Thursday, July 21, 2011

Videogame characters

Most of you are probably used to me rambling on about the interesting facets of game programming and philosophy. However, being a one man show encompasses a good deal more, and this time I'm going to talk a bit about story and characters in games.

Often times, games suffer from something not too different from programmer art. This something is what I call programmer story. I will be honest, someone who can specialize well enough in programming to make an entire game on their own, probably won't be as good at story writing as a specialist in that area. However, we aren't trying to do perfect stories, we just want good stories in a fairly reasonable amount of time. Coming up with a good story is a complex task, and a rather daunting one at that. I'm just sticking to characters for now.

Some say you should NEVER ever EVER reveal the main character's personality. That way the player can then connect with them better by coming up with their own. Then you have just as many people saying that you absolutely MUST give some background and expound a little on the protagonist's character. If you want my perspective on it, both of these positions are equally viable. You can do it either way and make not only a successful game, but a good game.

As a rule, you should pick your race, gender, age, birthplace, and everything else that isn't part of the personality, very carefully. It's a bad idea to say "We better make this character African so that people won't rap on us for being racist." But at the same time, it's a bad idea to say "What? Another protagonist? Just grab another one of those dudes with blonde spiky hair and a five o'clock shadow." One thing I hate about creating characters for your story is that any game designer will feel like they're only trying to line up with the reviewers ideas of what's fair and what's boring. In my opinion, you should ONLY pick these things because it helps you better express the character's personality. Granted, reviewers will probably eat you alive for not having the perfect white-black-man-woman ratio of characters in your game, but who cares anyway?

That said, I think it's best to work out the characters personality and then choose things like race to explain or express that personality. So first get your personality all fleshed out. Give every character some flaws, some places where they aren't sure what they think, that kind of thing. Once you have that down, you can start picking things like gender. Then you can move on to choosing experiences that shaped these characters in the past. If they don't trust anyone, throw in some betrayal or have them grow up on the street or something.

Now that you have a character that has personality, past experiences, and natural character flaws, don't go screwing it up by having them do or act in a way they wouldn't. Don't have somebody with a trust-no-one attitude decide to trust the protagonist. And don't EVEN THINK about making up some excuse like "You have no choice," or "I know you well enough," or "You're the protagonist so you're just the kind of person that everybody trusts." You shouldn't have to explain your characters personalities, they should be manifested in their actions. So have your characters stick to their personalities.

This article is starting to run a little long, so I'll try to finish up by saying that not every character in your game needs a personality. The random person who rides by in a skateboard doesn't need all that work. You must decide for yourself how deep you need to make each character. Some characters just need to show up and do their thing, others need to communicate with the player.


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