When creating characters in games it is important to think about why the character is the way they are…
That’s pretty broad. Let me give an example. In Far Cry 3 (I’m going to give spoilers so…lol) you are Jason Brody. A random white dude who gets stranded on an island. Somebody kills your brother and kidnaps your friends. In retaliation you go on a drug fueled murderous rampage across the island while saving your friends. At the end of the game you can either join your friends and leave the island (duh right?) or kill your girlfriend, stay on the island, and become a “true warrior”. If choose to leave the island the illustrious Jason says this
“I’ve killed so many people I’ve lost count. I can never come back from this. I’m a monster. I can feel the anger inside me. But somewhere inside me, I’m still more than that. Better than that…“
When I first starting playing the game I really didn’t think about my actions in game that much. Like many other first person games with weapons you kill people. Wow. I then started thinking about how ridiculous it was that you, a random 20 something with no previous weapon experience becomes a one man army. This isn’t a uncommon theme in FPS’s. You control one dude (it’s usually a dude) and kill tons and tons of people alone. It provides for a good game usually. Nobody really wants to be restricted by human limitations. Video games provide experiences that could never happen in the real world.
The reason I brought this up is because the game takes itself seriously. You are Jason Brody. You are supposed to feel what Jason Brody is feeling. When the game takes itself seriously then it is completely fair to seriously look at what they are serving you. (Note: Games not taking themselves seriously are not exempt from analysis as well. They can just get away with it a little better.) You originally came to the island to see the sights. You get stuck on the island because you and your friends get captured. You escape and your brother gets killed. What do you do now? Obviously rescue your friends. That’s a perfectly normal reaction. To rescue your friends you have to kill some people along the way. These people are out to get you, they killed your brother, it’s pretty much kill or be killed. That’s fine, it’s a sacrifice you (they?) have to make to save your friends. Along the way though you notice that you, Jason Brody, is enjoying the murdering a little too much.
This isn’t a review of Far Cry 3. What I wanted to bring up was the character choice. Jason Brody is a white dude who goes skydiving over some random island and then kills a bunch of islanders. The islanders may be bad people but still it feels a little weird. If Jason was a girl would I feel different about gunning down so many islanders? I recently read a post talking about the representation of women in video games. At the end the author asks how people would feel about a female Booker (from Bioshock Infinite). I feel like it works the same way with Far Cry 3. People would be…upset.
So where am I going with this. I think it’s important to think about the reasons why a character is the way they are. Why is Jason Brody a generic white male? Could he be black? Canadian? Russian? Female Australian? What would change about the story, how players feel when they play the game?
Here is a small video from a game I am working on. You control the dot in the middle of the screen. Here that dot is shooting another dot. There are “blood” effects. It’s in slow motion. At first I thought it was a really cool effect. Then I took a second and looked at the colors of the dots. You control a white dot. You are shooting at black dots. Would somebody potentially be somewhat upset over the scene I am setting up?
Maybe. I decided to change the color of the enemies from black to grey. They didn’t come up on screen as well. I then changed the enemies to dark green. They kind of looked black still. I thought about changing the enemy colors to pink. I thought that might be a poor decision as well. I changed the dots to orange. The dot you control stayed white. Why did I choose the original colors? I use the colors for all my simple prototypes. The player is always a white colored thing on screen. The enemies are always black colored things on screen. Here is a video of a small game I just made. You control the white square and you avoid the black voids. Why do I use white and black for all my prototypes. White and black are opposites. It is impossible to confuse white with black. In a game the player needs to be able to easily distinguish what they are controlling from the things they are not controlling. I use white as a base color because it makes it easy to recolor the object in game. I can use one white circle texture for all characters in the world. I just recolor the circle in game for different characters.
That doesn’t really explain it that well. Could I have used red and blue? Well I felt that blue could blur into the background a little because the background is blue (cornflower blue to be exact). Well I could have changed the background color then. To what? Black? White? A random color? XNA uses cornflower blue as it’s default background color, here is why. Cornflower blue is a nice color. The background probably isn’t final either. The character shapes and colors aren’t final either. Basically all my games feature programmer art.
Conclusion? I think it’s important to think about why the character is the way they are. Don’t overlook anything just because it’s the norm. Make smart character decisions. This kind of ties into the broader sense of women in games. Some games have good not shitty female characters. I always bring up Mirror’s Edge and Portal 1 (my #1 and #2 favorite games). The newest Tomb Raider game may also be a good example but I haven’t played it (maybe during co-op). Will I change the colors of the enemies again? Probably. They are generic enemies. I didn’t design them to be people or zombies or aliens or cowboys or pirates. Just…circles. That get shot and splatter blood everywhere. In slow motion.
Also this is the post for last weekend. Came up with a topic while I was on the train back to Boston but I forgot what it was…4 more blog posts till the year is over!