Passing the torch on Character

Late night blogging not always the best idea, but we’ll give it a go.  I got an e-mail today from a prospective client about creating character voices, and by voices, I mean dialog.  I started thinking about what kind of instructions a developer can give as they pass on game characters to the writers.  And here it is, the most common rule of thumb I have heard from developers: “Make them sound different.”  Ahhh, an early night! Shortest post ever.

Okay… maybe it’s not always that easy.  Sure, it’s nice for the writer to have creative freedom, and if you trust and have worked with the writer before, you no doubt have found your groove.  However, perhaps your writer wants or you want to give a little more direction in dealing with the game you sacrificed your heart and soul to create.  What sort of information does the writer need to create character dialog that fulfills your vision?  There’s no hard and fast rule, but these few suggestions might help you in articulating just what you want the character to sound like:

1.  Accent/dialect — Is this person from Australia or the Old West?  Does this person drunkenly slur his speech?

2. Vocabulary/Education — Is this person Oxford-educated, using 10-dollar words, or did he drop out of school at age 6?  If he dropped out of school at age 6, did he teach himself medicine on his own, ending up with a huge medical vocabulary and little else?  Note of caution: Education does not necessarily equal intelligence, and vice versa. 

3. Laconic/Loquacious (sorry, I like using 10-dollar words 😉 — Does this person tend to talk too much, or too little?  Game writers often prefer to err on the side of the laconic, because few people want to read/listen through a ton of dialog.

4. Energy level — Is this person generally excitable, or does she tend to be low-key?

5. Personality strengths — Is he kind, compassionate, honorable, humorous?  Generally personality strengths encourage the player to admire the character.

6. