Sunday, 3 March 2013

Game Design: Characters

Characters that I encounter via books, TV and in films are no different to those I encounter in games. The level of character development throughout a narrative, interactions or via the visuals of a character is key to judging the believability of a character. One of my favourite books “The Lies of Locke Lamora” is a perfect example of where you get to know the characters like close friends you know why they say what they say and you know how they think. This book and its predecessor are excellent examples of character design. 

One of the things the book does to create these developed characters which you can really understand is it starts from the beginning and then jumps in at key points from their childhood and allows you to almost have memories of how they grew up. Fallout 3 implemented this idea and you get to know the character of your father really well but then he’s gone and you’re alone. His character doesn’t come into play after the opening of the game. I feel this was a great mistake you have built up this character and you have the player seeing him as a child and creating differing memories from childhood giving the player a better sense of the father’s character. This could have been used really well later in the game. This technique to develop characters seems strong. The issue however is that not all storylines involved the growing up stages. This is where characters are developed later on, now in books, films and tv the character focus changes greatly there is often multiple different storylines which are interconnected but in drastically different places or even times. I feel games lose something by developing characters who aren’t in front of the player and lose even more by changing who the player controls. They are no longer games and become interactive films. This leads me to another comment on this obsession with character design and development, often stating that the multiplayer side to games are less important and they are less of an artistic piece or just simply that they take away from the game.

I feel that games have become increasingly diluted and mixed up. From the start there was the adventure game genre and then there were the arcade games and the more multiplayer games. These have all been mushed up somewhat, now I have no issue with this I think its great but I think that when talking about character design many people will say that the games industry has to focus on characters more than ever before and has to change the way they are doing things to create better stories. I personally see a great number of well made and thought through characters developing in front of you as you play games and you become attached to them or you start to know who they are and how they operate. I also feel that games have some of the most immersive storylines. I think games are doing quite well with this but what I feel is that if this idea that character development and story should take the forefront of the game there will be a certain amount of gameplay lost in games becoming interactive films. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs you will know that I like the idea of games being esports. At the end of the day I feel that games which have put the focus on story have lost some of the concept of what a game is. The easiest example for me to bring up is The Walking Dead Game... THIS WAS AWFUL! Released in 2012 this game reminded me of Putt-Putt or Spy Fox I mean I understand that you want to create a story based game but what they produced was just a poor attempt at an interactive film, and this has been done before, its not new and original. And the way they made the game meant that it is a terrible game to play and more than aggravating film to watch. You are given options and instead of, as in most games, making those choices as you would in day to day life, instantly, or as in most films where they show you the characters choice; in The Walking Dead Game you are given a heads up display of your choices and a timer showing you how long you have to choose... this breaks the immersion and you are left waiting or getting bored by slow, clunky dialogue or the choices which if you were watching a film or TV series you wouldn't be bored of, you’d be paying attention to. That is just my rant about the way focusing on storyline and characters isn’t necessarily a fix for games, assuming for some unknown reason that games are broken in this respect.

In terms of storylines, I said earlier that I feel games have some of the most immersive storylines and I maintain this statement by looking at game universes like Half-Life and Portal, Assassin’s Creed, Dishonoured, The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect... These games have entire universes of stories to discover and you often find out more about their universes than you do in a film or book. This is not to say that the storylines are better but to say that the universes are often fuller and more immersive. I think attributing games as being the things to spew blood everywhere is fundamentally wrong, I personally think think that the control people have over the character is what allows this to happen, you see films like Saving Private Ryan as incredibly powerful because the acting and camera are controlled if you remove this control you get something like battlefield 1942 where people can do as they wish. Films, TV and books are a form of education by showing, where games can be seen as a form of education by experience...

I feel the story writing for games has improved so greatly in the past decade or so that I’m certain that this will continue to improve and perhaps we will have the next epic written in game form...

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