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Thread: What makes a good character?

  1. Elcura is offline
    Posts: 879

    What makes a good character?

    I was posed this question last week, and I really had trouble identifying what makes certain characters appealing to other people (note: this doesn't just have to be games, but comics, tv, cartoons etc).

    At first, I used to think that character design was merely the way a character looked, but recently (being a few years), I discovered that a lot of interesting character's don't have interesting designs. Take Uncharted; Drake looks like an ordinary guy, but as a character I love him because he's witty, funny and makes every cut scene he's in enjoyable to watch. Hell, even random game play segments are more fun.

    I love RPGs (eastern and western), so when playing Persona or Fallout, I found myself liking a lot of characters that were in plain clothes because of personality or story elements.

    So I wonder what makes a good character, is it design (then, what is good design and what is bad?)

    Does culture have an impact? Would Solid Snake or MGS be the same if it was done by Americans?

    Is it environment? Would Abe's Oddysey (and Abe) be as interesting without the world to back it up? Would South Park be as funny if it wasn't for the style of drawing vs the style of writing?

    Is a good backstory and strong personality just as important or even more important than the actual design?

    How does art style impact design? Would the character's in Zone of the Enders be as interesting without the art of Yoji Shinkawa backing them up? Would the final design (2D and 3D) have been different if the art style was different (and the design wouldn't necessarily have to change)?

    I think it'll be good to have people weigh in on what they think is good vs bad. As we all learn from eachother anyway, what are your thoughts?
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  2. dwinbotp is offline
    Location: Taipei city
    Posts: 449
    Art wise, it's a matter of taste IMHO, Personally I think what makes a good -great character is...Character. Whether antagonistic or the hero, If it makes a memorable impression, then it's a good start. The design, personality, back story just adds to it.
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  3. Mike_K is offline
    Location: Cambridge
    Posts: 906
    It's pretty specific to the both the creator and the audience. Really depends on your experiences, view of the world, imagination etc right?

    I don't think it's something worth trying to quantify, I mean what makes a good person? who says so?
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  4. Elcura is offline
    Posts: 879
    Well, it surely is all subjective, but that doesn't mean that deeper analysis (sorry if that puts some off lol) can't be made. I mean, what are your favourites characters and why? It's that sort of question, you could take into consideration cultural aspects and things like style, but in the end who and why probably are most important.
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  5. Maph is offline
    Location: Ghent
    Posts: 1,219
    I think a great deal of solid character work is to how the view/player can connect to the character.
    The better the viewer or player can mentally and emotionally relate him/herself to the character through use of personality and growth, the "better" the character will feel to the player/viewer.

    This is the same reason why well designed characters (from a visual point of view) can feel completely empty to the viewer because of a massive lack of depth in their personality.

    For instance: Most of the Resident Evil characters. I really like those design-wise, but I honestly couldn't care less if one of my compagnions got raped and eaten by some random baby-munching zomboid.

    Whereas in the exact opposite spectrum-> Final Fantasy. I personally think these characters are visually over-designed, but they really draw you in with their personality and emotional development throughout the games.

    Another couple of examples of great characters:
    Minsc from Baldur's Gate. Sheppard from Mass Effect, LLoyd/Kratos/etc... from Tales of Symphonia. And many more.

    What really sets these characters apart from the average space marine, is that you grow with them while you play. And this is particullary true with Tales Of Symphonia. The way these characters evolve emotionally throughout the entire game is really stunning. I actually finished the game with a sense of "wow....." and it wasn't due to it's gameplay. That was average at best, but solely on the strong characterization of all the pro- and antagonists and general story development.

    Visuals obviously play a huge role in this, as humans will have a harder time trying to relate themselves to a big green slimish blob compared to a down to earth guy. As well does cultural background from the creators.
    But visuals shouldn't be the main goal imho. Designing a background story on a character is a lot harder than story-driven design.
    And it is also quite hard to bring about a sense of character depth in still imagery, but it can be done by body-language, lighting, facial expression, etc...

