Sunday, 22 April 2012

Elements of game design, part three: character

Character design, one of the few things that can bring great interest to a narrative or completely destroy it. Taking a quick journey to my past some of the first characters I was hooked on as a kid from cartoons and video games don’t seem to be greatly defined, have an amazing back-story. For example, Ryu from Street Fighter; whilst button bashing my SNES for weeks on end as a kid I knew very little about this character at all, I guess he just ‘seemed cool’. Same goes for Bomberman, this pixelated robot that had a digital screen for a face, but again the way he fit so perfectly in the world he was in it’s just all very cool but hard to explain. Although is that all Character Design is? Cool stuff? I’m not quite sure myself. Another all time favourite character of mine is Goku from the Dragon Ball/Z/GT cartoon that I used to love as a kid, a humorous hero that would pretty much always win in the battle to save earth as this super good guy. 

I think scriptwriters use strong techniques to make their demographics identify with the characters, through humour, morals & values and distinctiveness. Although let’s not forget about the visual importance of communicating the caricature. What I mean is a good design should be instantly recognised within less than 3 seconds, many iconic Disney or video game characters such as Mickey Mouse or Sonic the Hedgehog can be spotted straight from their silhouette. It seems visual design comes first but at the same time you could argue the back-story and/or details about the character is needed to develop the designs in the first place. Although if you are making a Hollywood blockbuster like Fight Club or a in depth sci-fi role playing video game like Mass Effect then your characters need history, dreams, secrets, and motives plus more. It all depends on the game or story you wish to create. Some games have found a very good balance between the depth and visual design of the character for example, Kratos from the God of War series is very unique because he can be easily identified with his battle ready markings/tattoo’s and oversized god like weapons.  SCE Santa Monica Studio have built the character up very uniquely and I think Kratos is a great example of an overall well rounded character. His story is highly significant in the game and isn’t brushed off as something on the side; his back-story has great value towards the narrative and game play. Acting also can play an important role because any fan boy will spot bad acting a mile away so the developers have to make sure the game is on track, I guess this is far more noteworthy when discussing sequels or prequels and I think Hollywood share this with the games industry. 

Genre is a big deal when it comes to character design, for example Call of Duty MW2, a FPS holds little character design, more so online giving only stereotypical players to choose from and very little customisation. Of course such games don’t rely fundamentally on characters because of a little thing called gameplay. Though the details and believability has to always be their otherwise it could take away from the game. It also more difficult to represent multiple characters in the same environment because the focal point has to shift and a equilibrium has to be achieved, you cannot have one intense character with a huge back-story and another that has nothing to go on. For me characters have to bring identity, I don’t enjoy it when games stick to societies stereotypes as it presents inconsistency on the developer’s part.   

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