Yu Suzuki, Sega
Also at Sega is the one and only Yu Suzuki, responsible for such fantastic games such as the character-driven Shenmue, the Virtua Fighter series, the Virtua Cop series, Hang On, Space Harrier, and others.
While Chapter 2 houses Suzuki's answers on creating fun and challenging video games, here we just asked him one question: How does he create such great characters as Ryo in Shenmue? Suzuki says:
What's most important is originality. Also, by tightly creating invisible parts like background stories or personalities of the characters, later development opportunity will be broadened. And lastly, a note on self-promotion: It's necessary to make an active effort to gain more recognition, like exposure or advertisement to media such as magazines or home pages.
Hideo Kojima, Konami
The celebrated game designer responsible for the Metal Gear Solid games was asked the discuss the importance of a lead character, such as Solid Snake, and how to create a successful one.
Hideo Kojima, creator of the insanely popular Metal Gear Solid games, believes that the success of a video game character is directly related to how well the player can control him or her. Solid Snake returns as the protagonist in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
This is a tough question. The lead character of a story is the most important element. If you can't associate yourself with the lead character of a movie or novel, you won't enjoy the storyline, no matter how great the storyline is. This holds true for games. What's different is that in games you control the main character. This is why it's necessary to take into consideration the character's "compatibility" to the viewpoints and psychology of all the people who would potentially play the game. Maintaining this balance is very difficult. The basic character description/setting, along with the character itself, is one thing. When the player actually moves the character, the character becomes complete. The player is the one who adds to the character what's missing.
Be sure to turn back to Chapter 2 to read Kojima's advice on general video game design.
Michel Ancel, Ubi Soft Entertainment
As project director at Ubi Soft in Paris, France, Michel Ancel is the designer who created the character Rayman, a huge international hit. He stars in all the versions of the Rayman games (available on multiple platforms) and for the past two years has been working on a top-secret project to debut in 2002 or 2003.
How is Rayman visually original? Well, for one thing, he's got no arms or legs—the hands and feet just magically appear where they should!
Before we dive into Rayman as a character, Ancel offers some game design tips. "Be creative, be logical, and understand the player's point of view," he begins. Using Rayman as an example, Ancel continues:
The creativity aspect of Rayman comes from its graphic style. We also tried to imagine some unique game sequences, like being chased by a pirate spaceship or cooperating with a powerful but fearful friend. The logic part is about the rules, the gameplay techniques that you have to follow precisely, like the evolutions of Rayman, the level of skills, the puzzles. And to understand the player's view, the game must be playable for maybe millions of people. It means that we must consider how people will react when playing. The typical questions are about the controls, the story, the challenge, the rewards, etc. Are they good enough? Easy to understand? etc. The questions that must be answered early in the game's creation.
Is there a special technique for creating world-renowned characters such as Rayman?
When I created Rayman, I didn't really analyze it. I just made it like this because it was fun for me and my friends. I also wanted an easy-to-animate character. Your character must not look like [other characters], but at the same time he must appear familiar to people. That's a challenge between originality and an easy-to-understand character.
Rayman is visually original, but in some aspects he's close to what young people are wanting from a hero. The visual aspect is important for the first impact. After this first feeling, the next one is about animation. A lot of the personality is revealed by the animations—the way your character move in common actions. The next and most important step—especially for games—comes from his powers, his specific actions. What can he do that will surprise the player? This is an important question. The next and deepest aspect will come from his feelings, his personality, the way he reacts in particular situations: danger, love, surprises, victory, etc. You must consider all these steps of perceptions and be sure that you're not completely copying another hero!
"Rayman is 50 percent action and 50 percent humor. That's what most young people care about," says Ancel.
Finally, he discusses the issue of control (discussed in depth in Chapter 14). Ancel agrees that one of the biggest challenges when making a game is to make the control very intuitive and comfortable. The Rayman series is a good example of it done right. Ancel explains why:
You must look at the player's reflexes. To avoid frustration, you must think about what's natural for people. Test your new control with your friends, wife, children—everyone who will give you feedback. A single delay on the buttons, the acceleration curve of the camera—all these parameters are important to tune if you want good control. You must have more than 100 of these kinds of parameters in your game, and must be able to change them easily depending on the player's feedback.
Tim Schafer, Double Fine Productions
Some of the computer game industry's most beloved characters were created by the affable Tim Schafer, who recently left an eight-year stint at Lucas Arts to start Double Fine Productions. Schafer brought such memorable, time-withstanding characters to life such as Manuel "Manny" Calavera and Hector Lemans from Grim Fandango and Ben and Malcolm Corley from Full Throttle.
According to Schafer, wish fulfillment is the main secret to character (and game) design. He explains:
Never forget that you're providing players with the chance to do something they can't do in their daily lives. It should be something that they really want to do, if just for a little while. With Full Throttle, we were banking on the secret desire to be a biker: big, tough, cool. Riding a huge hog around. Without a helmet. Ask yourself, what's the wish fulfillment that I'm providing with my game? What secret desire am I satisfying? This is more important in adventure games than in a game like, say, Sonic the Hedgehog, because adventure games are always about fantasy.
Schafer comments on the importance of storyboarding and design documents for creating adventure games:
We storyboarded every single shot that appears in Grim Fandango, and it was invaluable. It helps the artists know what to build, what angles it has to look good from. It tells the people who are placing the characters in the scenes where everybody should be standing. People have been doing it in movies for years, and games are just figuring it out now.
A design document is the game designer's bible for the development of the game. It shouldn't just be a burst of ideas you scribble down in the beginning of the process and then forget about as you enter the heat of production. It should be a living document that you revise after every brainstorming session to keep fresh and up to date. It's for the team to reference when they (or you) forget what the plan was.
Take heed to this veteran's advice: "If you don't have one, you'll drift off target, I promise."
Read more from Schafer on general game design tips and techniques (Chapter 3) and how to create good puzzles in an adventure game (Chapter 8).
Gabe Newell, Valve Software
In Chapter 2, Gabe Newell, founder and managing director of Kirkland, Washington's Valve Software, talks about creating successful action games such as Half-Life. He briefly comments here on creating lead characters and writing design documents.
"Actually, I'm not sure that a lead character is necessary, or even beneficial, in first-person games," admits Newell. He continues:
We made Gordon [Freeman, the protagonist in Half-Life] as transparent to the player as possible. The only time you ever hear yourself is when you're breathing during the disaster sequence. We had a bunch of third-person scenes, and we slowly realized that they were hurting the experience, not helping.
However, Newell does admit to using design documents:
We couldn't work without design documents. We have too many people who need to think through all of the implications of the design in all of the millions of details that go into a next-generation game. Each hour spent on the design probably saves us 10 hours of implementation.