Why character development in games?
games continue to mature and become more sophisticated, the
expectations for production values become higher. These production
values include graphics, music, and story. Story is the result of
character development: what happens to the characters as events
transpire around them.
development in and of itself isn't going to make your gameplay any
better, but it will create a more satisfying experience because you're
furnishing a more well-developed context, a more immersive world for
the player to explore.
can't read a review of an adventure game or shooter without seeing some
kind of reference to the storytelling, the dialogue, the characters.
Can you relate to the characters? Are they well-developed? Are they
interesting? It's become an expectation, an industry norm. Cliches and
stereotypes are unacceptable.
these well-developed characters will engage the audience and immerse
the player in a well-developed fantasy world. I'm not just talking
about heroic fantasy, either. These techniques are applicable to a wide
variety of games. In all cases, we are creating a fantasy world that
the player can discover and explore. That illusion can be shattered by
uninspired writing and character development.
final reason to consider character development during the development
of games is that these characters can become iconic represenations of a
brand. There are numerous characters whose very names are synonymous
with their respective franchises, such as Master Chief and Samus Aran.
this article, we'll cover a number of methods that can be implemented
during preproduction to help you answer questions about the characters
in your game.
What are these techniques?
techniques are a means to an end, and can be used by the writer or
designer who is responsible for the storytelling elements. In and of
themselves, these techniques aren't going to create strong characters
for you. That's the work of the writer on your project. But they are
stepping stones, guideposts on the way. They are going to help the
writer on your project to create more believable, three-dimensional
these exercises during preproduction, as part of the process of
creating your characters. Using these techniques will open doors and
start conversations; it's a form of brainstorming. If you're starting
from square one, you'll wind up with a stronger set of ideas afterwards.
techniques pose specific questions about your characters. But by
characters, I don't mean all one hundred of them. We're talking about
the highlights, the primary characters, the ones that the audience is
supposed to relate to or have an emotional response to (admiration,
hate, amusement). These techniques pertain to characters who are
supposed to be fully-developed actors within your game's world. They're
intended to answer questions about personality traits that will later
shape your game's dialogue or cut-scenes.
These methods include the tarot deck, the quandary, the conversation, and the character web.
tarot is a card deck imprinted with symbolic images. There are numerous
variants on the deck, some of which date back to the 15th century.
Traditionally, the cards are used by fortune-tellers to divine the
future by laying cards out in different patterns. Some believe that the
cards allow psychics to exercise precognitive abilities, while others
hold that the cards' symbols merely jog subconscious beliefs, or that
meaning arises from the random juxtaposition of images, triggering
sudden ephipanies. Some people think it's all nonsense.
used during preproduction, the tarot deck can help you create more
fully-realized characters. The tarot deck is a free-association tool.
Think of it as a starting point, a Rorschach blot that you can draw
inspiration from. You'll need a deck of cards, which you can buy or
make. Tarot decks are sold at game and hobby stores. If you'd rather
make your own deck, you can find numerous breakdowns of the deck online.
shuffling the deck and dealing the cards, you want to familiarize
yourself with the symbols and their various meanings. For example,
according to some, the Tower symbolizes the fall of pride, or impending
doom. The Magician indicates a divine motive of some kind, the Star
suggests hope or immortality, and so forth.
preparing a list of symbols and their various meanings, deal two or
three of the cards for each of the major characters in your game.
Consider the symbols and the order in which they appear.
example, let's say that you're working on a science-fiction game. One
of your characters is a scientist named Lennix. We deal three cards for
him, and come up with Star (hope/immortality), Magician (divine
motive), and Tower (fall of pride/doom). So if we consider the symbolic
meaning for these cards, we could come up with hope, divine motive, and
a fall of pride.
Lennix sees technology as humanity's last hope, a way for humans to
transcend their pettiness and bigotry. Through science, he hopes to
accelerate the evolution of humans, advancing us to a stage of elevated
consciousness. This quest ends in failure, resulting in a fall of grace
because of his pride. Possibly his experiments result in death (or
worse), or possibly he is discovered and expelled. So Lennix is driven
by guilt. He knows what he wanted to achieve, and he may feel that he
was wrong, and that he has learned a lesson. Or he may feel that he was
thwarted, and he may be continuing his experiments in secret.
the cards in another order produces different results. Let's say that
we've dealt Tower, Magician, and Star. In this light, perhaps Lennix
underwent some personal tragedy, a catastrophe that caused him great
pain. He lost his faith in science, but has recently found a different
kind of faith - religion, or magic, or communion with Nature, or
whatever - and now, he believes that there is hope after all. Silly
fool, there's no hope.
yourself what the cards stand for, and whether that interpretation
really fits with the kind of game you're developing. As patterns
emerge, think about the personalities of the characters that you're
visualizing, and ask yourself whether they really fit. If you like the
icons, but aren't sure of the order, rearrange them, as in the above
example, and see if that works better for you.
alternative method is to create your own tarot deck, based loosely on
the iconography of the deck. This is not uncommnon - T. S. Eliot played
fast and loose with the tarot in his poem "The Waste Land", as did
Stephen King in his Dark Tower novels. You may want to create your own tarot deck of archetypes, each with its own set of symbolic significance.