Some thoughts on character design

Some random things I remember reading about character design, and some things that have worked for me. Thomas the Tank Engine breaks both my first two rules, so should be an example of the bad character design, but somehow kids love it!

  • a character should be recognisable from just their silhouette.
  • Each character in a group should have their own colour scheme.
  • Simply-drawn characters are easier for the player/viewer/reader to relate to, because they are less specifically one person, and more of a vessel for the player to project themselves onto.
  • For the same reason as above, characters shouldn't say much - that's the Gordon Freeman effect. Most game characters don't talk, and when they do talk, on spin-off cartoons etc (e.g. Sonic), it's annoying.
  • In games you can express a lot about the character from the way they move and interact with the environment.
  • For unique costumes, raid the history books for crazy armour, uniforms, hats and dresses, and adapt to fit your setting.
  • Don't use anything that is too reminiscent of another famous character, e.g. blue spiky hair, red overalls etc
  • If your game/whatever is very focussed on the main character, name it after that character, as this will avoid confusion later. For example, all the Indiana Jones movies are called, "Indiana Jones and the..." except the first one is just called "Raiders of the Lost Ark", which could be a bit confusing. This is also true of Rambo - the first movie was just called First Blood, but most people think it was called Rambo. Possibly the worst naming decision ever made was Nintendo making a series of games called Zelda where that wasn't even the name of the character. This has confused the hell out of kids for 2 decades now!

Comments said…
Good Post, Thanks!
Great post !
I agree with most of the points except for the 4th, characters shouldn't say much.
It was true for almost all games for a long time, but recent games tends to make the main character talk a lot, like for exemple the Mass Effect serie...

I don't think that breaks the immersion thought.
It greatly depends of the kind of game, as a mute character surrounded by talked dialogs, making silences when he's supposed to talk is not really immersive... thing that is not significant in a almost dialogless game !