Morrowind, Lee Harvey Oswald’s favourite Elder Scrolls (opens in new tab) game and mine, has its rough edges. Its combat makes no sense, its characters all have one polygon they share between each other, and the people walk like no one taught them about knees. But I suspect the thing that turns most people away is all that reading. You could fill a stadium with the number of players that switched Morrowind off as soon as Sellus Gravius (opens in new tab) started spitting multiple voiceless paragraphs of instructions at them, but now modders have started using AI to fix it. I’m just not sure how I feel about the results.
Modders are using a tool called ElevenAI to literally give voice to Morrowind’s voiceless, and projects using it have sprung up with increasing frequency in recent months. We’ve got some greetings for Nami the librarian (opens in new tab), barks for quest-givers like Caius Cosades (opens in new tab), and a fledgling, perhaps-doomed project to voice the entirety of Morrowind (opens in new tab) using all the latest whizzbang AI tech.
I can’t help but be impressed. The way the AI replicates the solemn, echoey tones of Dagoth Ur (opens in new tab) is unnerving and fascinating all at once. In fact, there’s a lot more lines for Dagoth Ur at the moment than other characters, probably because he offers more lines to train an AI on than other characters’ brief barks. That’s where it gets ethically murky: Morrowind did contain a limited number of voice lines, and many (if not all) of these projects use those lines to train the AI. What does that mean for the original voice actors whose work is being used?
There’s no denying it works. The fact that Morrowind’s written dialogue already had the strange, stilted cadence of a religious text means the points at which the AI makes hiccups with its flow become hard to notice. Plus, the amount of text in the game makes Morrowind a special case: Modders have already fixed Morrowind’s combat and graphics in a thousand different ways, but the sheer volume of verbiage makes voicing it all an enormous prospect.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel a bit icky that the AI is taking work done by actual human voice actors and stretching it out artificially. In the same way that people worry that AI art just means a glut of computer-generated plagiarism that the original artists won’t see a penny (or even credit) for, I’m not really sure how to feel about Morrowind’s original voice actors having their talents replicated like this.
It’s a different proposition from AI art of course, which harbours some of the worst grifters on the planet. Morrowind’s modders are doing what they do because they genuinely love the game, and it’s not like they’re going to make any money from their work. Still, this feels like an ethical grey area to me, something we’re probably going to spend the next decade of our lives hashing out. God help us.
Anyway, it’s not like AI is the only way that modders are voicing Morrowind. The Skywind project (opens in new tab) to remake the game in the Skyrim engine is overcoming the problem by voicing hundreds of NPCs with volunteer voice actors (opens in new tab). That feels like far firmer moral ground to me, at least for now, but on the other hand it’ll probably never result in a video like this one (opens in new tab), so it’s impossible to say if it’s good or not.