When playing video games, one of the things that keep me going is a connection to a character. I love relatable characters and those that make me think. They are people I wish were real so that I could be their friends. Or maybe I wish they were real because they’re actually really annoying and I want to beat them up. Either way, the best characters are people who make you feel something amazing.
So, how do you design an actually-playable-and-totally-not-flat character?
1. Avoid making them perfect
Ah, the dreaded Mary Sue–usually Mary Sue characters are those who are just chock-full of goodness. They’re traditionally women because for some reason people feel pressured to make women perfect in video games, fiction, stories, etc. when they’re actually not. Your character doesn’t have to be perfect–they don’t have to have a horribly sad tragic backstory–and they don’t have to do everything correctly all the time. Trust me–how would you feel to meet someone just utterly perfect and ideal in real life? Kind of weird, right? In a “This is unsettling and too good to be true” kind of way. It’s tough to relate to characters who are perfect because we aren’t. We like to play flawed characters. We identify with those flaws.
2. Create a backstory
Just because you shouldn’t have a perfect backstory doesn’t mean you should have one at all. Characters are people too–they have motivations, feelings wants, desires–by fleshing all of these out, you’ll
- have a lot of fun designing a kick-ass origin story and,
- round out your character.
Imagine your character is a pillow and you’re stuffing them full of a story until they’re big and poofy and fun to explore and get to know better.
3. Don’t forget the salt and pepper
Major things like, “Who is this character?” and “What are their strengths?” are great and all, but relatable characters–and “real” people–have quirks. For example, they don’t know how to tie their shoelaces. Or their favorite food is Stromboli. Or they…really like reading books. Now, don’t go overboard and put lots of cutesy quirks–too much can get old really quickly. But little tiny subtle touches can serve as tasty little Easter eggs for your players to discover.
4. Do your due diligence
It’s easy to slave away for hours at an awesome character design. It’s too easy. As you grow more and more immersed in your character’s clothing, design, story, voice, build–you might not realize that another character looks awfully similar. It’s good to do some research beforehand to see what other types of “large, cannon-wielding divers” there are in the gaming industry.
Doing research before starting on a design can also help give you some new perspectives or jolt some ideas into fruition. Just remember that there’s a difference between being inspired by a design and plagiarizing. Don’t copy/steal/plagiarize. It’s definitely not cool.
5. Exaggerate certain characteristics
Mickey Mouse has his ears (so did Dumbo). Ahri has her stunning beauty. Pikachu–gosh, what’s not iconic about that little dude? That’s the brilliance of great character design–they last forever in the minds of the public. By exaggerating certain characteristics that you’d like to bring attention to, you might be able to build a powerful and cohesive image for your character.
6. Make a lot of doodles
Don’t limit yourself to one drawing! Or even five! Draw and draw and draw and draw. There’s this story I read a long time ago about this professor who gave his students 2 options for their final exam in pottery. The first was to submit 50, even if they were terrible. The second was to just make one but to make sure that it was amazing, stunningly perfect. Surprisingly enough, the students who submitted 50 often had far greater work than the students who just submitted one. I bet I totally messed up that story, but my point is that the more you doodle, the more likely you are to find an amazing design that really encapsulates everything you want your character to be.
7. Choose colors carefully
Colors convey mood, so they’re essential. Darker colors usually mean gloom and doom and somber attitudes, whereas bright pastels can indicate a cheery personality. The same character colored differently will definitely evoke different emotions in your players, so why not try various color schemes to see which one seems to fit your character the best?