Replica Studios helps Team Miaozi and Cygnus Enterprises find its voice

Replica Studios helps Team Miaozi and Cygnus Enterprises find its voice
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ygnus Enterprises is a narrative-driven, base-building action game currently in Early Access on Steam. Developed by Shanghai-based Team Miaozi, a subsidiary of NetEase Games, the player controls an independent contractor who has recently joined Cygnus Enterprises and has been tasked with restoring a derelict outpost on a frontier planet to a thriving colony. Early in development, Team Miaozi knew its narrative adventure would be heavily reliant on cutscenes and dialogue, and sought a solution to streamline development. The studio didn’t expect to find a hidden voice talent in the process.

Forming a narrative

Development of Cygnus Enterprises started in 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. With foreigners exiting Shanghai in droves, travel restrictions in place and the studio located in harder-to-reach south-west Shanghai, finding English-speaking voice actors to record voice lines for early testing was proving difficult. As the game and narrative were regularly changing, it was also inefficient for the studio to engage voice actors for lines that may not make it into the game. 

To continue the development of their game, Team Miaozi turned to Replica Studios’ AI voices to use as placeholders in early production. This was particularly useful for the cinematic artists. “When the cinematic artists generate cutscenes, that all needs to be timed;  if there’s no voice line to reference, the scene will not flow well,” explains Eva Jobse, Creative Director and Executive Producer on Cygnus Enterprises who also contributed most of the game’s script. “You need placeholder voices to enable quick iterations and concept changes in the early stages.” 

“The way that you can adjust the Replica voices and give them more context in terms of emotions is why we chose Replica.”
- Eva Jobse, Creative Director and Executive Producer on Cygnus Enterprises

Using Replica’s AI voices allowed Team Miaozi to improve its workflow, making changes to cutscene timing and dialogue on the fly. This also helped when developing vertical slices of the game for testing and tutorial onboarding as it gave testers a better idea of the game and its narrative despite the final voice lines not being recorded yet.

Enter PEA

Team Miaozi had always intended to bring in real voice actors to record the final versions of dialogue. In fact, most of the characters in Cygnus Enterprises are voiced by real actors. However, it grew attached to Replica’s character voice Ava. Ava was the placeholder voice for PEA, a robot companion that accompanies players in Cygnus Enterprises. Team Miaozi found that early testers preferred Replica’s Ava character as the voice of PEA because it produced a genuine-sounding robot voice. “Her AI voice contains just the right range of emotional undertones that convey the personality of PEA perfectly, so we decided to ship her as the final voice,” said Eva. PEA will speak with players throughout the game, representing the titular Cygnus Enterprises’ corporate interests while providing insight into the player’s surroundings and providing other tips. She uses lines of dialogue prepared by the narrative team. 

Showing emotion

Team Miaozi chose to use Replica when it first started development because it felt Replica’s voices had the best quality and could present more emotion compared to other offerings. It was the emotional styles offered by Replica that influenced Team Miaozi’s decision to stick with Ava for PEA’s final voice. “We designed PEA’s personality to swing between sassy, sarcastic and cold corporate professionalism, and that comes across very well in the AI-generated voice,” said Eva. “The AI understands the context and expresses it in a way that sounds natural.” 

Today, Replica’s 150+ voices can each be fine-tuned to perform in up to 20 different styles to find the perfect performance for each line of dialogue and allow teams to deliver their video game narratives as intended.

“We are very happy with how Replica handles emotions and generates a natural-sounding response.”
- Eva Jobse, Creative Director and Executive Producer on Cygnus Enterprises

The story isn’t over

As Team Miaozi heads towards version 1.0 of Cygnus Enterprises, they plan to continue to use Replica’s AI voices during development. While they have real voice actors to deliver the final lines that players will see in-game, being able to quickly adjust cutscene timings or experiment with narrative strands before booking recording sessions helps to ensure they’re making the most of their time with the game’s voice actors. “PEA will still be one of the central characters in the story heading into version 1.0, so expect a lot of new voice lines for PEA too,” concludes Eva.

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