Character Design in Games

Character Design is an enormous part of the games industry, and one of the aspects I’m most interested in – at least, from a narrative stand point. I’m equally interested in designing the appearance of a character and actually creating them, but I lack the skills (and the time or patience to learn the skills). However, it’s something I’ve always loved to read about, and I love video game characters more than most would deem socially acceptable. So, I’ll talk about a few of my favourites, starting with one most people would at least recognise;

Cloud Strife

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Cloud Strife is a classic design from Final Fantasy 7, that sparked a long-running stereotype about Japanese RPG games and their massive swords (which is a stereotype I never really agreed with, outside of the occasional exception). As some quick background – which may be wrong, since I haven’t played Final Fantasy 7 in some time – Cloud was a mercenary working for an eco-terrorist group called AVALANCHE, but then he found out he had false memories, became a cripple and fought a transvestite angel in a volcano. As for his actual design, it’s hard to glean much background from his appearance – it’s immediately obvious he’s a soldier or warrior of some kind, and that he spends too much time on his hair.

It’s a bit of a weird one, to be honest. His baggy pants, lack of armour and skinny arms don’t really fit the bill, or his narrative background. In terms of the story, this guy grew up dreaming of being a soldier, then became a soldier, then did a heap more fighting. Despite all that, he looks like the kind of guy who’d order a skinny latte, then laugh with all his friends about how your clothes are like, totally last year. He also looked horrible in the game itself:

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Mind you, those graphics blew my mind when I first played, and the characters looked significantly better in battles. But all-in-all, I’d say Cloud’s character design was actually subpar in terms of narrative. His appearance doesn’t give any real clues about his character – it’s as if he isn’t defined by his past on any level. Then again, that’s sort of in the narrative, as he has false memories that makes him think he’s had a lot more experience than he really has. I still think his design needs to show more about him and his past, though.

Moving on, we have my all-time favourite series, Metal Gear Solid! Or specifically, Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.

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For the uninitiated, Big Boss (pictured above) is a mercenary leader, war hero, and owner of an awful code name. The latest game shows his downfall from hero to villain, where he “becomes a demon”. The designers have gone a little overboard on his design, in this sense – he literally has a horn, and while I won’t know for sure what causes it until the game is released, it seems to be a piece of shrapnel. Similarly, his new design includes a “tail”, as well as a red prosthetic arm:

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This is the best image I could find for the tail: it’s not literally a tail, but his harness has a bit hanging out at the bottom, giving the appearance of a tail.

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You should be able to spot the red prosthetic arm for yourself. These are all explained in the story – he’s in a horrible attack, and loses big chunks of his body. But more than that, it dehumanizes him, literally giving him the appearance of a demon.

I actually love this new design. Metal Gear is known for an impossible combination of themes, with generally very serious themes told in very silly ways, and this design is the epitome of that style.

That’s it for today – it’s a fairly short post, but I hope it brought up some interesting points about characters. I’m trying to post more frequently, but haven’t been doing well yet – hopefully I can keep up a better pace from here!

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