Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Character Development

Greetings everyone, and welcome to my first post on the AGS Blog!

I was brought on board to help with the general game, industry and forum based stuff, but also to do articles about game development and writing a good game. I’m going to focus this article on a very important aspect of writing/creating a good adventure game: character development!

Without characters that are well developed, the game becomes tedious for the player. Who cares whether Jack climbs the beanstalk and defeats the giant if he has the personality of a cardboard box? It is when the player builds a ‘relationship’ with the characters in the game, and come to actually care about what happens to them, that the most immersion happens and the game seems to take on a life of its own. It is in these instances that an adventure game can really shine.

I did a lot of research on this topic in 2009 when I released Murran 2 and a lot of the reviews come back saying the game lacked any real character development. I made sure when the sequel was released this year that I had spent as much time as possible trying to turn the pixels on the screen into a living, breathing person with feelings, desires and motivations. I would like to think I accomplished this task, and here are some tips I can share for developing a character:

Make sure before you begin writing any dialog that you plan out each character. What are their back-stories? What happened to them in the past to make them the way they are now? What motivates them? Do they desire money? Fame? Power? Are they just a drug addict willing to do anything for their next fix of drugs? Make sure the back-story for the character SUPPORTS and helps along the flow of the game.

Delve further into the character… Do they have any pet peeves? Does something really irritate them? What is their daily schedule like? If they are a busy person, maybe their character will always be in a rush. Maybe they will be forgetful because they are always rushing around.

When you write dialog, write it “as” the character. Put yourself into the shoes of that character, and design the speech and behavior as that person would. Keep in mind their history, desires, quirks and their feelings on things.

Make your character question themselves. Some good drama can be had by introducing a twist which can cause the character to question who they are.

One arc or two? There is the arc of development which comes over time as the characters experience things and learn. There is ALSO a more subtle arc that characters can experience as they SEE the other characters doing things. A good example of this is character A getting jealous of character B when they are seen going to visit character B’s ex-girlfriend. Character A is developing through the outer arc as he learns about the stolen jewelry she has, and Character B is developing through the inner arc as he perceives some kind of affair going on. It is unfounded, but he doesn’t know it.

Emotions. Learn the five stages of grief : Nothing ruins the immersion in a good game like characters who don’t have realistic responses to events. We all know that if someone is killed during a moment of high drama, the main character shouldn’t laugh. But what might not be so obvious is that the character, to be believable, should follow a staged and set path of dealing with this event. It shouldn’t be “I’m pissed off! “, then 10 minutes later be acting like nothing happened.

So to sum it all up, there is a lot that goes into character development, and well developed characters will make for a more fun and immersive game for the person playing it.


  1. Fantastic post. I've never really thought about it explicitly, but you're absolutely right about the importance of backstory. I find that I almost create entire lives for my characters, and then I choose what to reveal for this particular story/game. The story then becomes a window into their already established lives. It really helps to give the character depth.

    On the other hand, I've had feedback that this method really creates confusion sometimes, because the character might do something that in my mind makes perfect sense - but might be utterly baffling to my audience. This is usually because I'm holding some nugget of information about that character that I either neglected to mention in the story, or gave insufficient hints about. Show, don't tell doesn't always work out the way you want it to... but I guess that takes practice, and that's what separates the mediocre character writers from the really great ones.

  2. I feel compelled to point out that the stages of grief were never intended to be used the way you and most other people use them. They are not in any way, shape, or form supposed to be a checklist of the "proper" emotions to go through after a loss. They are simply an observation of common reactions. Everyone will react differently, both in what stages they experience and what order they experience them. So, no, "the character, to be believable, should follow a staged and set path of dealing with this event" is not accurate. The character should react according to his or her personality and his or her relationship with who/whatever has been lost. (Sorry, took a Death, Dying and Grief class and ever since then I've not been able to see someone talk about the stages of grief without correcting them.)

    Otherwise, a lot of good points! I especially like your observation that the character's backstory should support the game, as failing to do that almost always makes the backstory feel tacked on and irrelevant.


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