See Rule 5).


Though there are some games that have that zany, over the top comic book look and feel, the trend at the moment is towards cinematic, subtle, hyper realistic performances. That’s not a coincidence, it’s evolved alongside the technology and graphics, and if you are lucky you may get to do both the voice and motion capture for a character.


So definitely have those quirky, energetic characters in your arsenal and include a few in the reel but you must show you can do subtlety and nuance. Sometimes the most compelling scenes are when a character is desperately trying NOT to express emotion.


This is actually something I have noticed some people struggle with in workshops, particularly those coming from a radio or theatre backgrounds. Perhaps it is because as actors we are sometimes told it’s better to go a bit OTT and then dial it back…or perhaps we are used to giving a little bit extra in terms of projection & energy to make up for not being seen or having to command attention over music or graphics. These are useful considerations but you need to be able to throw them out of the window if necessary.

So to summarize, if it’s a quirky anime style character it should probably go in your animation reel. Duh. Animation Reels can show your character range but Gaming Reels should skew more to showing your Emotional Range.


Rule 5: Thou Shalt actually play or research some games


OMG I want to work in games. Great, so what was the last game you played? Ummm…


I’m not saying you need to be a pro gamer or even a casual twitch streamer but you do need to understand the different types of games, genres, platforms, characters and developers. Also who is killing it at the moment in the industry and what are they doing that you can build on or emulate (whilst still doing you).

Rule 6: Thou Shalt consider the environment


No, I don’t mean your carbon footprint or even your recording space (I am taking it as a given that you are recording somewhere acoustically sound). What I mean is the situational environment your character is in. So many demos are very one level and I think that’s one of the key differences between average and great demos.


Have some lines where you are speaking intimately to another character alongside a few where you are battling to be heard over the battle field or the elements. This also has the added bonus of showing you have good microphone technique and know that shouty lines need to be delivered off axis to avoid peaking and deafening the sound engineer. With more whispered lines, move in closer to the mic but watch your mouth noise and plosives. If your character is doing something physical, emulate that as best you can with your body. Speaking of which…


Rule 7: Thou shalt breath and move like an actual human being (unless you are playing a robot).


If you are used to doing corporate and commercial work you are probably used to taking a large breath and giving your client or sound engineer a nice, clean, breathe free take wherever possible. But if you do this with some characters, I think it sounds really weird and unnatural. Because real people breathe, move & gesticulate. In fact a little intake of breath or exhalation of dismay can really add that extra layer of believability to your performance. Time to get out of your head and into your body. Think of the physicality of your character, how do they move, how do they hold themselves. Are the fit or unfit, young or old, inside or outside, moving or stationery, angry or defeated?


Rule 8: Thou Shalt kill your babies

As with anything creative, you need to be prepared to 'kill your babies' and say goodbye to some great characters that don't always make the final cut. This can be for a variety of reasons...


1) You are short on time and there were better characters/performances

2) The line was too long or too slow that it just seemed jarring

3) The line doesn't make much sense without the context of the scene

4) It's such a niche character it's unlikely to be a character you'd book very often


Conventional wisdom for gaming reels is 1:30 seconds up to 2 minutes. It really depends on your range. Honestly some 60 second reels I have listened to have felt like 3 minutes and 2 minute ones still had me gripped and wanting to hear more.


Put your best characters earlier on obvs, however I personally love reels with a strong ending or crescendo like a movie trailer. Granted the Casting Director may not get that far in as they are busy people.


You want to be showcasing a wide range of archetypes, statuses and emotions. If you have ticked off angry shouty warrior we probably don’t need to hear that multiple times. Remember what I said in rule 6 about considering the environment as well. It stops the reel sounding too samey and like it was all recorded in the same place and even on the same day. Avoid putting similar sounding accents or voices back to back for the same reason.


Rule 9: Thou Shalt never produce your own Gaming Reel (unless you actually can)


This is a controversial one, because we all have to start somewhere and reels are expensive but the consensus is to get a professional to do it. If you are working with existing material from games you’ve already done it’s a bit easier but out of all reels, character and gaming are the most difficult and time consuming to produce from scratch. They need quality writing, music, SFX, direction and technical proficiency. You aren’t just creating a character, you’re also creating a soundscape as well. Here’s some things you must know how to do in your DAW if you are even going to attempt to do it yourself.


· Working with multiple tracks in your DAW

· Knowing how to layer and cross fade in/out

· Knowledge of EQ and Mastering, including the ability to inject

different room ambience into your recordings depending on the character’s environment.

· Access to high quality, ideally royalty free, and appropriate music and SFX (do not ruin your amazing performance with crappy SFX)

· The ability to self-direct and be self-critical about your own voice/performance (and kill your own babies - see rule 8)


Getting a professional demo produced comes with the added bonus of voice direction and a valuable second opinion when it comes to picking what works and what doesn’t. However, that blessing can also be a curse. Most games are not AAA titles, they are smaller studios with tight budgets who may not be able to afford a casting director or coach. That direction won’t always be there, especially not at the audition stage. So be mindful of that with your demo. Like your acting headshot it’s supposed to be ‘you on a good day’, not ‘you but completely edited, moulded & photoshopped beyond all recognition and hidden behind badass music and SFX’. You must be able to deliver pretty much everything you did at your recorded session when you are on your own with no audience, no direction and nobody to monitor your levels.


Another point about professional demo producers is they may have no idea what voices you can and can’t do so you need to do some planning and experimentation yourself beforehand.


Rule 10: Thou shalt not swear or overuse filters and special effects


This is my personal preference but I am not a fan of hearing profanity in a demo reel. I don’t think it’s necessary for conveying the emotion anyway. You should avoid using too many filters and special effects as well. A bit of robot flanger or reverb is fine but we want to hear it’s still you. With enough post production I could sound like Barry White but they’d probably rather just hire Barry White. Except he’s dead so that probably wasn’t a good example. If your specialty is crazy monsters and epic screeching, consider a specific reel for that.


Rule 1: Thou shalt not put in every voice and accent you can do

Rule 2: Thou shalt only include characters you can sustain consistently

Rule 3: Thou must ALWAYS include the following voice in your demo reel…

Rule 4: Thy Gaming Reel is not your Animation Reel.

Rule 5: Thou Shalt actually play or research some games

Rule 6: Thou Shalt consider the environment

Rule 7: Thou shalt breath and move like an actual human being (unless you are playing a robot).

Rule 8: Thou Shalt kill your babies

Rule 9: Thou Shalt never produce your own Gaming Reel (unless you actually can)

Rule 10: Thou shalt not swear or overuse filters and special effects


There's one more thing I wanted to add and it kind of maybe contradicts what I said before but I think it's worth saying anyway Don't be so much of a perfectionist that you don't create anything at all. There are so many barriers too creation. Some are genuine like time, motivation, money but others we kind of invent ourselves. For example you might say to yourself I'm not going to create this demo reel until I've trained with this amazing person until I've bought that Neumann microphone that I really can't afford I'm not going to get new headshots done until I've lost 30 pounds.


Things will never be perfect. Don't make perfect the enemy of the good. You've got to start somewhere. Obviously you don't want to put something crap out there with your name on it but your voice, your talent and the market will evolve. It’s an ongoing process

I know I look back on my earlier demos and cringe a but at the time I thought "this is great!".... Because at the time that was my version of great. But that will change with time, wisdom, experience and training.

Let me know how you get on levelling up those gaming reels!


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