Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Books on Character Design and Development cont.

The Art of Game Characters by Leo Hartas takes a look at the range of popular character types we see across the medium, and features interviews with a variety of practitioners and more technical insights into the processes of creating concept art and models.

Whereas the last book I mentioned seemed to strongly hold the view that stereotypes should be avoided, this one states otherwise: the book is in fact organised in categories of character stereotypes and archetypes, including the "sexy and sassy" female protagonist and the "avenging muscle-bound hero". - these characters barely need explaining before you can get a general idea of what they're all about. However, although the book says that featuring games with stereotypical characters can be a shortcut to commercial/financial success, it is at the cost of them holding no surprises, and "very rarely results in a hit", so the general view is still that it's always good to play with audience expectation and fresh concepts.

This book overall is more relevant to me at the moment as there is a lot of focus on the visuals of games. There's pages of colourful rendered models and concept drawings that cover a range of styles and genres. Sandy Spangler, who has worked in the industry for over ten years as an artist and animator, gives a lot of valuable and practical advice on the process of character creation. (The only part I disagreed with was where they said that character customisation in a game is pointless - that personalised characters are reduced to soulless avatars. I think on the contrary it opens up wonderful creative opportunities for players who like to write their own characters, particularly in vastly open world games).

Unfortunately I've messed up fairly early in the process by not solidifying my character's backgrounds and personalities before moving onto drawing up designs. This has all been due to an overall lack of time, and I'll make sure in the next project I'm more understanding of just how much is involved in that part of the design process.

Important advice on creating concept art:

- Less is not more - more is more. "A true concept artist has a flexible style and can create dozens of very different versions of a character." That isn't to say artists with a stronger and more limited style can't work in concept design, they just need chosen more carefully to suit the style of the game. I hope that my style is broad and general enough to cover a range, from cartoonishly exaggerated games to slightly more realistic ones.

- The character concept-art cycle
1. Generate the first round of sketches. These should be rough but expressive, and should be created very quickly with lots of variety.

2. Narrow down which ones have features that work well. Get multiple opinions on this to help ensure broad appeal.

3. Do another round of drawings, a bit tighter this time and combining the features that were selected from round one.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you have a 2D version of the character that seems to work well. Expect at least three or four rounds of artwork, not including colour tests. The final version should include colour and a 'turnaround' view showing the character's front, back and side.

5. Get feedback on the design, through focus testing or internal company review. Make any needed adjustments in response to feedback. One or two people, usually the Lead Artist and/or Lead Designer must have the final say.

6. Put the character into its final state; usually this means modelled and textured in 3D. Ensure that the character's integrity and appeal are maintained.

- If a character is effective, players will remember it long after the game play has ended. This maximises the potential success of sequel games as well as a possible future in other media. From a cultural standpoint you will be providing a richer and more meaningful game play experience for thousands, possibly millions of people, as well as making a positive contribution to modern mythology. It's high time we in the games industry took some responsibility in that. 

- Ultimately, characters should come from the heart, not a spreadsheet. If you, their creator, don't understand their inner workings and believe in them, no-one else will either. The world is full of empty characters; do not create more. 

Reading this has made me realise just how important the role of a concept artist is. It defines the game in many ways, and could make or break it in terms of commercial and/or cultural success.

The points above touched on how if a character is memorable enough it increases the chances of them appearing in other forms of media, which is what this module is focussing on - how to make our projects transmedia. In this case, I would hope that if I design characters that are richly detailed and believable, it will be easy to envision them in other mediums, such as cinema or graphic novels, as this undoubtedly seems to be the route that modern media is going.

Looking back at the 'character concept art cycle', I can see that I haven't followed this as successfully as I should - again due to lack of time. I certainly don't have the volume of work I should have, showing a range of experimentations between different designs and styles. I will, for now, have to settle on some designs for my deadline, but then perhaps continue working on the project afterwards and produce art more like what I envisioned at the start of the project.

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