Part I: The Hero
In this Tutorial I aim to teach those taking there first steps in game design how to write and execute a cast of characters for your games. I am writing this tutorial with over a decade's experience in playing pen and paper roleplaying, RPG maker is just a visual extension of that for me. So, shall we begin.
Lets Organise the different types of game character that your game will feature into four broad categories and look at each in detail these categories are the Hero, The Villain, the Leads and the Support.
All games no matter how obscure there concept needs these four types of characters.
I will begin my character analysis with that of the Hero, the most important character in your game. The design of your leading character should be carefully thought out, with all decisions about he/she taken with very serious consideration.
The first thing that you should think about with your hero, even before you pick there sprite is whether they will talk in the game. A strange place to start yes, but one that will save you a lot of time. Why would we choose not to have our character talk in our game? Well many great games such as Breath of Fire and Suikoden choose to do this and here is why.The Silent Hero
The single greatest pitfall any character designer can fall into when creating a lead character, is making he/she unlikable. If the person playing your game does not like your lead they will stop playing your game after ten minutes at the most. By making your character mute or only speak when the player is presented with a choice, you take away this possibility drastically.(how far you go with these choices is up to you, more on that later).
With a mute character you're player never feels annoyed at him saying something stupid because he would only say such a thing if the player selected that option, thus giving the player a sense of control over what is going on in the game world. Never forget however that although your hero may not talk he is still a character with his own traits beyond the input of the player, to achieve this you may have to create or find a sprite with multiple poses to convey a visual sense of feeling. This could be achieved using multiple- expression facesets, however it would look pretty silly having a faceset and no text to go along with it. When used effectively The Silent Hero enhances your player immersion by giving him control, when used ineffectively it makes him feel both distant and left with a feeling that your game is shallow.
I would also like to note that this option works best in games that are telling a relatively simple story for a more complex one we are better using The Characterised Hero. This rule does not always apply however, its quite possible to create a complex story that is told through the supporting cast.Ryu, the Silent HeroThe Characterised Hero
So we have looked at the pro and cons of making a silent hero but what if you want to go with the tradition of Final Fantasy and make your hero a full blown character. Well if you get it right this works far better than the silent hero, and if you get it wrong your game is doomed from the word go.
When thinking about making your Hero consider that the player will spend almost all game time as this character so avoid anything that may annoy like the plague. Catchphrases, snide remarks and witty comments are best left in the dialogue of the support. In order for your player to care about the story he has to care about this character deeply, so in order to conduct him well you have to put a lot of thought into his personality, his motives and his background. We shall look into all of these in detail and this is this character type is the one that I will assume you are using, as most of this tutorial can only be applied only to a hero that talks in the game (although some of it will be of the sections will be of use to the silent hero character type)Appearance
Look at these pictures, do any of them strike you as particularly exotic or unusual in the type of design that is common in anime?Cloud, McDhol and Yuki
The answer is most likely no, despite the fact all three are leading characters from great RPG games. I'm going to hammer in a sad truth when it comes to your hero's visual design, anything exotic is bad, real bad. An audience expects it's hero to look a certain almost generic way, this is true in most RPG games. Don't get me wrong many games have very unique characters but never are they the lead, it is simply to much of a risk. If this risk pays off it can make your game endure in the memories of it's players for a long time, but more often than not most people will simply not except a hero that looks to different from what is expected.
I'm not much of an artist so I will leave the specifics of rendering your sprites to other tutorials.Background
Ok so by now you should have decided on method of how your hero will interact with the player and how he will look. So what next? Well now you have to think about who this character is. Ask your self some questions. Where did your hero grow up? Who are his parents and is he still in contact with them? Was he an only child or does he have siblings? What is the worst thing that has happened to him up until now? What is the best thing? What is his single strongest memory from when he was a child? Assuming that he knows how to fight, where did he learn? Was he self taught? Did he have formal education?ect.
These and many others questions like it are what you should be asking yourself when creating your hero. Like it or not he had some sort of life before the player took it over and if you don't explain what that life was, your hero will seem shallow and unrealistic. The trick to designing a background is to link it into the story you are trying to tell. Make a few points in your game where the hero meets an old friend, relative or enemy that the player does not know about, this encounter does not have relate to the ongoing story in any meaningful way but it is there to reinforce that your hero had a life before all this.
Here are some of the main point that you should consider when designing your hero's background:
- Where your hero was born and grew up. Was it a large city? An artic wasteland? The gates of hell? Think about how this would have defined him as a person.
- What sort of family the hero has and his relationship with them. Does he have any siblings?any uncles killed by stormtroopers? That sort of thing. This aspect may or may not tie into the ongoing storyline at some point or it can just be revealed later to give your hero a greater sense of depth. Think beyond just who his family are as well. Think about what they do and there place within society. Are they weathly nobles or peasants struggling to make a living?
