Game Character Design: How It's Done Pt.1

A step-by-step guide to creating a game character with ROC: Uprising as an example.

Hi, folks! Finally, it is time we touch on some creative topics in game development, and today it’s all about game characters.

 

First of all, let’s leave the “why does your game need characters” question it just needs them. StarCraft wouldn’t have been even half as popular if there were no Raynor, no Kerrigan and no Zeratul. Mass Effect trilogy wouldn’t be praised if wasn’t for Liara, Sheppard or Garrus.

 

In this article we would like to talk a little bit about creating characters for a game and what should your approach to the whole process be from the very beginning. Also, we will talk about the development of supporting characters as a small bonus. As a source material, we will use our actual mobile action game Rise of Colonies: Uprising. This will help you track the thought throughout the entire process. Shall we?

 

How should you approach towards developing a game character?

 

First of all, you’ll need an environment (or a universe as I like to call it). I believe that the surrounding environment and events that we live through define us. For example, average people from unstable regions of the world will have different values compared to the ones that have lived in peace for their whole life. So it would be a bit illogical if in an apocalyptic game world where everyone dreams about survival people are saying things like “Excuse me”, “Would you kindly please”, etc. The same goes with swearing characters in fairy-tales-themed games that’s just a poor designing choice, to begin with.

 

So, the environment… ROC: Uprising inherits the universe from its main title Rise Of Colonies a turn-based strategy taking place in the late 21st century several years after a technological apocalypse. It has a full-scale story with detailed characters alongside non-linear choices, multiple endings and even certain missions blocked depending on the story choices. I like cyberpunk-styled environments and actions set in the near future worlds because, despite a slightly narrower audience, such games give  you the opportunity to address modern society issues (e.g. high dependency from technologies like smartphones, wearables, etc.) and freedom to introduce some non-existent sci-fi elements and speculate a bit on the topic of how our world could soon change.

 

Once again, as an example, we have an arcade mobile game Uprising, where players have to kill all enemies on a level. But who will do the job? Well, having an automated turret doing it is not that interesting, though we could add some easy upgrades, thus simplifying the design. But how about a person who appears to be trapped and cannot leave for some reason? Let’s make it personal and throw in a man there.

 

Now to structure the process we need to ask ourselves these questions:

 

  • Where does the action take place?
  • Where did the person come from?
  • How did he get trapped?
  • Who is he and what does he look like?
  • What’s his attitude to life and to the situation?
  • How does he defend himself?
  • Who is helping him?
  • Where does he go after the game ends?

 

Well, that’s about enough questions. We’ll answer the first five in this article and leave the rest and the bonus to the second part of it.

Where does the action take place?

So, we have a fallen world in the near future, but need to create obstacles on our character’s way. Let’s put him on a blocked road. Probably, on a highway bridge.

 

So, we have a fallen world in the near future, but need to create obstacles on our character’s way. Let’s put him on a blocked road. Probably, on a highway bridge.

 

Daytime environments have a better design value in mobile game development, as it’s easier to make contrast objects in daylight with no additional hassle. But is that really the cyberpunk environment we all got used to? I guess not, because cyberpunk is more like night and neon kind of thing, so let’s switch it to night.

 

Cyberpunk is more like night and neon kind of thing, so let’s switch it to night

 

This already looks better. And even more with some smartphone-powered enemies (we’ll discuss them in the bonus part of the article). But how did our character (his name is Jack, by the way) get there?

Where did the person come from?

 

Knowing where the person came from can help us understand his motivation better. That’s why I created a whole prequel story for Uprising. So, Jack has escaped from a secret underground research facility (think of something like Hive from Resident Evil movies, just without zombies). The facility had multiple floors with different environments on each floor. As Jack progressed through the facility, he thought he went crazy and had been locked in an asylum. Then he thought that he was trapped for some social experiment. The next thought was that the world as he knew it seized to exist and the dwellers of the facility were the only survivors. Obviously, I know the twist about the facility, but bear with me, I won’t spoil it now. The truth is always somewhere in between, so he escaped and found out that the world is facing the first days of post-apocalypse, and no one knows what to do and how to live from now on.

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How did he got trapped?

 

So, now we know where Jack came from, but how did he get to the game screen? Well, let’s make him steal some highly equipped truck from the facility’s garage and have it crashed during escape due to some obstacles and incidents.

 

So, now we know where Jack came from, but how did he get to the game screen? Well, let’s make him steal some highly equipped truck from the facility’s garage and have it crashed during escape due to some obstacles and incidents.

