Writing and Design

Steve Ince, freelance writer and game designer, posts thoughts and comments on these two meaningful aspects of his life.

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Name: Steve Ince

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Developing Thoughts 22

Character Profiles

Part of my current job involves creating the character profiles for my client’s project. Now, I can’t go into the specific details of what I’m doing (for obvious reasons), but I thought I would reflect on how important it is to do this work. Although I’ve already discussed characters, in an earlier column, this edition deals with the profiles themselves.

Of course, you may think that if you’re the only one working on your project, character profiles are not important – you know what your characters will do or how they’ll behave in a given situation. However, while that may be true for a few main characters, it’s unlikely to be the case for all of the characters you’ll likely need in a story-based game. It’s equally important to develop proper character profiles if you are a team of one, or part of a team of fifty.

Not only do character profiles act as a means of recording your thoughts on your main characters – how they behave and react – they also serve a fuller purpose of helping you work through the details of your supporting characters. The process of developing the profiles allows you flesh out the characters and make them much more rounded.

You may wonder why this is important for supporting characters, but if you want the character designer and modeller to transfer your ideas into polygon flesh, so to speak, then the more they have to go on the better the character will match the mental picture you had of each one. Likewise, if the animators have an understanding of what makes your characters tick, then they’re much more likely to animate them in a rich and varied manner. As important as this side of things is, the real value of the profiles is how they can help you.

Months may pass from writing the story for your project and writing the scenes that take place between the characters. While you may remember the broad sweep with crystal clarity, it’s likely that all of the subtlety you were thinking of at the time has been lost because you’ve spent the intervening time working on other aspects of the project, or even on another project altogether.

I’m not talking about the subtlety of the story, but of the characters. If Katie Eckersley has suffered from asthma since being six years old, how will that affect her outlook on life? Has she given into it and developed a hatred for all sports? Or has she seen it as a challenge and is now a champion swimmer? And how did that affect the relationship she had with her mother, who smothered her in attempting to protect Katie from harm?

Characters are so much more than one defining trait, though, and the profiles you develop should reflect this. Basic information like gender, age and build are always useful to include, simply because they start the ball rolling and get you into the other details more readily. What you include in your list will be down to your particular tastes and the needs of the game you’re developing for, but it’s better to have too much information than not enough. Some suggestions for included traits or information could be:
  • The purpose of the character in the game.
  • How they progress through the game.
  • Speech oddities, accents and mannerisms.
  • Occupation.
  • Personal history or background.
  • What they like to do in their spare time.
  • Any special talents or abilities.
  • Any handicaps or problems.
  • How they dress.
This is a straightforward list, but it can be adapted or added to, particularly if your characters inhabit a fantastical universe, or it’s important to build a highly subtle portrait of each character. However, there are things that it would be silly to include, like favourite colour – when was the last time you heard of the way two people interact with one-another being affected by their favourite colour?

One of the real beauties of working through your list of traits and information, filling out details for each character, is that it can be such fun. Not only do you get to make up small stories about each character’s life and the type of person they are, it can give you new insights into the main story and how it can be subtly enriched by this wealth of detail you have just developed.

The characters come to life and the story and game become so much more immersive.

© Steve Ince, 2004



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