Game Design Theory Level 2 – Organized Development, Documentation and Core Mechanics

Give Your Characters Distinct Shapes, Silhouettes, and Colors to Distinguish Them


Your game will have a certain visual style, and the levels will each have background art that should blend together with effects to create a visually exciting gaming atmosphere. Your characters should stand out in this atmosphere and against the background art to be visually striking to the player. Having bold shapes like armor, weaponry or equipment that are a part of the playable character will help give the character a distinct presence on screen. Certain shapes are used in character art to convey information about that character. Circles are usually used for friendly characters, squares for toughness and strength, and triangles can be used to convey evil or scary things, like Darth Vader’s mask in Star Wars. When you blend different shapes together you can see how it creates visual effects that the player will sense.


Designers sometimes use the silhouettes of their characters to judge how well they compliment each other and convey information about the characters and their differences. Think about characters like Mario and Luigi (fat and thin) or Spongebob and Patrick (square and pointy) and how they are distinct. Remember though that form should follow function, so you can create gameplay elements that specifically highlight certain characters and their features.


Shading can add another layer of detail to the main characters. Colors should stand out against the background and look good together. Coloring and shading can be technical but it is also important to judge through trial and error and test how the art looks together in real time. You can also hire a professional artist or team to create a distinct look for the characters.



Name Your Hero Appropriately


Just as the look of your characters should reflect their appearance the main character’s name should reflect their appearance, personality traits and sometimes their role or position in the game. Names like Max Payne or Emperor Palpatine can give an impression of a character before anything is known about their personality or even how they look. You’d imagine an emperor to be wealthy, powerful and secluded from the general public. Max Payne sounds like an action name implying maximum pain for anyone going against this person. There’s a lot of character building you can do before the player even gets to experience the character in action.


Customization Will Increase Player Attachment



It’s not the easiest thing to do in video games, but it’s certainly worth the effort to make the player able to customize the main character. Extra weapons, enhanced armor with various colors and abilities, customization of the name for certain types of games are all ways to help the player become attached to their character. They will feel ownership over the changes and feel that the character is worth trying harder to keep the “alive” in the game. There is a wide variety of things which can be customized in a game from the character’s voice to facial features and body type.


Customization does not only apply to the main character. Partner characters, sidekick characters and other playable characters can also be customized in lots of ways to suit the player and their needs. You can allow for players to customize the way these characters look, their accessories, their strength / skill level and the way they interact with the player character or enemy characters. Some games even include upgrades to other characters as part of the normal upgrade system for the main character. The Mass Effect series comes to mind as the best example of a modern game that lets you customize an entire team as the captain of a intergalactic spacecraft. The way they are customized helps determine the game’s outcome.


You Can Use the Player Character To Reflect In-Game Status


The character’s art can also include visual cues to give players an idea of their status in the game for any number of different variables. Things such as a helmet that activates, Buzz Lightyear style, when a character enters an area that is toxic. In early games when a character would re-spawn the player character would blink for a few seconds while being partially transparent and invincible, then become fully colored and vulnerable again. Another excellent use of using the player to reflect status is in the Dead Space series where the main character’s oxygen (stamina) and health were displayed in vibrant colors on the player’s astronaut / engineer suit. The weapons themselves had a mounted display which showed their ammo count / firing mode and these effects helped to completely immerse the player in the game world by removing the need for a HUD (Heads-Up Display). Even the map was a hologram projected from the suit.



You can also give your player audio reactions that will convey information to the player. If a player makes a comment like “boring!” while idle the player will be compelled to move around. Your character can laugh or even make comments when the player fails or completes a task. These cues tell players more about the character and build attachment.