Sunday, 28 December 2008

showing the diamonds

The book Creating Emotion in Games by the multi-talented David Freeman is one of my favourite books on game design. Aside from mentioning a number of techniques around the building of emotions into games, characters and settings he also provides some handy points of reference for those creating the same.

The concept of a diamond (or any four-sided shape) where an attribute is placed at each corner to help focus on what the entity needs to show is an elegant visualisation of ye olde list. You can have fewer corners (e.g. minor characters may only need a triangle or three attributes) or more for central characters (up to a hexagon is the limit I've gone for a major character).

Characteristics can be contradictory or distinctive; personality facets (blustering, obsessively neat) aptitudes (a love of puzzles) or character traits (uses two guns like Chow Yun Fat). Traits can be shared by related characters as common ground and this can extend to distinctive groups who need a triangle - individual characters may merit another corner if they're significant.

How these facets co-exist may suggest actions and appearance - for our blustering gunsel, his first appearance on a train may be in an immaculate grey morning suit with a chessboard-checked shirt and polished shoes, darkly muttering over a crossword puzzle in his newspaper. They may even suggest possible responses depending on how you solve the missing clue...

Also consider how these interact. Allies may have common traits (e.g. the gunsel hires thugs who dress perfectly, show skill with a pistol and who pass one of his puzzles) or complimentary or even conflicting attributes to spice things up (e.g. a locksmith friend who enjoys a good game of checkers but his slovenly appearance drives the gunslinger to bluster and distraction.

This can also be extended to locations - Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series is a private school (with all that implies) as well as a castle (stone walls, towers, fortified doors) with bewildering architecture (doors hidden behind portraits, rotating stairwells, secret passages) and even worlds as well (the example used in Visual Emotioneering on David's site shows this well).

The hoary mantra of "Show, don't tell" is to be exercised with these methods. Every attribute may need one or more markers to reveal it's presence. Following the premise that an audience may need three clues to indicate a clue, three traits per attribute can be considered sufficient to define a character's initial impression - be it possessions, environment or even behaviour.

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