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The Hero, the princess, the evil knight, the dragon. All creatures whether humanoid or otherwise are characters. For some games, you don't need to put much thought into the characters. For story-based games, they matter to the game. They are the part of the game the player usually cares about. And by 'care' I mean empathize/ identify with.
Designers generally have no problem making the characters look visually interesting. The trouble they seem to have is making their characters real/believable and original.
For a story-based game, every character plays a role both on the team and in the story. For some games instead of thinking: I want to make sure the party has 1 healer, 1 warrior, 1 mage, etc.
Think instead I need a character to fill this role of hero and build a battle system around them that makes it fair.
Now let's begin with developing a good, solid main character.
- Lead Role/Hero Development -
Traditionally, RPG/Adventure games are single player. The player will play as a main character through the game, just like reading through the eyes of a main character in a book. (At some point in the game you may have to play as another party member but that's up to you.)
Generically, the hero is a young lad off to save the world/princess. I'm sure you've played this game hundreds of times. To make the character interesting, you will need to decide the following things:
Personality, Personal History, Details.
Personality is how the character generally behaves, reacts and perceives the world.
Personal History provides reasons for his personality.
Detail is key in making a character REAL.
The devil is in the details.
Generic details include:
Name, Age, Gender, Race (if applicable), and appearance.
Details like personality and preferences make the character more real. What is the characters favorite food/book/music/hobby?
In character development story exercises, you get into your characters skin and learn everything about them to the most intimate detail.
The more questions you can answer about your character the more believable they are.
Not all details will be apparent in your game but they will help YOU the designer/writer write a story based around the character or make decisions on how the character would react in a given situation and writing their dialogue.
You SHOULD be able to know how the CHARACTER would react to a given situation. Not how YOU would react, you're character is not necessarily YOU.
Most painful memory, deepest regret, happiest memory, nervous ticks, phobia(s), motivation, most cherished possession would be details worth putting into characters as it could affect them in game play.
- Team Mate Development -
Other party members should not be dealt with any less importance than the main character. They are MUCH less likely to have details revealed about them but that does not mean you should just fill them in generic roles and give them flat personalities. The main character does not need to be the main focus of the game.
Like the hero you need to decide: Personality, Personal History, and Details.
Name, Age, Gender, (race), appearance should also sport the same amount of detail.
Adding personal details to Team Mates is just as important as it is to the hero. You want to surround your main character with characters the player will grow to love/hate for their personality. And it makes things interesting.
If you are making a party system, it might be best to add how each team member feels about each other.
Best Friend may like the main character, tolerate the female friend but finds her annoying (jealousy perhaps), and abhor the dog character.
- Villain Development -
The defining point for a villain is their motive. If your story ends with a one-on-one confrontation, the villain will need a personality, personal history and details just as in depth as the main characters if not more.
Good motives can be:
The villain had a good intention but evil methods.
The villain believes firmly that they are right, but it is skewed. Close to good but not quite.
The villain feels they have been wronged and wish to make it right. (similar to good intention, evil means).
Other motives might be:
Selfishness (I want to do it for me.)
Sadistic Nature (I like watching things suffer)
Greed (I want to rule the world.)
Revenge (You killed my brother, prepare to die!)
Madness (Seriously, just mentally deranged.)
Motives should not be thought up at the last second. It should be decided early in development. It will help write the story and plan events for the game.
The villain should either become someone the player comes to love/hate.
- NPC Development -
You need environmental town folk, but they also need to be real and not run-of-the-mill. You don't have to go too in depth with developing details like personal history of random NPCs. They don't even need names.
I like to think of NPCs in 3 categories:
Plot NPC - An NPC that is crucial to the story. Party members and any advisors/mentors in the game move the story. Basically, anyone that you would put into a long cut-scene. These NPCs should have names, personality and history. A high level of detail is necessary for some, but not all. Main Villains and party members need lots of detail.
Informed NPC - A seemingly random town-folk that actually has useful information. You are looking for Bob and they remember seeing Bob by the well a few hours ago. Specific guards, servants, or traveling merchants that may reveal helpful quest information. It might be good to differentiate these kinds of NPCs by giving them names or using their job title as a name is acceptable.
Uninformed NPC - Filler and strictly environmental. Kids playing around, shopkeepers, innkeepers, and village idiots. The kind that usually only comment on the weather. Commonly just named 'villager'.
- Character Charts -
A character chart is a common practice for story writing and they will work for the game character. Using the model of a story character, get deep into the nitty-gritty of the character.
Appearance: (hair, skin tone, eye color, clothes, height, body type, jewelry, birthmarks, scars, tattoos)
Disposition: (sunny, dismal, negative, positive)
Level of Education:
Religious Affiliation: (include how faithful)
Clan affiliation: (if any)
Political views: (if any)
Where they were born:
Where they currently live:
Relationship with family members:
Relationships with them:
Relationship with them
Relationship with them:
Most Precious Possession:
Okay so I put you through a bunch of crap about character details and personality and seemingly stupid things. What does it matter to the game if the Hero wets himself every time he sees a snake? (Well for one it'll make battles against snake monsters very amusing.)
But once you know the character and role they fill. You can decide what abilities they are best suited for. Perhaps their personal history or clan affiliation make them best suited for water style attacks. Because they are religious they only provide defensive magic. Because they have a fiery temper they have fire elements. Because they are half-demon they can summon lesser demons.
Now it's not just white mage, generic hero stuff. This also may help deciding limits on what the character can perform and what weapons they use.
In the pro game world, there are both good and bad examples of character development. Some characters are more in-depth than others.
Here I have a list of examples. I've also listed an in depth character chart to give you a good example.
Tales of Symphonia Cast - each character has a unique background story and personality that bounces off each other.
Summon Knight 1 and 2 - also each character had a history and desires with an odd mix of personalities.
Trauma Center: Under the Knife - lots of story development here, characters with strong beliefs and changing beliefs.
Prince of Persia Series - This is a story rich series, especially the recent trilogy. The prince is a character rich with history and ever changing personality.
Spyro Series - again lots of personalities and lively characters but not too much background or interest.
(I've attached the character chart.)