The Fundamentals of Character Design

September 4, 2016


Today, I'm writing about the three fundamentals of character design. At the end of the writing, you can find my example of character design with description. I hope it will be helpful.


A character design can tell us what type of game we are playing, what kind of world we are in, when the events occurs and what the back story is. This can be achieved by resolving density, mood and proportion.


Density is the amount of visible elements on a character. Our character may have tools, weapons, armor, long hair, mustache and etc. The effect of the density is the more dense a design, the more you have to work with to tell your audience about the character. We learn more specifics about a character with higher density. However, the more elements you add to a design the less important each elements become. For example, you see lots of elements which are not important in my last character example in contrast to first one.


We can say that a character looks serious or happy or childish or etc by looking at the design. This states the mood and story of our character. You can use colour, pose, and props to communicate a mood to the audience. Also you should support the mood with a story. A character without story does not mean well. Audience needs to know about the character. Who is this character? What's its story? In this way, the audience either creates connection with the character or the visual density comes in handy. "Yes, he has the scar because he was in the war." or "He consists of pixels because it is a fun game". We are using character designs to communicate things to our players. A character design should tell the player that they are about to play a fun game or a dark, post-apocalyptic adventure. It can contribute to the mood of a game, help to tell something about the character.


Many games have their characters with different proportions. There are characters regular sized or big head with smaller body or big head without body. What is the reason of this variation in character proportions throughout different video games? First, every game has a limited area in which it can display a character. The character should move easily, be seen clearly, not hide the background. You can choose to give a bigger face so that it can be more expressive, but then the body might need to be a little smaller. You can choose to give normal proportions if the body of the character is meant to have realistic acrobatic animation, but then its face might be too small to show expressions. So, character design in video games needs to balance a character's goal with its proportions. For example, in Angry Birds you see just the heads of the birds. You don't need to see them perform complicated poses. However, the significant thins is to see their facial expressions. It is a mobile game, the expressions are hard to see in a little phone screen. So using just big heads with no bodies make a lot of sense. Well, why we need natural proportions? To display the character jump, fight, perform acrobatic movements would be more important in a different kind of video game. If you still want to display expressions, you can use cinematics when the narrative needs. Choosing your characters general proportions will directly affect gameplay and your players experience of your game. It can draw your player's attention to the face or the body movements of a character and it can affect the cuteness or seriousness of your design.

I have created a little character, named Zinko. Story passes in present time in an unreal city named Kavinisty. He lost his parents in a homicide. He lives in an orphan's home. He likes reading comics, watching science fictions, drawing fantastic heroes. His greatest future goal is to be a hero just like in the comics. Because he does not have a guiding figure like father, mother, teacher or etc. He has just his fantastic heroes in books, comics and movies. So he decided to be a hero and bring justice. He makes a basic costume with mask covering his downer face, finds a hanbo staff and tries to learn hanbo-jutsu techniques from the internet. Before he celebrates his 6th birthday, two different families visit the orphan's home to take Zinko to join their families. One family is connected to Yakuza, they wants him to make him a member of the mafia in the future. The other family is Rynolds, the richest family in the Kavinisty. They have a very comfortable life in money. Zinko has to choose his parents and my character creation is structured on this conflict.


First, i drew Zinko with low density. He has a mask, a shirt, trousers, shoes and a hanbo. His mask is the identifier of our character. I used a low number of colours in my palette. The head and eyes are bigger to make him look cute. Also used green his eyes to catch the attention to the face. The rest is skinny and smaller in contrast to the head. He has a simple pose to look cute. About the mood and the backstory, i told them in the previous paragraph but the density does not say all. You can say there is a big green eyed little guy with a mask, probably he fights with that staff. He looks cute. I can use this character for a funny game which requires simple actions and animations like walking, running, jumping, noding, blinking. The rest does not interests me.


Second, Zinko is raised by the Japanese family. He knows the ninja art of war. He is master of many styles, capable of using ninja weapons. He loves his Katana. His decision of being good or bad is not clear yet. This time, i gave him more density which describes his story. He wears a traditional Japanese suit with many pieces, in more balanced colours. He still uses his mask, because it was his identifier before and still is. However, there is more identifiers. He has a katana and its sheath. His proportion is realistic and he is in a charismatic pose which tells us that he is dangerous, he has sword skills, probably he is Asian or reaised by Asians and we need to watch him perform his acrobatic movements. So, I can use this character for a game which requires to show his moves, actions, combo animations.


And the third one, Zinko Rynold. Rynolds raises him in wealth so that Zinko never faces a real issue in his life. He gets rid of his dream of being a super hero and begins to live his life as full time holiday. He likes to hangout with his friends in beaches and clubs, drink alcohol, smoke and do nothing. He is happy. His proportion is realistic again, however more density with simple pose this time. Again, the density is able to tell about the backstory. He wears a hat, sunglasses, necklace, a shirt with flowers, a short with flames, wristbands, a watch, a bag and slippers. He grips a beer and a cigar in his hands. He has a pink skin and big belly. I gave him many colours. So many identifiers. Just looking, you can say that he likes to drink, smoke, hangout, travel, he is probably rich, he is not interested in sports, fights, actions and etc. What about this character? If I wanted to use him in a game, it would be a simulation maybe just like the Sims or a game which shows me his simple actions, beach and club adventures. No skills, combos or etc.





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