August 12, 2008

Week 3 reading: Character Development

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 11:09 am

A reading of Rollings and Adams (2003) on games Character Development:

To begin it is stated there are two sources for character design: these being either Art sourced or Story sourced design (Rollings & Adams, 2003, p. 122)

Art-Driven Character Design

Art driven design has traditionally been the driver behind character design as simpler games did not rely on a narrative as much (Rollings & Adams, 2003, p. 122)

“Realism doesn’t matter – self consistency does” (Rollings & Adams, 2003, p. 122)

A shallow character (little to no back story) designed on superficial graphical ideals may enable the player to inject his or her own personality into the character. Whereas a character with a very well developed back story may alienate the player if they do not identify with that character. The main aim is to enable the player to identify with the character so as to become more immersed into the game and genuinely ‘care’ for the character and want to play it more. (Rollings & Adams, 2003, p. 123) Perhaps this is why there are RPG games that allow the player to choose their appearance at the outset of the game as this would enable the player to identify with their character more than simply imposing a particular ‘look’ onto the player.

To promote feelings of desire for the character one might use either sexual desire or cuteness. Sexual desire might be achieved through “the breast and leg length of … usually exaggerated by 33 percent, their waists … too small to accommodate the required internal organs.” (Rollings & Adams, 2003, p. 124). Cuteness is normally achieved by designing the character with large heads and large eyes – an appealing cute character may create the desire of the player to be protective of the character. Rollings and Adams give the example of Japanese Anime following this approach, though also in an ultra- violent way that Rollings and Adams say is often perverse to Western eyes (p. 124.) It should be mentioned here that this is a classic Disney/Warner Bros animation technique that Anime was influenced by and there certainly are examples of violent yet cute American animated characters.

The design of the character should also be applicable to the delivery platform (2D pixel height/3D polygon count) as well as the target audience’s age group (Rollings & Adams, 2003, pp. 126-127). Rollings and Adams warn about making your character too clichéd, too cute and have too much attitude that it is likely bring negative attention to your game (pp. 128-129). At this point, Rollings and Adams seem to be making a point about being too commercial and sights the Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory and Spongebob Squarepants as examples of cartoons that have fallen victim to this appraoch of combining cute and the “kiddie demographic”. Frankly I find this to be rubbish – the Powerpuff Girls the writer of this blog felt was a brilliant complete circle in animation style where West influences East only to influence the West – it looks like it is Anime based but it was conceived in the US and is an entertaining result – what is wrong with being good and commercial?

Story-Driven Character Design

The best approach to developing a well-fleshed-out character is to start with the story behind the character and develop the character’s traits and personality before you even consider the appearance. Often artists prefer to work from a detailed description such as this; it allows them to really understand and visualize the character. (Rollings & Adams, 2003, p. 130)

To be sure, from an artist’s perspective it would be very difficult to design a character if you did not know what made that character ‘tick’. Who is the character, how do they react, why are they where they are, how do they overcome their situation? All the important questions that many young animation students fail to consider when they ‘create’ their character – they just draw something that they think might be appealing but do not know anything about the character itself.

Rollings and Adams highlight the importance of creating a character that the player can identify with (and sights the ability for the player to choose their preferred character) and states that character to character interaction can be as important, if not more so, than the plot itself (2003, pp. 130-131).

However, Rollings and Adams, again, start complaining about the lack of originality in Games characters, such as Lara Croft, and takes a swipe at the British film industry. For sure, the British film and TV industry does produce what could well be described as crap compared to some of the American efforts – and the writer of this blog is certainly no huge fan of British cinema – however plenty of crap comes out of the US too while what the British do well, they do very, very, well. As for Lara Croft and that she is a pale, one dimensional imitation of Indiana Jones, perhaps what Rollings and Adams fail to recognise is that Lara Croft is a female character, and this in itself is original against a history of the hero character being male centric. Archetypes in themselves will predetermine the roles of our heroes and the types of foes they encounter – perhaps nothing is original then in this respect, so simply stating that creating a heroine character is unoriginal fails to recognise that the hero himself is an unoriginal concept .Rollings and Adams then seem to imply that using stereotypes is a good thing- is a stereotype original?

Rollings and Adams (2003, p. 134) states that there are “three golden guidelines to developing effective, believable characters”, these being:

  • The character needs to intrigue the player.
  • The character needs to get the player to like him
  • That character needs to change and grow according to experience

Illustrated is a diagram representing the Hero’s journey through three acts (Rollings & Adams, 2003, p. 135) which is stated as being as important, if not more so, than the plot itself. We are then introduced to Character Archetypes (Rollings & Adams, p. 137-144) including the Hero, the Mentor, the Higher Self, the Allies, the Shape Shifter, the Threshold Guardian, the Trickster, the Shadow and, finally, the Herald. Some of these archetypes seem to be drawn from game characters as opposed to the archetypes that Jung described. The description of the Shadow archetype, for example, would appear to fail to identify that the shadow is the ego’s opposite and reflects the social elements that the ego wishes to suppress:

The shadow is the personal unconscious; it is all those uncivilized desires and emotions that are incompatible with social standards and our ideal personality, all that we are ashamed of, all that we do not want to know about ourselves. It follows that the narrower and more restrictive the society in which we live the larger will be our shadow.  (Fordham, 1966, ¶ 10).

