Thursday, July 12, 2007

Building a Better Videogame Character

Well, haven't really felt like raking another of my favorite game genres over the coals, but I felt like doing something today. So, I'll present some of my thoughts on designing the characters, rather than game mechanics. Imagine there'll be some disagreement, but no worries.

1. Female leads: They don't have to be naughtily dressed. I don't think sexy is a matter about having a low square yardage in terms of clothing (and don't get me started on chain mail) or even certain body measurements.
Kirk: "Is it… that we're tired... and they're beautiful? They are... incredibly beautiful."
McCoy: "Are they, Jim? Are they actually more lovely, pound for pound, measure for measure... than any other women you've known? Or is it that they just, well... act beautiful?..."

- Kirk and McCoy, on Mudd's Women
2. Please, no more spiky-haired swordsmen for a while. Crono, Cloud, etcetera were cool, but that doesn't mean that you can just borrow their successes so easily. Try something different for the male lead's favored weapon, like a warhammer. Can potentially be used as a puzzle-dungeon solving tool as well as a weapon. Just tossing that out there.

3. Some of us have grown up: I know a lot of games have to appeal to the younger generation, but I'd like to see more full-blown adult leads and fewer teenagers in Japanese games and so forth. It takes out the 'coming of age' aspect of character development, but people still have things to deal with, even after turning 18.

4. Cute sidekicks: Make sure you test them on a large demographic cross section if you can. I just hate it when a 'cute' character turns out to be both annoying and popular. I have thicker skin for annoying characters, but it's also save me the annoyance of other people going on about how annoying they are. Please don't reread that last sentence or this post will go so meta the universe collapses in on itself.

5. Outfits: I'd occasionally like to have my characters wake up in the inn in different sets of clothes. Some games out there are doing something about this issue, thankfully.

6. The white mage: Why is the primary healer always female? Sometime I'd like to see the reverse: The male lead's the healer, and his romantic interest is the warrior-type. Something else that's annoying: Healing never seems to be a part of their identity. Twist on the old 'go to the forbidden place for medicinal herbs' quest: The healer stays behind to do what he can to help the victims. The challenge comes from the party having to endure the herb quest without their main healer.

7. Mute Hero Syndrome: You may have a likable character concept for your silent hero, but you'd better have the supporting actors give us some insight into his personality. Give us something to work with, Otherwise, we're left clueless as to his motivations.

8. Blank Slate Hero: If you're creating a generic character or attempting to let us insert ourselves into the game world, let us make lots and lots of choices to determine the story. If I want to play the bad guy, let me.


Joshua said...

One of the things that continuously impresses me about Half-Life is how engaging the experience is despite the fact that a) Gordon is 100% blank slate, not a single piece of dialog in the whole thing, combined with b) the gameplay is 100% linear and there's very rarely more than one "way" to get through a given area.

I guess they do the flipside of the freedom thing: manipulation of the player. They're very, very good at guiding you down Alley A and making you think it was your idea. And with the improved NPCs in Half-Life 2, they've got very good at making you feel certain emotions. I mean, everyone shuddered when Alyx said, "That's the tunnel to Ravenholm. We don't go there anymore."

So I guess the moral is that if you're not going to build a really deep and interesting sandbox, you need to build a really deep and interesting amusement park ride.

Uh, but yeah. Characters, you say? They're... good. Games should have them. Definitely.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on new weapons. If it isn't a sword, it's a fist. I do like the game that uses something weird to great effect, like a whip.

I've grown up, and sometimes they do put older characters in games. I also play Kirby, which I think is every single childhood candy land only you play in it yourself. I love those places. Yeah, there sure are a lot of teenage heroes. Remember, you die when you reach 30. (Well, I guess historically speaking there's some truth to that...)

I'm not only "think skinned" with the "annoying" side kick, I actually find myself loving those peoples. To this day I don't see what the big problem is with Yuffie or Cait Sith. I liked them. So what if Yuffie stole all your materia? It's a game! You are supposed to be challenged! Also mixing it all up was funny. Sometimes I think people take things too seriously, other times I think it's just a matter of taste.

I know what you mean about clothes, but there are certain time constraints in making a game. Fortunatly yes, they are doing things about that in modern games.

