Developing Thoughts 11

I’ve really been lax in updating these and it’s been nearly a year since I posted the last one, which was the tenth in the series. So thanks to Erwan for giving me a nudge on this. I’ve also been through the older posts and attached labels to them so that you can find them all in one place.

Showing Character

Deciding the type of characterisation for the main character of a game can be one of the most important parts of concept development. If the character doesn’t suit the needs of the game, there is a good chance that the game as a whole will suffer as a direct result.

If the game’s story is one of its most important aspects, coming up with an idea for a main character may follow the initial outline of the story. Once the character starts to form, this feeds back into the story and the two play off each other, becoming more and more complex as other characters, particularly the antagonist, are introduced. The result of this should mean that the story and character are completely at one with each other and, if the design process has been completely successful, with the gameplay, too.

An alternative method is to create the character first and then decide the story he will be involved with, which can be a much more difficult route. Of course, no character can be created completely in a vacuum, so the design team will likely have a good idea of the type of story the character will be involved in before the character is developed.

In many character-driven stories, the main character goes through a transformation of sorts as the story unfolds and is no longer the same person at the end as he was when the story began. This transformation may not always be desirable, particularly if the character is expected to become central to a whole series of games. For a continuing series, character progression in each story should be relatively minimal or the changes could take him/her away from what made the character right for the central role in the first place. One of the reasons the James Bond films have been so successful over the years is that as a character he’s been pretty well defined and he tends to end the film the same person that started it. The stories revolve around his job rather than him as a person and are what is known as event-driven rather than character-driven. Many games fall into this category and so the Bond level of characterisation is about right for these, offering up many chances for sequels.

You will often read in books that you should avoid stereotypes at all cost, but sometimes the main character needs to be nothing more than a stereotype because this may help the player get a handle on what the character represents from the very beginning of the game. The gameplay may be all-important and any story and characterisation is superficial at best. The requirements from the character are not what he/she is like as a person, but what their gameplay abilities are – how high can they jump, how fast can they run, and so forth. If Mario suddenly started questioning his place in the world and became angst-ridden, then players would rightly complain that he’s no longer the character they came to love. Mario has become his own stereotype, but one that works perfectly within the context of the games he’s used in.

Naming your characters can be much more difficult than creating them in the first place. If James Bond had been called Reginald Periwinkle, Ian Fleming may never have sold his first Bond novel. Sometimes I feel that every name I ever choose for a character could be better (with the exception of Scout the One-Eyed Cat, of course). I always know when a name definitely won’t work, but finding one that definitely will work can be so elusive.

Although getting a good name is important, it’s also got to fit the style of character. A strong and bold name wouldn’t necessarily fit a character who’s really just an ordinary guy thrust into a series of events outside of his control. Yes, he may rise to the challenge and become a hero, but choosing a name that fits his initial nature can emphasise just how far he’s come in his journey through the story.

© Steve Ince, 2004