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Character Development Research


Lee Sheldon goes on to say that not all characters need to be well rounded, because not all are major characters. Minor characters can be brought to life with much less detail, much the way that artist’s sketch can still capture telling details yet is not as explicit a likeness as a portrait in oil.


Well rounded characters need 3 dimensions:

  • Physical

  • Sociological

  • Psychological


This applies to all major characters in a game, whether they are the player-character or significant non-player characters.


The Physical Character

•The easiest dimension of character to reveal is the physical, particularly in media.

•What does Geralt of Rivia look like in the Netflix Witcher series? – Henry Cavill in a white wig.

•What does Superman look like in Man of Steel? Henry Cavill in tights.

•In games we draw our characters to fit their parts in the same way that actors wear wigs and costumes to fit theirs..

•Most often they are drawn to reflect the character’s personality or function in the game.

•Often designers stop there – simply layering on a toolbox of skills, mannerisms and catch phrases as they need them in the game.

•To create a well rounded character we need more.


The Sociological Character

•This includes the character’s past, upbringing and environment (both local and cultural)

•By giving a character a past we put their actions into perspective

•They are no longer simply authorial conveniences, but they add weight and interest to the character.

•Environment in this context is not only where the character grew up, but where the character is now.

•This can be by choice (e.g. an open world game where there are many environments and the player doesn’t necessarily need to finish one area before exploring another)

•Or it can be by circumstance (e.g. a linear story with more structured levels, where characters need to complete one task before moving on)


CAUTION – it is far too easy to go overboard with a character’s background. It is easy to confuse a list of details of a characters past with pertinent information that helps mould the character. If you know where you want the character to go it is only necessary to show the route, not the world map.


The Psychological Character

•We build a relationship with the characters we write – just as we do with the people we meet in real life.

•The difference is that theoretically we know everything about the character we write. (we can spend too much time on what the past has made them if not careful)

•Instead we look at the actions of the character, attitudes, opinions, world view. And we do this without letting the character in on the fact that we know.

•Characters that explain themselves are not only boring, they are also not true to life.

•We reveal thee character’s psychology through action. – we don’t stop the story dead to do it, anymore than action should stop for exposition.

•A well written character doesn’t have to explain themselves. They may not even know how. They are revealed by what they choose to do.

•The best time to reveal psychological character is in a crisis. It’s easy to wear a mask when everything is running smoothly, but the mask get ripped away when the character is faces with a crisis.



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©2020 by Emma Ford Illustrator and Concept Artist.