Elements of game design part three: Character

Character design is critical to financial success in almost any game. To define the essential features of a character, a design team must believe what kinds of things such a character does, and what subsequent challenges they must face. To create a truly immersive game experience with a compelling environment, you have to populate that world with “real” characters. Not just characters that behave realistically on the screen, but characters that are real to the design team and the customer. The more you know the character, the more real they will become, and the more they will help draw the player into your game. A character in a game needs histories, motives, dreams, and secrets. Then they will have real depth with which pull the player in, and your game world will be come a real place that the player loves to visit, and can't wait to get back to when they leave. 
I have looked at two of my personal favourite protagonists with a step back, finding out why in their design, they are so successful. It's not being overly cynical to say that part of Croft's appeal has always been the fact that she's a pixellated hottie in short shorts and a too tight a t shirt, but there's more to this iconic leading lady than her cup size. She's one of a kind, our Lara, aristocratic and acrobatic, adventurous and forever young is she's a young lady everyone can look up to. Fourteen years after the original game and 6 sequels on, Lara Croft is one of the strongest, most dynamic, most exciting female characters in the business: reckless, beautiful, and a damn fine shot, she's the driving powerhouse behind the success of the Tomb Raider franchise and has broken out into comics, films and all manner of other advertising and merchandise.


 In the current industry it is hugely profitable to design characters attractive to both Western and Eastern gamers, and to find a fine balance between realistic rendering and animated deformation. Artists designing these characters must pay attention to the characters' personalities and attire as well. I introduce my second character of choice (an old friend) first appearing in: Duke Nukem 1991. You could say that Duke is just a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of the hard-as-nails cinematic macho men seen in the likes of Commando, Rambo and Die Hard. Not necessarily invulnerable but bigger, badder and more muscular than you ever thought possible. Sure, you could say that, and you'd be right. But fifteen games later and Duke has become his very own man, joining the ranks of the characters he was designed to imitate and poke fun of. Film might have Schwarzenegger, but Gaming's got Mr Nukem, and who needs Arnie when Duke's in town? His catchphrases alone (a number of which are shamelessly ripped off from Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness) make him one of the best action characters ever devised: "Now you see me.... now you're dead", "It's my way or... hell, it's my way!", "There's only two ways this is gonna end, and in both of them... you're dead.".

I am very aware my two characters of choice, male and female, are the cliché of games. Muscles, boobs and big guns. However these are not the sole reason for success, they are icons in their own right is down to the background behind these characters and the story that is attached. Catch phrases and a instantly recognisable appearance gives these characters a memorable image that sticks with anyone who plays either game. The artists designed the pair with cliché in mind, and it has clearly worked very well.