On reflection, there are several archetypes that Rollings and Adams leave out that are very powerful characters that certainly could perform an important part in supporting the development of the narrative. The first being the ‘Mother’ archetype: the Mother does not need to be a biological ‘Mother’ but rather anything that provides us with protection and sustenance – HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey was a Mother archetype, as was the ship’s computer in Aliens, which was referred to as ‘Mother’:

… The mother archetype has two aspects: she is both loving and terrible. Positively, the mother archetype has been associated with solicitude, wisdom, sympathy, spiritual exaltation, helpful instincts, growth and fertility; the negative or evil side of the mother archetype is associated with secrets, darkness, the world of the dead, seduction and poison. (Rothgeb, 2007, ¶ 10)

The Child archetype is also an important character that can represent hope, rebirth, a saviour etc:

The purpose of the child archetype is seen as the compensation or correction of the inevitable onesidedness [sic] and extravagance of the conscious mind, the natural result of conscious concentration on a few contents to the exclusion of all others. Modem [sic] man’s developed will is described as affording human freedom, but also the greater possibility of transgression against the instincts. Compensation through the still exist- ing [sic] state of childhood is considered necessary to prevent the uprooting of modem man’s differentiated consciousness.  (Rothgeb, 2007, ¶ 56)

Finally, we have the ‘Anima’ and ‘Animus’ archetypes that could also have given a mention. These archetypical characters are said to be necessary for one to identify with the collective unconscious as well as being representative of one’s ideal partner- depending on the journey the hero will take in the narrative, leaving out either of these two archetypes might make for a hollow story:

The compelling power of the anima is due to her image being an archetype of the collective unconscious, which is projected on to any woman who offers the slightest hook on which her picture may be hung. Jung considers her to be the soul of man … namely, a part of the personality. To avoid confusion, therefore, Jung uses the word anima instead of soul; psychologically it implies the ‘recognition of the existence of a semiconscious psychic complex, having partial autonomy of function’.  (Fordham, 1966, ¶ 22)

The animus in women is the counterpart of the anima in man. He seems to be (like the anima) derived from three roots: the collective image of man which a woman inherits; her own experience of masculinity coming through the contacts she makes with men in her life; and the latent masculine principle in herself. (Fordham, 1966, ¶ 25)

Finally, Rollings and Adams (2003, pp. 145-146) advises us that the avatar – that which represents the player in the game – should contain the most detail – the most and smoothest animations; that we should be able to see the avatar easily and for it to stand out from the background; should be distinguishable from enemy or ally avatars; should be recognisable as to its sex, ethnicity, clothing, hair, colour etc; but warns about giving names to the characters that promotes too much of a cartoon like quality as this may destroy the realism that one is trying to achieve in the game.

In all, and interesting chapter that contained many interesting insights into the development of characters for games with different needs and target markets. However, one cannot help feel that Rollings and Adams become far too subjective in describing his reasoning and that perhaps his position on ‘originality’ is perhaps based upon what he identifies with on a personal level.


Reference list

Fordham, F. (1953/1966). Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. In An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology.  Retrieved August 10, 2008 from http://www.cgjungpage.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=852&Itemid=41#Contnets3

Rollings, A. & Adams, E. (2003). Character Development. On Game Design (pp. 122-146). Berkeley, California: New Riders.

Rothgeb, C. L. (2007). (Ed.) Volume IX (Part I) : The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. In Abstracts of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Retrieved August 10, 2008 from http://www.cgjungpage.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=854&Itemid=41#226

1 Comment

  1. hm. imh(non-referenced)o – character’s for games really are just “pretty” sprites. it amazes me just how little the history of the character on stage and screen is taken into consideration with these games. characters on the screen are defined by action. interesting screen characters often say one thing and then proceed to do another – much like any human hypocrite. i’d say jung has a little more to offer than rollings (based on this interpretation of the readings). rollings seems to be very happy to scratch the surface without examining character in depth. in screenplays “character = story”. two good books which hold hands with jung’s archetype are tombs for screenwriters. joseph campbell’s “the hero with the thousand faces” and chris vogler’s “the hero’s journey”. both use jung to redefine “character” for the screen (the silver one).

    Comment by objectman — August 13, 2008 @ 11:55 am

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