Hi people! In this post I’ll talk a bit about our process for designing the game’s characters, from the original idea to their final form in a finished episode.
So this is the first step in every episode: we write whatever comes into our minds. When we like something, we stop and write a bit more about it, then we show it to our mates in the design team. If they don’t see it interesting, we ditch it and keep brainstorming. But if the idea manages to spark something in the others’ imagination, then we know we have something.
Now, this idea will quickly stop being something you could say it’s yours and clearly becomes something with its own entity, something new and exciting. This is what we are always looking for, because if an idea doesn’t surprise you, how can you expect it will surprise your audience?
At this point, feedback starts to jump from one’s imagination to the other’s. Sometimes the idea fades out –maybe when thought about properly it just sounds stupid, or maybe we can’t give it a proper shape yet and it stays aside, waiting for the time. But sometimes it manages to make perfect sense and then flourishes into something amazing and unexpected. Then we have a nice scene, location or atmosphere. Or a cool character.
This is a very useful technique we use as a help to the brainstorming. We take a topic and google it –just like that, then we pay attention at whatever the images results are. Some very unexpected mental connections can happen this way, and we can discover entirely new interesting topics to include in the game.
When researching for characters, the most useful pictures are nineteenth century photographs, prints and paintings. Photos are tricky, because at the time, most of them were heavily prepared portraits, were attitudes, character and clothing appear quite artificially. Some more casual (and therefore more accurate for our purposes) can be found though, and they make for great reference.
Prints from historical newspapers, and the works of realist artists like Gustave Dore are very helpful to suggest new ideas.
A Couple of Words
When we have a long ideas list, we have to start growing them into developed characters. We have come up with a simple technique for doing this quite fast, and so it is easy to share with our mates. We write a short sentence:
“A”, who “B”.
“A” would be a short introduction to the character (for example “a butcher”, “a priest”, “An old woman”).
“B” is a second layer of characterization that must have a noticeable contrast with the first. Think of it as a narrative turn. This is the part of the character that conveys the atmosphere, and expresses why he or she is so interesting. The contrast must suggest a lot by itself, or this character will not make it to the production phase.
When developing characters, we like them to have their own stories apart to the episode’s main arc. They need to be really interesting by themselves, make you want to know more about them, and they must bring life to the locations where the episode takes place.
Let them talk
At this point, characters that have not been discarded (only a handful of them) are painted and animated, and the first draft of dialogues is written.
It is important to note that characters are not completely defined when we start writing dialogues. They are just the simple idea we wrote in the previous section, plus they play some role in the high-level gameplay structure we have devised so far (that means the overall progression of the game from the beginning to the end – a character may act as a door to a new area, or give you an item needed to solve a puzzle).
Dialogue is a tool for us to know our characters. By trial and error, we will realize certain aspects of their personalities don’t match with the general atmosphere –or their own, so we will have to discard entire branches of text. We are always discarding big chunks of material, but it is fine, because we want just the best for the game!
Character’s dialogues and personalities are not yet complete until the last part of the narrative development process: beta testing.
When we share the episode’s beta version with our community of players, we gather a huge amount of feedback. And important part of it has to do with how the game’s narrative has worked out, and gives us a good idea of how well the characters are understood by players. That way we can clean up inconsistencies, and modify the game so the focus stays in the most remarkable parts of the experience.
There is another part for this phase that has great importance: the proofreading process. We export all the in-game text and share it with a very dedicated group of fans. They will re-write most of the game, giving it a unique feeling and style, and taking care that the characters’ use of language and tone is appropriate to their personalities. In fact, during this process, new personality traits arise for the characters, as the fans think about them in new and unexpected ways.
When putting all this text back in the game, we are always amazed at how the depth and richness of the narrative, and of the whole experience, has improved!