The following is a re-post of my post from About Game Design, posted November 1st:
I realize there will be a ton of people disagreeing with me here, but I think people overall are way too touchy when it comes to politics, religion and violence in games.
And I don't think video game makers should have to be more careful than movie makers. If it's okay to have in a movie, it's okay to have it become gameplay.
There IS a big difference between movies and games. Movies are passive, all you do is receiving while games are active and you're performing actions within a magic circle.
However, they're both crafts and products created most often as entertainment creating fiction.
Of course, everyone has to be considerate of our cultural rules and the law, even if they differ around the world. But aside from that, I think it IS okay to have a game where you take the role of a sadist out to torture civilians. It might not be for everyone, and it shouldn't be sold to just anyone, but I don't think the developers would be doing anything wrong by creating that game.
Developers should also be able to express strong religious opinions in games, but if the game isn't of that particular culture's favorite flavor, it would never see the light of day. I'm not saying I'm a big fan of Jihad or whatever, but I wouldn't be upset if there was a game about it in the shelf of the retailer.
As I experience it, it seems movies can get away with more stuff than games. Maybe because it's been around longer or maybe because it's often executed with more skill than games.
I'm not saying I find a lot of pro-Jihad movies on the shelves here either.
Right now there are articles online about how horrible it is that you can kill civilians while trying to infiltrate a terrorist group in Modern Warfare 2. The journalist describe this act as very brutal and awful.
But tell me, why is it more brutal to kill a civilian than a soldier?
Anyway, there would be absolutely no problem with having that scenario in a movie. It could even be called a strong and effective scene. Why should game developers have other social responsibilities?
There's a poll on Aftonbladet.se, a large Swedish news paper where the question is:
- Should video games be able show terrorist deeds against civilians?
66.4% out of 22557 people voted "Yes, of course". Another 12.9% said "Yes, if there's a good reason" while the rest said no.
I'm glad about 80% said Yes and I hope the attitude will spread.
I think game designers have the same social responsibilities as any other person and no stricter "rules" due to the media of gaming. And I think it's about time people loosened up!
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.
I’m one of “those guys”. I like to watch japanese anime. Giant robots, ninjas and disturbed “wtf”-humor! What’s not like?
One thing I find interesting with anime are the title of each episode. Maybe this is the case for live action series in asia as well, I don’t know but they name the episodes in such a manner for the viewer to know something that’s gonna happen.
Let me use the hugely popular anime One Piece (http://anidb.net/perl-bin/animedb.pl?show=anime&aid=69) as an example with episodes like:
- Luffy Drowning! Zoro vs Octopus Hatchan
- The Reindeer Has a Blue Nose! Chopper`s Secret
From the first title we can assume the character Luffy will (or at least almost) drown and Zoro will fight the Octopus Hatchan.
The second titles tells us that we’re gonna get to hear about something juice about Chopper.
I’m sure this is done with some special narrative magic in mind. Not really my area but I can see how it works on me. Knowing what will happen, I’m sitting on the edge of the couch waiting for it, looking forward to it, building suspense and anticipation! It’s just like when the viewers knows more than the hero in movies, knowing it’s an ambush set up by an evil genious.
It’s like when you’ve ordered something and have to wait a few days for it to arrive. Of course you hate the wait, but at the same time it’s during that time that your imagination goes wild! The night before christmas anyone?
So here’s what I’m thinking.
How can we use this in games? How can we by telling the player what’s gonna happen make it a more exciting experience?
In a way, it’s already been done in a million ways. Take Metroid for example, making us see upgrades before we can reach them. Or why not something as simple as an XP-bar in an RPG? You know that by the time that bar is full, you’re gonna learn a new skill and it’s gonna be kick ass!
If you were to take the first Resident Evil and edit it. When entering the infamous hallway a title screen appears:
- The mosters hallway…
By then, you know something’s gonna be lurking there. Would it ruin the surprise? Would it increase the tension?
I’m just thinking out loud here but I think we could use this…