    I honestly think that character visuals and personality should be tuned in perfectly to each other in order to create a solid character.
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  6. Satya is offline
    Location: Jakarta
    Posts: 217
    Well put, Maph, very elightening.

    I'll add, IMHO visual design are more about catching attention and keeping the character etched into your memory. Most RPG characters just aren't memorable, but no matter how silly Tidus looks, you'll now Tidus when you see Him in 20 years since the game is out. And honestly at first I didn't really care about Uncharted, til I actually tried the game, and Drake is an awesome dude. But then again over design can also drive away players, so it IS a matter of fine-tuning just like Maph said.

    Character designing is getting tougher and tougher as more characters get known by the public, because new characters has more challenges to stand out and differentiate him/her/it self from the others. Especially tough for main characters.

    And another thing in consideration by big developers is merchandising, the character has to be interesting enough as a merchandise
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  7. Mogster is offline
    Location: merstham
    Posts: 701
    i'm with dwinbotp lack of taste these days has killed of most the well designed characters in favour of generic blandness, big companies cant take risks like they used to.

    take all the new ff's take one female head add 100 different styles of hair, and bingo theirs your entire cast.
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  8. Maph is offline
    Location: Ghent
    Posts: 1,219
    Quote Originally Posted by Satya View Post
    ...
    And another thing in consideration by big developers is merchandising, the character has to be interesting enough as a merchandise
    Yes, but this is a double edged sword that usually results in really bland and uninteresting characters.
    Most humans are comfort-animals. It's really hard to step out of the comfort-zone of what we're used to, and try to like something new.
    That's why most big developers go for the old "It's worked in the past!"-method. And as such risk a huge watered down version of a character or design-type that's been done before.
    The best example are Space Marines. It worked in Starcraft, and some big-time producers realized that.
    Now most games that feature sci-fi involve oversized bulky men with bicepses the size of a camel and a suit that could house a bloody elephant.
    Very merchandizeable, yet so boring.
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  9. dwinbotp is offline
    Location: Taipei city
    Posts: 449
    Quote Originally Posted by Maph View Post
    I honestly think that character visuals and personality should be tuned in perfectly to each other in order to create a solid character.
    I agree totally.

    Quote Originally Posted by Satya View Post
    Character designing is getting tougher and tougher as more characters get known by the public, because new characters has more challenges to stand out and differentiate him/her/it self from the others. Especially tough for main characters.
    Again I agree.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mogster View Post

    take all the new ff's take one female head add 100 different styles of hair, and bingo theirs your entire cast.
    True that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maph View Post
    Now most games that feature sci-fi involve oversized bulky men with bicepses the size of a camel and a suit that could house a bloody elephant.
    I disagree, that's 2 elephants.
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  10. crazyfool is offline
    Location: UK
    Posts: 1,574
    this made me laugh so much, my creative director showed me this and said how character design these days is just done as bland as possible, its done by the big companies so you can relate to them more when playing them and have a blank slate so you can make your own story to them. the evidence of this was when prototype and infamous came out at the same time and the lackluster character design just put me off so much.



    so apparently good character design is a bald, muscly guy with average features. Some of the characters on there though are admittedly really good character design but alot are just rehashes. personally a good character to me is someone that can tell a story through their visual representation, a face with depth and character and a clever outfit, like mass effect or assassins creeds altair, I thought killzones main character was awesome but I think that may just be because he was technically amazing, the hair was brilliant and the skin shader worked really nice, it seems call of duty modern warfare 2 has a very similar character now aswell though with a sort of mohawk. and star wars force unleashed different costume designs through the different levels was a fantastic idea aswell.
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  11. Blenderhead is offline
    Location: South Korea
    Posts: 785
    Maybe the mohawk is the new 'bald' :P
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  12. The Boss is offline
    Location: Massachusetts
    Posts: 363
    I'll have to second Maph (more like fourth of fifth actually) and say that we tend to over generalize character design and conflate all of the elements into one thing. So many different things go into a good character, it's hard to boil it down to one element that is all important. Sometimes it can be one amazing part, and sometimes it is just how all of the parts work together. The problem as visual artists is we tend to think we can solve all of the problems with an amazing visual design. Or as crazyfool points out, we get lazy and create big bald tough guys hoping something else can pick up the slack.

