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Leicester, United Kingdom
Studying BA (Hons) Game Art Design at De Montfort University. It continues to be challenging as much as rewarding. Primary outcomes include 2D and 3D projects and 2am coffees.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Characters: Being one with them

Video game characters are perceived differently than ones you’d find in literature, especially if its one without pictures. Its then up to you to envision the character and base them upon what you’re reading. Currently I am in need of a new book to get into. I have read my fair share of fiction, one particular author who I quickly got sucked into was Darren Shan, whose work features around vampires and demons, the latter being borderline stereotypical, each particular demon is given a detailed description so that you can easily envision the grotesque appearance it has, it’s rather violent to say the least. You can see the link between these characters and those I’m drawn to in games!

Ingame history is what grabs me, it’s what defines the characters so that we develop a relationship with them and want to find out more about them and their backgrounds. Particular favourites of mine are revenge or tales of loss, when it becomes evident that these features revolve around the main character you can find it driving you forward, compelling you to keep going.

The protagonist and central characters play a vital role in a successful game as they are the focus for the player and how he relates to the game. From the pixelated Playstation to the current improving PS3 platform, the computer graphics play a huge part in the reality of the game and character development and continue to do so. However, it will take more than complex armour designs and huge weapons to keep gamers’ interest and attention, we’ve seen a fair share of hulking warriors with oversized swords and fantasy based humanoids. Despite this however, there are certain characters who need no introduction, I mean take the leading figures of Nintendo and SEGA, they have no background to speak of or one that we can connect to, yet their design says enough about them, and look how well their franchises have done!  Character designs have to be striking and bold to get us to stay with it.

This works for most characters, but there are certain characters which cannot be defined simply by their appearance alone; they need to have a background synopsis that helps give their place in the game. It is not just about what they will do, but who they are, their origins, background etc. I mean that when I see the playable characters for the first time, I can assume anything about them. For that reason, being the nerd that I am, I go on the video game encyclopaedias and read up on biographies of various characters and lore so my understanding is widened and so that events that take place make sense. In the case of World of Warcraft which was released in 2004, I did not start playing until its fourth year and was unaware that it was a follow on from the original strategy series Warcraft, until I did my research. As I played it, I became familiar with the central and leading figures and wanted to learn more about them so I could see where they stood in the grand scheme of things.

Whilst he isn’t a playable character, one example is King Varian Wrynn, the Leader of the Alliance and the King of Stormwind. From interacting with him you figure out that he has a bitter resentment towards the Horde - the opposing faction. However it seems that this resentment is based on more personal reasons - a fact that I learned from reading up on him...

The Horde ransacked and burnt his home as a child.


He was abducted and while suffering from memory loss, was taken in as a slave and made to fight in the orcs gladiator arenas.

In previous wars, the Horde has attacked his home and people. So it is no wonder that he feels this way towards them. Yet as the expansions have been released and as the WoW storyline has progressed, Varian has begun to show compassion and even a degree of respect towards certain members of the Horde.

It is role playing games (that differ from WoW) that really make the difference and connect to us more. It is an interesting change so that you have a choice, and that various outcomes are available depending and what you choose to do. So to an extent, we make the character as the game continues and the personality is defined. Two excellent examples of this are The Elder Scrolls and Red Dead Redemption. In RDR, the protagonist John Marston is a former outlaw trying to turn over a new leaf, yet the government is forcing him to return to his violent past to eradicate his former gang members while using his family as leverage. Now given this background it is possible to carry on this way:

Robbing banks
Hogtie People
Killing in cold blood
and so on.

Of course this will lead to the player being feared and hunted down by authorities, and making the game a bit difficult to complete. However through cutscenes we see John's true character and gives an idea as to what he would do if not under our control. If he peforms in the opposite, people will open their services to him and request help and reward him in return.


This is also the case in Skyrim, as interaction with NPCs is impossible when being pursued by other guards. The other part of role playing games like these is that certain acts will make you feel guilty or leave you thinking ''My god, have I done the right thing?''. On the menu, the game keeps a log of the quests you have completed and details the decisions you’ve made like a dairy entry. Reading it over can really make you think. An example is if you spare a life or execute them, of course both decisions will result in different outcomes later on in the game.
Personally I do consider the ethic of certain tasks, when people are at your mercy it does make you hesitate as to whether or not you should deliver the killer blow. (Of course if you show mercy they get back up again and try to kill you!). I have had certain experiences in both of these games which have made me feel guilty, and I’m sure you will agree.
In the Downloadable Content Undead Nightmare of Red Dead Redemption, one of the side missions is to hunt sasquatches in the forest, after killing several of them you find one which it tells John that they are a passive race and not the carnivorous beasts that the NPCs think they are. It then goes on to say that because of your actions it is now the last of its kind, and begs to be shot to end its torment. What happens next was my call.


In Skyrim, there are some quests that are given by the Daedric Princes, deities considered to be evil or of chaotic nature. Upon finding one of their alters they will ask you to do their bidding, If the Dragonborn carries out their will they are rewarded with an artefact of power - a unique weapon or piece of armour. However due to their nature some of the objectives are rather disturbing to say the least. Examples include gaining a companions trust and then sacrificing that person upon an alter to be inducted into a prince’s cult or to slay an innocent to power an enchanted sword. When it has come to such requests, I have abandoned the quests and moved on to others less disturbing.

It is games like this which prove to be the most successful and recieve great praise. It is my hope that more will follow to represent the well loved genre that is Role playing.

Or course, there are some who take it just a bit too far....

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