Games, how they work, and how they should work

Character Design

Having explored Immersion (somewhat) I now hope you all understand it enough so that I can drop it into the future topics from time to time. This week though, as you may guess by the title, we are moving on character design, mainly in single-player games. Sit tight, pay attention but most importantly, enjoy!

WAY BACK MACHINE

Some of the greatest and most loved characters in games have come from the arcade and early console games of old. I’ll give you a moment to think of a list of some of the most known game characters of all time… Done? You probably have at least one of Pac-man, Mario or Sonic on there, but why are they so iconic and how do they manage to stay in the public eye? The story of Mario best illustrates good character design of the time, so I’ll quickly tell those of you who don’t know it. Nintendo where in a rough spot and needed a new franchise, so in a single lunch break a group of developers came up with a new spin on the popular platformer game. A simple game with an eye-catching art style was called for, and so the red dungaree wearing Italian plumber was born, with his bulbous nose and bushy ‘tache leading the way. Each of aspect was a necessity given the technology at the time, but their inherent simplicity made the character of Mario appeal to the public (the uncanny valley principle again).

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Modern games have to try a bit harder. Highly stylised and pixelated games exist, and can be very successful, but generally only work when coming out of indie studios. A common trap that many larger studios fall into is to carry the old-school, stereotype-based character design techniques straight into the big flashy engine. This is understandable though as many great characters have made the move into higher definition and 3D fantastically, not excluding our friend Mario, but it’s a very hit-and-miss area. With the rise in graphics quality in modern games, developers have to look for a different set of guidelines (rather than hard-set rules) on which to mould their characters. The protagonist of any story should instantly make a connection to the player that grows through the whole adventure, so a one dimensional guy with incomprehensible goals just isn’t going to cut it. As the world of game design gets better and better, the more it behaves like the traditional media like books and film. Writers are increasingly being needed in the games industry, as they simply understand the workings of a great narrative more than a game developer

So there you go English students, I’ve just opened up a new career path for most of you. Enjoy!

Until next week, farewell!

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