    I tend to think some of the better designs are the ones you would never expect to work. On one hand you could have a Darth Vader, where everything about him is designed to scream "hey guess what, this guy is evil!" and sure enough, he feels evil. Or you could have HAL from 2001, an orange light bulb with a monotone voice. Which you wouldn't expect to be just as intimidating, but I'd argue it was more so. Both have really nothing in common, yet both serve a similar function.

    And kind of on the same topic, a website for all your overused character and plot devices. Enjoy.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Tropes
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  13. ReplicA is offline
    Location: Olympia, WA
    Posts: 881
    I couldn't help but think, while looking at that picture crazyfool put up, "everyone wants to look like an MMA fighter". Pretty muscley, bald to bald-ish, maybe a little facial hair, and a costume. Not saying this is always bad, Francis from L4D is supposed to look like that. He's a biker, so yeah, he's gonna have the tat's, the leather vest, the "mean mug" look, and all that stuff that goes with being a biker. Military types have shaved heads a lot, cause the "high and tight" cut is what the military uses.

    it's just funny to me to see all these people who wish they were MMA fighters. All the posers with the tapout shirts, thinking they're cool. And seeing how a lot of good designers take fashion, and fashion trends into account while designing their characters, I'm not surprised it's showing up there as well.
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  14. xvampire is offline
    Location: Montreal
    Posts: 191
    Quote Originally Posted by crazyfool View Post


    .
    lol right click + save as
    and thinkin of 4chan quote twist !

    but also many ppl denying new kind of things, both inovations and art style.
    we artist trying our best to make audience recognize and actually enjoy different kind of things, not easy but do-able.

    I know dominance war has gazilion of awesome unique character, (great job)
    but how far they are introduced to regular-non-artist audience?
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  15. JacqueChoi is offline
    Location: Montreal
    Posts: 932
    The muscle-bald look is also a tech thing.

    :P

    Very difficult and resource heavy to do believable hair due to alpha issues with PS360 gen.


    Main characters tend to be very agile, and mobile, so having them very muscle-y is a given (unless you go with 'kid with super powers' kinda thing is usually for kids games).




    Generic as it is, it's serves a technical function.


    :/
    Jacque Choi
    Senior Character Artist
    Eidos Montreal - Deus Ex
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  16. Maph is offline
    Location: Ghent
    Posts: 1,219
    Jacque: Sheppard from Mass Effect is hardly bulky, and neither is Saren. But they're quite deep characters, especially Saren as the story progresses, you actually start to feel sorry for the guy.
    If I can compare that to those braindead "I eat tigers for breakfast *RAAAAAAAAAAAAAR*" gits from Gears of War, I'd actually say that Sheppard's design is the more functional one.

    Technical limitations will always be an issue in realtime character dev, that I won't deny, but even then I'd say doing good hair is quite feasable. I mean, you won't get individual strands of hair waving freely in the wind (that's for in 10 years or so ), but creating solid believeable hair is surely not an issue in these times of realtime skin shading, deferred shading, realtime fluids, etc...aper:
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  17. Satya is offline
    Location: Jakarta
    Posts: 217
    A good story will most likely make a good character, but for us artist it is important to question what makes a good character design-wise. And that is a tough one to answer, because like Maph said very few people are willing to step out the comfort zone.

    I think the chick from mirror's edge is quite a cool character design-wise. She's unique, simple, memorable, and not ridiculously dressed like a stripper, but she didn't catch on quite well.

    IMHO, visual design contribute less to 'A Good Character' than the story that backs the character up. So visual design are more to do with marketing and merchandising issues, though the story and theme is still the 'King' (at least it should be).

    Those bald men are 'sufficient' character designs but I won't call them good character designs. Personally the 'best looking' character in the next gen world so far is the new Prince of Persia.
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