Funny you should mention the white mage = girl thing. That's not always the case mind you. I've played a number of games where guys have been healers. For example, this demo of Blue Dragon I played earlier today, the healer is this scientist looking guy. Also, lots of games let you decide character classes.

Mute heroes are actually part of your point about blank slate characters. Link isn't literally mute. The idea is you put your own words into his mouth as you go along. Well, that WAS the idea. Modern Zelda games seem to have Link acting a bit too much for my liking, meaning his character is kinda being determined for me. As for free range to control your character, some games let you do that to the extent the programmers are able to. See: Oblivion, or something classic, like say Planescape Torment.

Anonymous said...

One more thing I'll add. Basically for every thing you see wrong with one sort of game, I've seen other games that address it. There's a wide choice out there at least, so that's something.

JackalMage said...

Ooh, I would like to see some off-beat weapons for the main character. Warhammer is a go. What about, say, a staff? I purposely stayed away from swords when I could in FF12, instead opting for weapons that seemed as off-beat as possible. Vaan became a monk with Rods. Penelo? Katana (eventually Measures for the Evade, once she was able to do pure magical attack). And Ashe was a warhammer/axe user. ^_^

Waking up in different outfits would be pretty awesome. Just do it after major plot points, when they'd reasonably have the time to do so. You would not believe how joyful it was in Radiata Stories to have Jack's appearance radically change with every new armor and weapon. We literally kept one set around to wear when walking, then another (more powerful but uglier) one around for fighting. Oh, and you should definitely play Radiata. One of my favorite RPGs ever.

EGM once had an article about non-traditional RPG characters. Their white mage was still a woman, but one who really got into the guts of the job - literally. Healing often involved getting elbow deep in viscera, and she loved doing it.

The main character followed your preference, though. It was a rebellious female black mage who dabbled in the darker arts. And her love interest was a more demure swordsman. ^_^

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, I recognize the connection between blank slates and mute heroes, and for the latter I do tend to put my own style in my head. I think it's mostly a matter of how much they give for you to work with.

One thing I enjoyed: Being able to replay Zelda: Wind Waker with Link in his island clothes. He's no longer the destined stoic hero; he's a kid who got sucked into a lot of stuff.

Disthron said...

Hello every one. About the blank slate or create your own hero. I thought a good example of this was the "Vampire: Bloodlines" game. I really appreciated that it didn't force me to be a bad guy but the options were there for those who did.

I also found the characters engaging and fleshed out. I often ceared what happened to them. I'm just sad that the company that created it has gone bankrupt.

Don said...

I've been trying to get my copy of Vampire: Bloodlines back from a friend for months now. It really is a great game. Very open-ended, tons of options (both story and gameplay), fantastic narrative and pacing, and really vivid characters with great voice acting.

I'm a bit biased towards White Wolf, but it's mitigated by the fact that I can't stand to play Vampire pen-and-paper, and this is still one of my favorite games. Highly recommended.

Rhoadan said...

Uh, Jackalmage? May I point out that a katana is a sword. It's just a Japanese sword instead of a European one.

JackalMage said...

Ah, but it FF12 it looks and is treated much differently. The katana uses a combo of your magic and strength to determine damage, as opposed to swords and greatswords which are pure strength. Also, they are combo machines.

Also, I'm desperately trying to cover up my mistake. ^_^

Tom Foss said...

Kind of building off of this, I'd like to see some RPGs or Adventure Games where the main character is of one of those archetypes that you usually just accept into your party. Why not a game starring the big, burly-but-gentle blacksmith? Why not play as the white healer-mage? I think those would make for some interesting stories.

And, for the converse, I'd like to see more reversals of the traditional archetypes. I just recently started watching Firefly (I know, I know, I'm late to the game), and I like that we have someone like Kaylee, a mechanic who's also cheery and feminine (it doesn't hurt that I've had a crush on Jewel Staite for forever, either).

Hm...just realized that Kaylee's a lot like Gadget from "Rescue Rangers." Never had any kind of crush on the mouse, though.

Anyway, like you said with the male white mage, I'd love to see the "cute sidekick" be a big and bulky barbarian. I'd love to see the "coming-of-age hero" be a septuagenarian on a quest for his lost youth. And so on, and so forth.

I love this series of posts, BD. I hope the game companies are listening.

Anonymous said...

iirc, in Lunar 2 the primary healer's male (and quite an entertaining character at that)...