Designing Your Avatar Character

As you design the avatar for your game, think about how you want the player to relate to him. Do you want an entirely nonspecific avatar, really no more than a control mechanism for the player; a partially-specified avatar, which the player sees and knows a little about, but who doesn't have an inner life; or a fully specified avatar, separate from the player, an individual with a personality of his own? The more detail you supply, the more independent your avatar will be. Consider psy­chological and social detail as well as visual detail. How much will he talk? The more a person talks, the more we know about him; the more we know, the more he becomes differentiated from us. Gordon Freeman never talks; Mario and Lara Croft don't talk much; April Ryan talks a lot. Gordon is the player; Mario and Lara are representatives of the player; April is a person in her own right.

Also think about how the player will control your avatar: directly or indirectly? Your decision will have a profound impact on the player's identification with the avatar. With indirect control, the avatar is distinctly someone else, with a mind of his own; with direct control, the avatar is to some degree a puppet. Your job is to find the right balance for each particular game, to create an avatar whose character­istics serve your goals for the player-avatar relationship.

Design an interesting and likeable avatar using the techniques introduced in this chapter. The player will see the avatar all the time; it must be a character the player can identify with and must possess qualities he is likely to appreciate, such as brav­ery, intelligence, decency, and a sense of humor.

Worst of all would be to create an avatar with qualities that players actively dislike. Squall Leonhart, the protagonist of Final Fantasy VIII, seemed at first to be self­absorbed and obnoxious, and those players who weren't willing to put up with his attitude stopped playing the game. This is one reason designers make games with only semispecific characters. Link, from the Zelda series, is a semispecific character (though perhaps a little more detailed than Mario). We don't know enough about Link to form much of an opinion of his character, either positive or negative.

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