Hello there boys and girls, and welcome to part 4 of the Narrative Guide that will help you on your way to telling the world your story! Please have a seat and relax while we delve even deeper into the magical world of story-telling…
So far in this series, we’ve covered the basics of narrative, as well as specifics that are involved, namely story telling and the world in which said story takes place. In the last part of the series we looked at the world and the different influences it has on the story we’re trying to tell. Now let’s go a little deeper and look at the aspect that has the greatest impact on the story and often the world itself – characters.
The Spoony Bard
The characters in your story are probably the most important part of the entire story you’re trying to get across. Why, you ask? It’s simple: the story is experienced by your characters, the world is inhabited and perceived by them, and it is they who convey all of this through what they say (which we’ll cover in part 5). Simply put, no characters, no story.
The biggest challenge with characters is the fact that people (or whatever shape your character takes) are extremely complex. Even in the cases where characters are simple, to create a relationship with the player playing the game is quite difficult. Let’s try to simplify things by breaking a character up into their history, motivations, traits and skills:
As you might guess, this entails where the character comes from, and may have a large impact on the characteristics which follow (though this doesn’t have to be the case). You look at the background from which the character came (royalty, military, poverty, etc), and look at the events which they were a part of (war, scientific discovery, family deaths, etc). Their history offers explanation as to why they are here, what relevance they have to the story, and what motivations they might have pertaining to what’s happening around them.
What drives the character? Why is he or she there? Characters need to have some form of motivation to drive the story forward. While not always necessary, motivations are usually tied to a character’s history – being wronged in the past and seeking revenge, for example – or on the flip-side, simply a pure desire (such as saving the world).
We all know that not everyone we meet can be a nice person. With billions of different personalities around the world, you’re going to find good guys, bad guys, silly guys, funny guys, annoying guys and complete jerks – and that’s just a part of who we are. Don’t cop-out on your characters, they need a little personality.
Swordsman. Scientist. Intergalactic Superhero. Everyone has a skill (Yes, even you!), and a lot of the time, it’s a large determining factor in your characters. If you get a job in biochemistry, you identify yourself as a scientist to people; and you often (though not always the case) display the traits of those in that profession: logic, knowledge etc; and so too shall it be for your characters! What they do has a lot to do with who they are.
The big question now is what causes what? Are your characters motivated by their history, or their traits? Are their traits from their history, or from acquiring skills? Are their skills acquired from their history and so then impact their traits and motivations? Simply put, there is no wrong answer – it’s up to you to figure and flesh out your own characters. Good luck!
Who are you people?
Wow, ok, still with me? (I did warn you that this was probably the most important part of story telling). Now we need to look at the different levels of characters you get…
Meet Protag, he is the main man. The protagonist of your story is the central character whom the story revolves around (in a general sense). The main idea behind the protagonist is the fact that the story (and gameplay) is seen through his or her eyes, and so they are the ‘player’. These are the characters you know/learn most about throughout the game, as you uncover their history, motivations, etc, and ‘connect’ with them.
Often just as important as the protagonist, is his opposite, the antagonist – the main bad guy of the story. For every Luke there must be a Darth Vader, though in many cases, the main bad guy isn’t a character at all! Think Deep Impact, folks. Throughout the story, it’s possible to learn their motivations and history as well (though killing them with guns works too).
These can be central characters in the game (either playable or non-playable, ‘good’ or ‘bad’). Essentially, every character that has a higher function in the story, but is not the protagonist/antagonist, fills the supporting role.
This category of character is filled by people (or things) in the story which your main character(s) interact with on deeper levels, rather than simply killing them as you pass by. Sometimes their characteristics are important to the plot, and are thus revealed, but most of the time they’re there for missions, added world information or supplies.
Remember the part above about killing them as you pass by? Yeah, these are those guys. You don’t need to know about their 3 kids at home or their life of hardship and grief – they’re named Soldier 361 and such, they must die!
The biggest thing to remember with your level of character is how they develop through the story. Your more prominent characters will undoubtedly go through a lot, and these experiences, in turn, make them grow. Their reactions change, their rationale broadens and ultimately by the end of it, they should be different people compared to how they were at the start. Of course, the less important characters don’t need the same care and can be pretty consistent throughout.
