Role, Attitudes, and Values

Every character in a story plays a role, just as every character in a movie plays a role even if only as an extra. The moment a character appears for any reason, the audi­ence needs to know something about him. For minor characters, appearance and voice may convey all the information the audience needs—we don't need a detailed biography of the coffee-shop waitress who only appears for 30 seconds.

Подпись: Where was the character born? What was his or her family life like as a kid? Подпись: What were the traumatic moments in his life? What were his biggest triumphs?

Major characters need richer personalities, however, and to design them you will have to envision the character in your head and then answer a large number of questions about them. In his 2001 article "Building Character: An Analysis of Character Creation," designer Steve Meretzky recommends that you create a char­acter background paper, or backgrounder, for each one. You don't necessarily have to write it in narrative form; lists of qualities will do. The main thing is to get the information down on paper so that it's documented somewhere. Meretzky suggests that you consider the following:

Подпись: What was his education?

Подпись: What are his interesting or important possessions? Does he have any pets? Does he have unusual talents? What's the best thing that could happen to him? The worst thing?
Подпись: What are his hobbies? Describe any particular personality traits and how they manifest. Is he shy or outgoing? Greedy or giving? Does he have quirks? Does he have superstitions?

Describe his important past romances.

Подпись: Does he drink tea or coffee?Does he have phobias?

Obviously, this list is intended primarily for documenting ordinary humans, not sentient robo-camels or creatures of the underworld; if you set your game in the
realm of fantasy, you'll have to adjust the list of considerations as necessary. But in all cases, your goal is to become the world expert on this character, to know every­thing worth knowing about him. Try to imagine how he will behave in a variety of situations.

Once you know the answers to these questions, you can begin to think about how they will manifest themselves in your game's story. If your character is slightly dis­honest, say—a small-time crook but not a villain—how will you make this clear to the player? One of the cardinal rules of fiction writing is that you should show— rather than tell—things about the characters to the reader. This goes double for video games, in which players expect to be interacting most of the time and show little tolerance for expository material. How, then, will you show your characters' personalities? Consider these three factors: appearance, language, and behavior. The earlier section "Visual Appearances" deals with the first of these; the later section "Audio Design" addresses language. Appearance and language quickly and directly establish character but may produce stereotypes if you're not careful. The third factor, behavior, is the most subtle way of conveying character to the audience. Appearances can be deceiving, and deeds matter more than words. But establishing character through behavior takes longer; you must give the player the opportunity to observe a character's actions. What will your character do, what events might he get caught up in that will cause him to display his true nature?


Chapter 5, "Creative and Expressive Play," first introduced attributes, and this sec­tion discusses attributes of characters. Attributes are the data values that describe a character in some way: her location, state of health, property, emotional condition, relationships with others, and so on. Attributes are symbolic or numerical variables that can change as the player plays the game. Functional attributes form part of the game's core mechanics, but deciding on appropriate values is also a part of charac­ter design.

Attributes can be divided into those that change frequently and by large amounts, and those that change infrequently and by only small amounts or not at all. The former are called status attributes because they give the current status of the charac­ter, which can change often. The latter are called characterization attributes because they define the bedrock details of a character's personality, which—unless the character is mentally ill—shouldn't change much. These are not industry standard terms (the industry has not yet settled on a standard), but you should find them useful. In the Dungeons & Dragons universe, hit points (or health) is a status attri­bute; it changes moment by moment during a fight. Constitution is a characterization attribute referring to the character's overall degree of hardiness and resistance to injury or poison; it changes rarely or not at all.

In the past, most video games limited characters' attributes to physical details such as their health and inventory. In recent years, more games have made an effort to

model social relationships and emotional states. The standout example of the latter is The Sims, a game simulating the behavior of people living in a suburban neigh­borhood. A set of characterization attributes for each character (called a sim) determines, in part, its affinity for other sims; those with conflicting qualities won't get along well if forced to interact. The original version of the game called those attributes neat, outgoing, active, playful, and nice. Status attributes named hunger, comfort, hygiene, bladder, energy, fun, social, and room represented sims' personal needs, which could be met by directing them to perform appropriate activities (such as visiting a neighbor or taking a shower) or by improving their sur­roundings. An overall happiness value went up or down depending on whether the sim's needs were being met. Few games had ever bothered to measure their charac­ters' happiness before!

The Sims's model was simple but more sophisticated than anything that had yet been tried. As games get more complex and their stories get richer, there will undoubtedly be much more detailed models of human emotional states and relationships.

Defining your characters' attributes is part of character design, but the attributes that a character needs depend entirely upon the genre and the nature of the gameplay. The chapters in Part Two, "The Genres of Games," discuss the character attributes appropriate in each genre.

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