Thursday, November 25, 2010

Interesting Characters

Interesting characters are vital for any sort of narrative, and video games are no exception.  I've always tried to make characters that are a bit different from normal, and The Shattered War is no exception.  The means for making characters interesting are many and varied, and I couldn't try to list all the possible ways that you might try to do this. But here are a couple of general pointers that I like to think of when going through the initial process of creating a character:

Introduce Quickly
Give your character's name, position and emotional reaction to the protagonist as quickly as possible. Ideally you'd give all three within the first line or two, but you might choose to withhold an identity for dramatic tension or plot reasons. Players generally shouldn't be left wondering who they are talking to.

Cameras have establishing shots, dialogue should have establishing lines

What does this character add to the game? Why have you added them? If you can't answer this question, then you've got a problem. Are they for background flavour, to allow the player to overhear a conversation, give the player a quest, or are they an ally or adversary?


Resist the temptation to fall into stereotypes (the typical tough guy) or counter-stereotypes (but he's really a softie on the inside), or if you do, give them a quirk that gives their personality some additional depth. If you've got an established lore, see what roles this character can play within that, and how they might buck some of the trends set by it.

People have an emotional reaction to situations, especially when there is something at stake. If there's nothing at stake... well, you're doing something wrong with your game's plot! How does a character react to their current problems or predicament. This should come through in their attitude, expressions, movement, tone of voice and vocabulary.

He doesn't look particularly happy...

Desired Reaction
What do you want the player to feel when interacting with this character? Are you trying to get the player to sympathise with them, dislike them, want to show them up? Not all allies have to be likable, and not all enemies have to be completely hate inducing. Imagine if you can make the player empathise with a villain and then be forced to decide whether to kill them or spare them despite probably future danger and/or betrayal.

Don't be afraid to try and manipulate your player. Some of the best characters are those that people love to hate. If you can inspire an emotional reaction in a player such that all they want to do is see a character brought undone, then you've achieved the goal of making your NPC memorable.

In my next post, I'll give a few hints about The Shattered War and what players can expect from interactions with characters during the adventure.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting bit about creating companions is something I read in an interview with Chris Avellone about characters in Planescape: Torment.

    Naturally, this is for a Planescape game (meaning crazy stuff) but he said that he wrote a character concept as it came to his head. This, seeing as how humans tend to work, would often be something that could be considered a cliché or stereotype. He would then completely reverse key aspects of that character. If the concept had an undoubtable male quality to it, turn it to female! If it's a succubus, make it chaste! If it's an undead, make it a nice guy! And so forth.

    Like I said, Planescape is one of few universes where that thinking could work in its most extreme but I think for even more "plain" settings, it's a trick that can be applied at times to spice up characters. Always challenging the concepts as they come to your head.