One of the most exciting parts of any game is getting to meet the characters that inhabit the game world. Because our upcoming title, All-Star Troopers, features a cast of exciting and unique characters to play as, we wanted to give our fans an inside look at the process behind how we designed our Troopers! While we can’t reveal all our secrets, and we can’t always account for the multitude of changes that can happen during game development, we can share a typical approach to how characters are designed, made, and put into a game.
As one might expect, video game characters are often born from a great idea! We like to start out with a brainstorming session combining our art and design teams, with one key ingredient: a good understanding of gameplay. Knowing what the core game loop is, what the player is going to do, and how they will progress is crucial to creating characters that fit well in the world and are exciting to play. Once the team is together, we start with thinking about the type of game we’re making and the genre that it is a part of: what are the common personalities that exist in these kinds of games? What does the player expect and want to see?
Luckily for us, the answers to these came pretty quickly. Having already decided to make a mobile strategy builder, inspired by military and sci-fi imagery, some standard archetypes began to emerge that are commonly found in these types of games. For example, Bearzukov is a tank character: this is someone who will soak damage, have a big output, and typically move slowly. Furthermore, having other characters that contrast with these characteristics – like speedy Leopoleon or healing Shamaya – makes it more satisfying for the player to create a squad with different traits that they can strategically switch between during battles.
As these ideas get discussed, our artist will sketch some options out for how the character might look. But don’t forget about gameplay! If a character uses a weapon or engages in any kind of combat, that needs to be drawn and designed too! In the case of All-Star Troopers, long-range weapons are the way to go, so Bearzukov needed to be equipped with something that caused a lot of damage from a distance. Below are some of the variations of our favourite military bear… you can see the evolution quite a bit!
(Check out our interview with our illustrator, Mari, to learn more about her role at Norsfell.)
After the concept art is drawn and approved by our art director, then comes modelling. Not every game needs this step, but we knew we wanted our Troopers in 3D! Our 3D artist works off of the concept drawing to create a standing ‘rest pose’ for the character, while still keeping gameplay in mind. In this case, this means considering how the characters will move and interact in the world, while being aware of requirements and limitations. At this stage, the 3D model may be returned to our artist for further texturing and detail. The rest pose is then rigged, creating a skeletal and muscular system that not only designates joints, but also how movement in one part of the body affects the rest. This creates a puppet that can then be animated! The animations that we needed for All-Star Troopers are pretty standard – stationary pose, run, combat, etc – but a well-rigged model has all kinds of possibilities! The last step is integrating the character in the game and assigning the correct conditions to each animation. This ensures that Bearzukov will shoot when in range of an enemy, instead of just running in place.
Once the character is in the game, we can start testing it! We’ll try everything from running around to interacting in the world, just to see if the design plans hold up. At this point, balancing comes into play as our economic game designer will determine how strong a character is or how much damage they can handle. This step generally requires playing the game and testing out different values and combinations, and is the best way to know if our Bearzukov is overpowering all the other characters and needs to be scaled back, for example. It will also highlight if other aspects of the design need to be reviewed, such as a turret that is too strong or which characters should be harder to acquire than others!
Sometimes when games are designed, developers think of the characters first and then build the world around the people in them. Others (and what we tend to do!) will start with gameplay and mechanics, and then choose a theme and characters that fit within it. The pipeline detailed in this post is quite common in game development studios, and truly shows how many people it takes to create just one character! While this is only one part of the game design process, interesting and well-designed characters are an important part of creating a memorable and fun gaming experience.