You’re Not My Type
Games, right? Well, here are a few character types you’ll be more familiar with…
A cookie-cut character is just as you’d imagine – one type of character which is simply carried over to many different titles, given a different look, name and weapon, and sent on his way. While each cut might have a different kind of sprinkle on the top, essentially they follow the same pattern, i.e., badass, uses a big gun, and blows stuff up (also humanity’s last remaining hope).
So you have a girl, right? And get this; she’s all sweet and innocent right? And just as we’re introduced to our burly, hairy hero, she gets kidnapped!
“Bayonetta is like a female Dante!” – when you hit a roadblock with cookie cutters and stereotypes, sometimes you’re forced to cross-breed to create something new (in some strange attempt to break both of the concepts you’re breeding). It’s nothing new, to be fair, as Lara Croft’s craft is strikingly similar to Indy’s style of archaeology – and that didn’t turn out that bad, right? Right.
In the event that you manage to create a completely unique character; say, a female lead NOT wearing a bikini in a snowstorm, or – heaven forbid – a gay, gun-wielding mercenary out to save his boyfriend, just remember that you’ll probably be standing on your own, surrounded by a bunch of scantily-clad large breasted women, holding onto a staunch, rugged, manly-man with huge guns pointed right at you. Don’t be intimidated! BE DIFFERENT!
Who Are The Dev.Mag Heroes?
Finally we get to this section where we check up on Chappat, Nandraw and Jay in our ‘Dev.Mag Heroes’ world to watch a practical application of everything mentioned before. Being a level 3 narrative, I thankfully don’t have to go into great detail as character development isn’t really that important here.
Level 3 characteristics for character
- Unique characters
- Limited backstory
- Limited trait diversity
- Specific skills
The key here is that each character is unique; thus Chappat (the protagonist), Nandraw and Jay are all distinct characters and their contribution to the story is made clear. It’s not entirely important to know their history or personality for this level, but their skills are a big part of the gameplay.
In terms of the supporting characters, it’s enough to know who is good and who is bad. In this type of game (which we said would be a side-scrolling action shooter) distinguishing enemies from friends is easy – Slurm and his followers are trowls, which are hideous beasts. You see one, kill it. We don’t need to know anything more about Slurm, other than the fact he’s the main bad guy that needs ass-whoopin’!
Mirtak and the other gods, are depicted as ‘divine’ and all shiny, so they’re naturally represented as good guys – but nothing about their characters are needed. We don’t need to know if they save kittens in their spare time, being shiny makes them good enough!
Check your level!
Characters? What are those? We’ll have a guy (and another for some co-op perhaps), nameless, running around shooting things until he runs out of things to kill. That’s pretty sufficient.
Ok, we’ll give the dude a name, and maybe a partner (for co-op) and some sort of heroic stance. The bad guy is ugly and thus obviously evil. Again, to the killing!
Now things get interesting. We have our heroes, Chappat, Nandraw and Jay, and a plethora of other characters in the form of the antagonist (Slurm) and the supporting roles of Lysdekcia, Mirtak, etc. Each central character is joining the fight for a different reason; Chappat being the protagonist started out because he was chosen and was forced into it; Nandraw because Chappat proved himself worthy (he’s obviously very arrogant); and Jay out of gratitude and obligation. Slurm and his cohorts are malevolent, while Mirtak and his gods are Benevolent – and each character could have a story behind that.
This is a great level to have for characters. While level 4 narratives often dictate character (THIS is your character, and THIS is what he does etc), leading to a story playing out; level 5 narratives actually allow YOU to shape the character. You choose to be good or bad, what traits and history you have, and ultimately, how you end up. This is often restricted your protagonist, however; but these choices then also affect the supporting characters around you.
Things To Be Wary Of
- Yes, you guessed it – REMEMBER YOUR NARRATIVE LEVEL!
- Cliché…we’re getting there, one part to go!
- Characters are complex, but are never restricted – remember: there are an infinite amount of trait/skill/history/motivation combinations you can make to create a character!
- ANY game can have characters – it’s not about the genre!
IN THE NEXT INSTALMENT: What’s he talking about? – We have a look at dialogue and how it pushes the story and links the characters to their world.