- How did your hero learn to do what he can do today. If he is pretty handy with a sword he must have learned that somewhere. Think about how and where he learned these skills and how you can relate that into the ongoing story. Perhaps his old mentor comes back to help the heroes at a critical stage in the game or an old rival from his time at the alchemy academy makes an appearance and stirs things up.
Perhaps the hardest thing to create for a hero is his personality (largely skipped if he is the silent type) as if you make him unlikeable your player will grow frustrated with the game. Try to think of three traits, just three, that sums him up. These could be things like a loner, optimistic, playful, sarcastic, emotionless, compassionate, expressive, naive, reckless or anything else you can think of. With just three traits you have the basis of a personality. A tip to make your character seem deeper is to give him two traits that conflict with one another.
For example you may decide that your going to tell a tale set in a mythical Asian setting with your leading hero being a Ninja of the Shifting Shadows Clan. You decide he will be a fully characterised hero as you intend to tell the complex story of the brutal strife between the warring fractions in your world. You spend time developing that his parents were killed when he was very young and he was adopted and trained in the deadly art's of the ninja. When it comes to deciding his traits you decide that his harsh life has shaped him into a humourless loner but behind the facade is a deep reservoir of emotion and a young, confused man. This sort of conflict in his three traits adds a deepness to an otherwise cliché character.
Also try to link his personality to his past, this also adds realism.What sort of personality will your lead have?A Dramatic Hook
Ok so now we should have a fairly fleshed out character, but we need to ask ourselves: why is this character the hero? The reason is the dramatic hook. The dramatic hook is something that makes your character that extra bit special, like for example being a clone of the greatest warrior on earth, just for example.XD. This part links into the story so there's no sure fire way to pick it, however it has to be huge. The lost king of a distant civilisation, the last survivor of an ancient and powerful race, a god reincarnated, a half dragon, whatever just make it epic. Your player is going to be spending a lot of time playing as this character and he/she will want that character to have the most grand story of all....With a Dramatic Hook in place and character's with genuine personality, your story can be epic.
So by now you should be at a stage in which you have the basic framework of a character to work with. This is an excellent start but players will grow tired of your hero if he does not develop and evolve with your story. It is for that reason that I will give you some of my thoughts on character development within an RPG structure.Depth
You will most likely find that the while your three character traits assist you in voicing many scenes, they will not cover each and every situation. There will come times when adding a further element of depth will be necessary. When such occasions occur consistency is a major concern.
Remain consistent in your characters perceptions and endeavours unless there is a reasonable justification for him to change his normal behaviour. Creating an inconsistent character personality may feel more realistic at times but for the purpose of a game I don't believe that it is a wise decision. You want to establish a strong image in your players mind of who your Hero is and what they are like as a person. If you stray too far from your established archetype a player may grow tired or confused. Could you imagine if three hours into FFVIII Squall decides to hug the gang and ask them if they want to celebrate there last victory over a beer?
The answer is most likely no; it is obvious that the writers of FFVIII wanted to establish there lead as a quite, pensive loner. It is only through dramatic elements in the story that this initial personality begins to evolve and change.Character Evolution
In order to maintain player interest and add an element of depth to her persona you will find it necessary for your Hero to evolve throughout your story. This change may be subtle such as a slowly harding attitude towards the game world as the character explores and loses some of the naivety that you originally decided they will have.
On the other hand I find that character evolution is best handled in a dramatic and memorable fashion. This can be accomplished by combining background, depth and an emotional response to create dramatic scenes of development.Emotional Development
I find that scenes of memorable emotion and drama are best when they combine many other elements of a games story. In order to set up a scene of character evolution you should combine elements of background, plot and your dramatic hook.
For example your lead hero is the last of an ancient race (the dramatic hook) you have decided that your three basic traits are active, brash and carefree (personality) and he has had a fairly simple life living on a secluded farm with his mentor and guardian (background.)
Now in order to instigate a shift in personality we need a dramatic scene. In this case the destruction of the Hero's home and death of his guardian at the hands of the evil Empire. As an emotional scene of dialogue unfolds between the Hero and his dyeing mentor his secret heritage is revealed and life changed forever. In this way the writer is free to change the hero’s personality at the start of the game from a carefree, active young man into a more quite, level-headed character with a good justification for the change.
Scenes such as this may occur throughout the game shaping the hero not into the character you initially created but rather the person you want him to become. You will find that when created well such scenes of development and emotion are the highlight of any RPG experience, both to create and to play. From the players point of view it can make them feel a part of the emotional journey of the characters they have come to know and love.Dramatic Emotional DevelopmentEnding Notes
Ok so I intended to make this tutorial all about characters but it turned out to be longer than I expected, and I could have went on so much more about designing a hero. I think I have covered all the main points. If anyone like's this and finds it helpful I will do similarly structured tutorials for Villains, leads and support characters.
This post has been edited by Jacen: Feb 14 2011, 05:49 AM