Modders use AI to give Skyrim's Dragonborn the voice of Master Chief, and I am once again asking if this is actually legal

Skyrim can feel pretty long in the tooth these days. Although the game gets re-released once every four months, it originally came out in 2011, and there are plenty of design quirks lurking in its Gamebryo frame that can make it hard to get into if you're used to modern, lavish productions.

Take, for example, the silent protagonist. Wouldn't it be better if we could hear the Dragonborn inflect and emote? Wouldn't it be better if classic lines like "On second thought, never mind" were delivered with the full range of the human larynx? Wouldn't it be better if the game were literally voiced by Master Chief from Halo?

Well, dreams do come true, because thanks to the questionable power of AI voice generation, modders have been hard at work asking if they 'can' and not if they 'should'. The Master Chief Voicepack for Skyrim is just one of many, many AI-synthesised voice mods that a modder called FearTCB has cooked up in recent months. You can also play using Geralt's voice, Kratos', Ciri's, or the echoey, booming tones of Morrowind's Dagoth Ur, plus others.

It works unnervingly well, in no small part because the neutral tone that Skyrim's writers adopted for the Dragonborn's dialogue doesn't require much emotional range from the AI, and I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't equal parts amused and impressed by the effect. Hearing John 117 The Master Chief interrogate a lizard barmaid about the rumours she's heard lately feels both correct and beautiful.

This isn't the first time modders have summoned AI spectres to voice Bethesda games. As we speak, dedicated Morrowind fans are working on voicing that game's reams of dialogue using models trained on its original voice actors. And as genuinely amusing as it is to hear gruff, iconic voices slotted into Skyrim, this project raises a lot of the same ethical and legal questions.

Like I said in Morrowind's case, I think the fact that it's a free mod made by a passionate fan makes it a lot more palatable than someone selling AI art that's been trained on the work of  actual human beings. But Steve Downes and Doug Cockle (Master Chief and Geralt's voice actors) are still out there putting in work, and I can't help but think they might be less than thrilled to see their talents replicated like this. 

Mods like these are entertaining, and honestly kind of cool, but I can't shake the feeling we're in a bit of a goldrush moment for the technology: a free-for-all that precedes and initiates an actual, society-wide effort to get to grips with what we're ethically and legally allowed to do with this tech.


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Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.