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CD Projekt used speech-cloning tech to revoice a dead actor in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty

Viktor Vektor's new dialogue made with Respeecher

An image of the character Victor Vektor in Cyberpunk 2077, wearing glasses and standing near some computer displays.
Image credit: CD Projekt

If you've ever spoken to the ripperdoc character Viktor Vektor in the Polish localisation of Cyberpunk 2077's Phantom Liberty expansion, you've been talking to a cyborg. Technically, of course, most characters in Cyberpunk 2077 are cyborgs, but in this case, I'm referring to one voice actor posing as another using voice-cloning technology, following the second actor's death.

Vektor is voiced in the main game by Miłogost Reczek, who also contributed the voices of Vesemir and Thaler to CD Projekt's Witcher games. Reczek was on board to voice Vektor again in Phantom Liberty, but he died in 2021, while the expansion was in development. As reported by Bloomberg (via Variety), CD Projekt considered hiring a new voice actor to re-record the entirety of Vektor's dialogue. But the studio eventually decided to only record the extra dialogue for Phantom Liberty, and use a fancy new tool, Respeecher, to make the new performance sound like Reczek.

According to CD Projekt localisation director Mikołaj Szwed, Reczek "was one of the best Polish voice talents", and his original performance was simply too "stellar" to record over. Szwed added that CD Projekt sought permission from Reczek's family before going ahead with the plan, and that the actor's sons "were very supportive".

This isn't the first time Respeecher has featured in a videogame. Sony Santa Monica also used the tech to alter Sunny Suljic's performance in God of War Ragnarök, following a break in production during which the adolescent Suljic's voice changed noticeably, rather than re-record all the dialogue.

While examples of voice-cloning like the Ragnarök case make practical sense, the usage of "AI" - an umbrella buzzword for a host of machine generation technologies - to voice videogame characters has attracted justifiable criticism from voice actors themselves. A few weeks ago, US union the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists voted overwhelmingly to authorise a strike against videogame publishers, arguing amongst other things that the "unregulated use of artificial intelligence threatens the very voices and likenesses that form the basis of professional acting careers."

It's a muddier picture when the person in question has died and is no longer able to give or withhold consent or be directly harmed. But there are many ways "synthesising" a dead actor's voice and likeness could be abused, from malignant parties using these tools to traumatise relatives, to scams and misrepresentation of the dead person's beliefs, which could be especially damaging in the context of a famous actor like, say, Tom Hanks.

I can sort of see the argument that using Respeecher helps preserve Reczek's contribution to Cyberpunk 2077, though it also means that another voice actor's contribution has been minimised - I've struggled to track down the name of the Polish actor whose lines provided the basis for the Vektor dub in Phantom Liberty. And besides which, isn't the point of actors that they get to, you know, act? Actors have voiced characters once played by other, deceased actors in the past. Why does "AI" have to be involved?

CD Projekt's approach is worth comparing with Bungie's handling of Lance Reddick's beloved character Zavala in Destiny 2. After Reddick died in March this year, the studio hired Keith David to record future dialogue for Zavala. As far as I know, the studio aren't planning to use a tool like Respeecher to alter David's lines. (Update: in an earlier version of this story, I mistakenly claimed that David would re-record all of Zavala's dialogue, as was the case with Peter Dinklage's original turn as the game's Ghost companion. Thanks to Xitter user Skellijin for the correction.)

It also follows a backlash from voice actors against Smite and Paladins developer Hi-Rez Studios, over a contract clause stipulating that the studio could use voice-cloning software to mimic the voices of dead actors. Hi-Rez have now altered the contract.

It remains only for me to reiterate that it's very on-the-nose for all this to be unfolding in the context of a cyberpunk game.

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