Character Depth

The visual appearance of a character makes the most immediate impact on the player, and you can convey a lot of information about the character through his appearance, but you can't convey everything. Nor does his appearance necessarily determine what role he will play in a story, how he will behave in different
situations, or how he will interact with the game's core mechanics. To address those issues, you have to give your attention to deeper questions about who the character is and how he behaves.

If you begin your character design with the character's role, personality, and behavior rather than his appearance, you are doing story-driven character design. In story-driven design, you decide these things first and only then let the artists begin to develop a physical appearance for the character. Artists often like to work from a detailed description; it helps them to understand and visualize the character.

Even games that you would not expect to have fully developed characters can gain much by including them. Consider the multiformat title SSX Tricky, shown in Figure 6.7. This is an extreme sports snowboarding game that pays attention to character development. The player can make friends, foster rivalries, and enhance her charac­ter throughout the game. The addition of these storylike elements makes it more than a simple sports game. The player chooses a character and begins to identify with her. This creates a greater sense of immersion in the game, and best of all, it's not prescripted. The player chooses her own friends—or enemies—from the other char­acters at will, and her choices do affect the gameplay. You can be sure that the people you antagonize will try their hardest to sabotage your run, and there will be a few sharp words exchanged at the finish line.

Admittedly, it's not complex interpersonal interaction, and it could be taken fur­ther, but it's refreshing to see real character development attempted in the sort of games for which it has never before been considered. Interaction between charac­ters is one of the most interesting aspects of stories—sometimes more so than the actual plot. Although a plot details the path of a story (which is covered in the next chapter), the characters' interactions add the flavor and subtlety that differentiate a well-crafted story from a fifth-grade English composition assignment.

image068FIGURE 6.7

SSX Tricky is a sports game that includes real character development.

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