Monday, 5 October 2009

Character Design.

You see, the key difference between this entry and the last entry is a mere squiggly line. Profound don't you think? No? Well, moving on. I decided on a theme or... a goal? Something at least that told people what I want to do for my MA. This happens to be character design across platforms, styles and genres. My original intention was to design characters and model them in 3D. I fancy myself a designer as well, but displaying good design is like trying to show someone you have a good liver. It's messy and ineffective as it stands. So I decided to go with a path that's slightly easier to judge - art. My folly in this is that there are so many amazing artists around, I'm never satisfied with my own work. Give me a week or two and I'll start hating on my previous entry.

Moving away from that tangent, my goal was to get a character and see the differences between art styles (realistic vs cartoony), genres (platformer vs action game vs FPS etc), platforms (360/PS3 vs Wii vs DS vs PSP) and perhaps culture (east vs north vs south vs west or more generally, east vs west).

This is when my tutors the lovely Mr. Jim Thompson and Josh Tailor (god I hope that's right, if not I'm screwed), started making things more complicated and actually got me to start thinking. A practice I absolutely abhor, even more so when it comes to research. Ew, research. That's like asking me to touch a scab or a leper. The research was about what makes a good character, or generally what makes them appealing. I posted these thoughts on Game Artisans - the reason being that these people are in the same position as me, so it would be interesting to see their thoughts on the matter. It started off slow but eventually I got some discussion going, the thread is ever growing so there might be more responses when (hah, more like if) you check it compared to when I typed this.

What makes a good character?

Crazyfool posted this very enlightening picture about character design across a variety of platforms, genres and styles. I would love to say that with a straight face, but most of these are just bald headed, muscle bound space marines (note: they aren't all space marines).

Josh asked me to look at what makes a character appealing and posed a series of questions that I answered terribly. I'd like to blame it on a lack of sleep, but it was the wrong day to do so. Now don't get me wrong, this is just satire, a few of these characters are actually well designed in both look and personality (Kratos, Altair, Sheppard). I think the main reason studios go for this look is accessibility and possibly "cool factor." Maybe even technical reasons. I reckon brogamers (Xbox 360 FPS/Halo/ find it easier to connect with these blank slate characters and find them less embarrassing to talk about with other brogamers than say...

A cute little JRPG girl (I googled that exact phrase, and Tidus, amongst other JRPG heroes showed up...) Which, while not exactly a sad state of affairs, is a little close minded. The comparison is kind of an east vs west thing. The west prefers dull, muted colours and more realism than the east, which prefers a more colourful and vibrant palette with a more surreal style. In terms of game play styles, the west is all for FPS and sports games, while the east is for RPGs and other weird games (understatement, but don't you feel more enlightened having watched that?)

When cultures cross pollinate, you get something called Metal Gear Solid, which is the best example of east meets west. Hideo Kojima has always been more inspired by American movies, TV and comics, so as a director you can see the influence in his games. The story, characters and dialogue are all very "Americanized", while there are clear influences of eastern styles in the game (namely the Metal Gears - Japan loves giant robots).

The art style of Metal Gear Solid is also very eastern, as well as some of the OTT action sequences that Japanese movies tend to have (along with some Michael Bay explosions). I think this influenced the game a lot. This has a lot to do with their main character and vehicle designer - Yoji Shinkawa

These no doubt are key images for Metal Gear Solid's success (as a whole). Would these characters have been the same if drawn by an American? Would Metal Gear Solid be the same game if Kojima was born in the US of A? I wonder how the style helps people to relate. You see, Japanese people prefer young looking, colourful people so to speak. While MGS's main character is a rugged man with a mullet and a cigarette. This sort of alienates the Japanese people and more caters to western tastes, which is why in MGS 2, Kojima made Raiden the main character - because he's more in-tune with Japanese tastes. I remember reading an article where Kojima talked about his decision to make Raiden the main character in MGS 2, and one of the quotes was "Why do we play as this creepy old guy?"

Thankfully Kojima learned his lesson. Of course, design is just a starting point, something to get you to look at a character or a game. The real test is personality and backstory, which I think is much more important (or at least just as important) than design. There's also environment and the world the characters are set in as well. I guess the main points and focus of my research into good characters are:

  • Design
  • Culture
  • Style
  • Story and Background
  • Environment (or Canvas, as Josh said)

I'm not sure how well I'll do, but this is a starting point after all. I guess the character's I'm interested in looking at are, Sonic, Mario, Samus, Ryu, Link/Zelda, Kirby and Master Chief (aka the Halo Dude). A lot of these characters have appeared across genres, platforms and styles (Mario has done it all, at least once).

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant blog entry dude. Lively introduction, and the combination of informal reference and genuine insight made for a compelling read.

    I laughed hard at the "bald average man in dirty brown/green tones and/or armour" chart. So damned true. Also, nice use of the term "brogamer". Unfortunately, it's "Taylor". ;D Close!


Remind me that I'm whining. Oh, and that I'm black.