I can’t really wrap my mind around what’s required for a lovable character design.
Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way, as I’m not really a narrative designer, but I’ve divided different characters depending on some attributes.
- How much do we know about him/her?
- Can we shape him/her?
- Is it a playable character?
- Is the gameplay connected to the character important?
With this list, I can’t really find a recipe for success, because it seems as if you can mix them anyway you want. What it all seems to come down to is something else. Probably the game itself, the adventure, the story and the actual presentation.
Let me give you some examples of successful characters with the list:
Guybrush Threepwood (Monkey Island)
He’s pretty much a comedian. A funny loser, but with the will to succeed. Over the course of all the games, we’ve come to learnt quite a lot about him. We’ve learned about his love, his preferences, his way of thinking and he’s got some unique traits like being able to hold his breath for 10 minutes while he can’t swim and he’s afraid of porcelain.
He also has a voice since the third game, creating even more of a personality!
We can’t shape him at all. It’s all predetermined and all the player does is follow along in the adventure. This helps with the way he can be presented and to just have “one Guybrush”.
He’s a playable character but we don’t have much direct control over him. Sure, we can tell him to enter a window on a ship, but all we do is click. It’s already decided how he’ll do it with using his agility to climb and grab onto stuff. You can’t fail anything requiring motor skills.
Guybrush is loved to say the least!
Shepard (Mass Effect)
Commander Shepard from Mass Effect takes a different approach.
It’s a serious character and a winner.
We know quite a bit about this character because we decide the background at the beginning of the game and over the course of the game the player decide what his/her opinion on things are. Shepard doesn’t even have a decided gender, it’s for the player to decide! So it’s a character we in some ways shape very much our self with the creation and dialogue/action-options. However, we can’t shape the character enough to decide on whether or not he’ll be a hero.
He/She also has a voice.
Of course, he/she is a playable character.
Actually, I’m not sure if the gameplay is important here. It’s an RPG:ified Gears of War, and right now the only thing gameplay-wise I see that’s connected to the character is that you can select his/her class in the beginning. But the class doesn’t have any effect of the character if you ask me, because it’s never referred to and no matter what kind of soldier you are, you’re still a soldier.
The developers have received a lot of praise for commander Shepard and people really seem to relate to him/her. (Btw, I tried to make mine look like Dolph Lundgren!)
Gordon Freeman (Half-Life)
Now, here’s a guy without a personality!
He’s a lab geek with great skills in handling guns and crowbars. He doesn’t talk… At all. He does nothing that emits any character. We get to know where he works and the people around him seems to like him, but we don’t really know a lot about his childhood, now, do we? Although! We do know he wears glasses. Four eyes!
We can’t shape him at all. Here’s a corridor, reach the other side. That’s his life.
Even though he doesn’t talk, he does “ough!” and stuff when hurt, but I don’t think that contributes to much. Heck, even the way he looks is something we’ve learned by external PR, like the cover.
Gordon Freeman. We know nothing! He doesn’t talk! He has no personality. We can’t shape him, at all. Playable. He’s just a camera. Gameplay, he’s the lab guy with guns.
He’s a very playable character. Even though we can’t really affect the character, he’s really under the players control with “free” movement. And the fact that he doesn’t talk and we see the world through his eyes really helps him being an extension of the player.
Maybe that’s why people like him? Because we ARE Gordon Freeman in a couple of great games?
Roleplaying Character (Most classic roleplaying games)
Maybe this one is a given and maybe it shouldn’t even be considered, but let’s have a go at it anyway.
When you create your own character for a roleplaying game you’re in total control of his (or her…) personality. And how much do we know about him? Well, everything, if we wish. Nothing, if we want that.
Can we shape him? Hell yeah, we can! To a greater extent than in other games.
Is it a playable character? Yup. But it could be an NPC if we wanted it to.
And finally is the gameplay connected to him? Yes, to a very great extent because there are no limits to what you can do, set by computer logic.
Of course people love their own roleplaying characters, since they created them just the way they wanted to. But I’m thinking maybe there’s something to learn here. Why is that? Is more control an easy way to a lovable character? I can’t control Guybrush much at all, but I love him just like I love characters in movies and books.
Are those two different kinds of love?
Jools (Cannon Fodder)
Okay, this dude might not be a lovable character in the ordinary meaning of the phrase, but if you’ve played Cannon Fodder, then you’re sure to know who Jools and Jopps are!
They’re the first two soldiers you have in the game, and with every level you play, every soldier gets better, meaning Jools and Jopps will always be best. If a soldier dies, he’s died and have to be replaced by a rookie.
That’s why many players, including me, reloaded the game if Jools or Jops died.
They don’t have any personality or anything, but we still love them simply by their names and their gameplay advantage.
Is that good character design? It’s really no character design at all?
I didn’t include any NPC here, because they’re a topic on their own. They’re not really just like creating a character for a movie, since they could help you out in the game and stuff.
Anyway, as you can see, my try to create a list and find a magic recipe failed miserably, but that’s a success on its own.