 

As you can see, we have extended the location to make a quick camera fly-through for players to understand the environment better. But does the truck crash really block everything around, so it is impossible to leave? Well, we could have had some escapers and refugees in the truck, whom Jack had to protect, but wait… It’s an early post-apocalypse that Jack has just faced, so he has no clear understanding of the environment, so why and whom should he be helping? Well, let’s consider another idea.

 

Let’s say, the facility is disguised as a regular hotel building, with the elevator going to the upper floors. So once Jack escapes from the elevator, it cripples blocking the way back. He is on a quite high floor with the only road crowded with blood-thirsty apocalypse victims. We’ll get the following picture for a camera run through.

 

Let’s say, the facility is disguised as a regular hotel building, with the elevator going to the upper floors. So once Jack escapes from the elevator, it cripples blocking the way back. He is on a quite high floor with the only road crowded with blood-thirsty apocalypse victims.

 

And the sketch of the actual game level.

 

And the sketch of the actual game level.

 

We will revisit the scene contents in “ROC: Uprising Post-Mortem”, and now will keep focusing on a character.

Who is he and what does he look like?

 

Well, Jack could have escaped the facility, but decided to defend himself, so he definitely has the nerve to handle the situation. That’s why I decided to make him a former SPEC Ops City Squad who, according to the story, was the last standing ground between the fading government and private corporations gaining next-to-absolute influence, so let’s think of him as a cop of some sort. The looks? Well, it all starts with basic forms.

 

That’s why I decided to make him a former SPEC Ops City Squad who, according to the story, was the last standing ground between the fading government and private corporations gaining next-to-absolute influence, so let’s think of him as a cop of some sort. The looks? Well, it all starts with basic forms.

 

For the sake of presentation, we decided that all of our characters in this game (and, probably, in the universe) will be slightly disproportional: with big hands, small heads, etc. They don’t look too real as we weren’t pursuing realistic (Deus-Ex-like) graphics in the title, but more of StarCraft/Warcraft/Dawn Of War-like approach.

 

So we gave Jack some hi-tech exaggerated looks to outline his capabilities better.

 

So we gave Jack some hi-tech exaggerated looks to outline his capabilities better.

 

There were, however, several issues with first, again, being able to match the game setting puzzle. The ROC universe and this particular game is all about humans with implants and other body-enhancements being in danger, because of the implants being hacked and so on. So we wanted Jack not to have that issue, because he had different dangers to face throughout the game, and we removed the implants from him making him more human-like.

 

The ROC universe and this particular game is all about humans with implants and other body-enhancements being in danger, because of the implants being hacked and so on. So we wanted Jack not to have that issue, because he had different dangers to face throughout the game, and we removed the implants from him making him more human-like.

 

The second 3D game development issue was that grayish implants and metal skin were not in contrast with the game environment. Several clothing items were tried on just to make the character look more noticeable against other objects on the game scene.

 

So, keeping usability in mind, we added more red colors to contrast blue neon and night and got Jack’s final look.

 

So, keeping usability in mind, we added more red colors to contrast blue neon and night and got Jack’s final look.

 

The second 3D game development issue was that grayish implants and metal skin were not in contrast with the game environment. Several clothing items were tried on just to make the character look more noticeable against other objects on the game scene.

 

What’s his attitude to life and to the entire situation?

 

I really like good music and sounds in games, so all the titles designed by me particularly and by our game development team are packed with sounds and music to the max. That’s one of the reasons why Jack from ROC: Uprising is a talking character. Even if it was only a text representation, still it is necessary to realize his manner of speaking and manner of solving issues. So our Jack is a bold and a brave guy, a former cop. He might have seen a lot of bad things in the world and definitely could have developed a certain irony and a habit of not completely trusting the government and relying on himself and his comrades only.

 

And, taking into account what he’s been through recently, he talks with irony, uses jokes, some mild swearing just to create the necessary atmosphere. Think of his talk manner as something close to Serious Sam or Duke Nukem, only with less pathos.

 

Therefore, we’ve discussed such aspects of game character design as playscene, origin, circumstances, personality and worldview. We hope these tips were helpful and you’ll be able to use this information based on our experience with Uprising in your future projects. And that’s it for the first part of the article! See you in the next one where we’ll talk about Jack’s friends, way of defense, after-game life and, of course, the bonus. Feel free to ask us any questions!

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