In everyday language, people often speak disparagingly of characters in books and movies as two-dimensional. By this they mean that the character isn't very interesting, doesn't grow or change, doesn't feel fully human, or adheres to a stereotype without any nuances. This criticism usually applies to heroes and villains; it's not realistic to expect everyone who appears in a story to be a fully rounded character with his own quirks and foibles.
This book proposes a slightly more formal use of the idea of character dimensionality, which may help you define characters for computer games. Characters may be classified into four groups: zero-, one-, two-, and three-dimensional. A character's degree of emotional sophistication and the ways in which his behavior changes in response to emotional changes determine his degree of dimensionality. Here we'll examine each group in terms of the kinds of characters found in The Lord of the Rings, simply because that story is so well known.
■ Zero-dimensional characters exhibit only discrete emotional states. A zerodimensional character may exhibit any number of such states, but there is no continuum of states; that is, the character's emotional state never moves smoothly from one state into another or shows evidence of being in two states at the same time; there is no such thing as "mixed feelings." The nameless orcs in The Lord of the Rings feel only two emotions: hate and fear. The orcs hate the heroes and attack
whenever they feel they outnumber their enemies, and they fear the heroes and run away whenever they feel vulnerable or outnumbered. This minimal level of emotional variability is typical of the enemies in a simple shooter game (see Figure 6.8).
The emotional simplicity of zero-dimensional characters can make them comic.
The characters in classic Warner Brothers cartoons—Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, and so on—change almost instantaneously from one extreme emotion to another.
■ Three-dimensional characters have multiple emotional states that can produce conflicting impulses. This state of affairs distresses and confuses them, sometimes causing them to behave in inconsistent ways. Most of the major characters in The Lord of the Rings are three-dimensional, especially those who are tempted by the Ring. Frodo and, above all, Gollum are three-dimensional; Gollum's conflicting desires have driven him mad (see Figure 6.11).
If you plan to allow conflicting emotional states to exist in a character, then you must decide how this conflict manifests itself so that the player perceives it. At any given time, one state will dominate, but if the character really is of two minds about something, his behavior may become erratic as one emotion dominates and then another. For example, a person doing something he really doesn't want to do may be visibly reluctant, change his mind in the middle, or even subconsciously take some action that sabotages his own efforts. There isn't space to discuss this issue in depth here, but you will have to think long and hard about how to portray your characters' mixed feelings, and you should also discuss the problem with both your programmers (who will have to implement the necessary algorithms) and your artists (who will have to create animations showing, for example, reluctance or uncertainty).
Both the game industry and the playing public would benefit from more games with three-dimensional characters. April Ryan in The Longest Journey and The Nameless One in Planescape: Torment both face a number of moral dilemmas and questions about what it means to be who they are. This kind of writing helps to improve the public perception of our medium as an art form worthy of serious consideration.