Chapter1.Designing Your Character

Chapter 1. Designing Your Character

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PLAYING A COMPUTER GAME is in some ways very similar to reading a book or watching a film: It is pure escapism. For the duration of the game, the player becomes the hero. During these few hours they step into another world, leaving worries and troubles behind. The overall design of the hero plays a key part in the player's distraction; a good design, combined with a good story, can encapsulate the player, immersing them fully in the game. A bad design will only serve to shatter the illusion, which could single-handedly cause your game to fail in the marketplace.

So where do you start when designing a character? This depends o the project. If you are working on a licensed project, a cartoon for example, or a comic book or movie license, you will be supplied with all the relevant materials to help you create your characters. These materials might include various models and color sheets, or even photographic references.

In theory, not having to worry about character design for your game could save time and work, but in reality you will find that the licensor will want the 3D version of their creation to stay true to its original style and design. Accomplishing this will involve a great many submissions of your artwork to get feedback from several people. First, you must be happy with the piece, and then your immediate managerthe lead artist on the projectmust approve it. The work will then be passed to your art director before it is finally presented to the client. And it's not done yet: The client may have to pass it around among a few colleagues before you receive any feedback. All this can turn out to be a lengthy process and will ultimately mean your having to make plenty of minor alterations before the characters are "signed off" as complete.

If, on the other hand, you are developing a product independently, all the character designs will be developed in house. Passing through fewer people means approval times will be shorter. This also means you will have more creative freedom, as long as your project managers are happy with the result.

In this first chapter I will share my own thoughts about the character design process, and in particular my ideas about designing the two main characters that we will develop as we work through this book.

    What Makes a Successful Character?

    Designing a character can be difficult; not only have you got to be fresh and original, but you must also be able to communicate your ideas to others through your artwork. You don't have to be an excellent traditional artist; all you need at this point is the ability to roughly sketch your ideas and put them onto paper for others to see. Once the sketches are approved, you can spend more time creating better renderings of the concepts to flesh out your basic ideas.

    So what are key points to keep in mind when designing a successful character?

    • Target Audience One of the first things to consider is for whom you are designing this character. Who is the game aimed at? The design and style for the character should fit the target audience's age group. If you are designing for a younger, pre-teen player, the character could be more of a caricature or could have a cartoon style with exaggerated proportions and bright colors. An adult audience will connect better with a more realistic hero.

    • Player Identification As with the characters in a film, the more players can identify with the game hero, the more deeply they will be drawn into the game. Players must want to be the character, to step into those shoes for the duration of the game.

    • Character Depth Your characters' personalities will contribute tremendously not only to their visual design but also to the way they act. Their "background" is what shapes their personality, so it's essential that you have good knowledge of the characters' past and present.

    • Branding If you are designing the main character for the game, it could be that all advertisements will be based upon that character. With this in mind, the character must be original and memorable as well as marketable.

    • Technical Considerations We talk more about technical matters later in the chapter. Knowing the technical limitations that affect your character will have an impact on your design of that character.

    • The Game World Finally, look at what the level/world builders in your game are doing. Work together with them, so that your characters and their world fit together. If the styles compete, the character may look out of place, and you lose the player's connection with the game hero.

    We now have a good idea of what qualities make up a good character, but what else can help us conceptualize that character? Inspiration certainly can, and it's all around us.

    Comics are a good source of inspiration; they give us many of today's cool characters. Superman, for example, is one of the most popular heroes of our time. His "S" shield is recognized worldwide. The striking red, blue, and yellow colors of his costume, his swirling cape, and the underwear worn on the outside of his outfit are all part of his trademark. Yet his uniform is relatively simple in design. Batman is another good example derived from comics; his design demonstrates good use of color and a strong silhouetteboth important factors in a character's design.

    It's safe to say that comics have long been a source of inspiration for game characters. Visit any game development studio and you will be hard pressed to find an artist's desk that doesn't display some comic memorabilia.

    We can also learn substantially from studying other successful game character designs. The hugely popular Final Fantasy series gives us colorful characters that hold a lot of personality and visual style. With each new Final Fantasy game come new styles and fresh new characters, each unique in its appearance. Lavish swords and weaponry, highly imaginative outfits, and well-conceived characters add to the gaming experience.

    Metal Gear Solid is another example of strong character design, in this case taking a more hyper-realistic style. The chosen colors fit the character perfectlyhe is a moody tactical character who uses stealth effectively, and his outfit has to represent this by being practical as well as stylish.

    Finally, we have games such as the Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank series, which are complete departures from the previously mentioned titles. These PlayStation games offer well-designed characters using a more abstract and cartoony style, because this sort of game needs to appeal to a wider audience, particularly the younger gamer.