What makes a great game? – Part 8: Characters
Characters are around us every day. They’re in what we see, what we do, what we hear and watch and read. Have you ever seen the commercials for the USA Network? Yeah, those are characters alright. Characters are how we identify with the story or event. We look at certain characters and think, “Hey, that could be me,” or, sometimes, “I wish that was me.”
Games have developed to the point where you can barely see past the deep and highly developed characters sometimes. Take a look at the latest Splinter Cell game, Conviction. This game is about a man searching for his daughter and anyone who tries to interfere with that will not live to see the next day. The story is full of moments of frustration, of anger, and of a strong desire for revenge. Sitting and watching Sam Fisher go through all these things, the player can feel sympathy and their own desire for revenge on behalf of the main character. Sam isn’t a young character either, as this is the fifth game he’s been the main protagonist. In fact, if you go back to the first game in the Splinter Cell series, there’s very little character development aside from playing a super black ops guy. As the series went on though, you began to wonder about this man you controlled and this last game with its serious story and amazing developments was just inevitable. The game of Splinter Cell: Conviction IS the character of Sam Fisher.
Characters can have a lasting impression on players. From my own experiences, I know that I’ll never forget Captain William Eisen for coming to the rescue on the TCS Mount St. Helens supercarrier when my little Durango-class BWS Intrepid was getting kicked around by the TCS Vesuvius and Admiral Tolwyn. I’ll never forget Winston “Vagabond” Chang and his incredible card playing skills or even Todd “Maniac” Marshall for his insane style of flying. In fact, the TCS Victory (“Better known as Tin Can Sally”) was a character in and of herself. Take a look at the Wing Commander CIC and the Wing Commander series of games for more.
Sometimes the characters don’t have to say a lot for you to even identify with them. Take a look at Chrono Trigger. The main character Chrono only ever says one word and I believe it was “Huh”. In fact, the dialogue in Chrono Trigger wasn’t the best or even particularly revealing of the characters’ natures. For some reason, I know that I kind of clicked with these youths and somehow belonged among them. I suppose this sentiment was common as Chrono Trigger is one of the most popular Japanese RPGs of all time.
I recall reading a book once where there was a secondary character that I was particularly fond of. When he clashed with the main character (as it was inevitable) my favorite secondary character was slain. I was crushed. Similar things happen in games today, like in Mass Effect where you’re forced to choose between Kaidan or Ashley in the later portion of the game and in Mass Effect 2 where if you weren’t thorough enough, you could lose all your friends and could even die because of a lack of support.
Characters help you develop an interest in the game. They pull you in and ask for your help. They give you a reason to come back and keep playing and they give you a sense that they don’t know what they’d do if you hadn’t come along. They become friends, enemies, companions to the end of the adventure. They might not like each other (see Miranda and Jack in Mass Effect 2 for a great example of this) but they’ll push past that if you ask them to (just tread lightly).
Games without a population just feel empty. Games without characters aren’t necessarily bad (see Solitaire or any number of casual games) but if you want a story, you need characters. If you want a GOOD story, you need deep characters. If you want a great game? You’ve got to have great characters.
Until next time, be a great character possessing great character.
P.S. “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts and not on marble.” – Charles Spurgeon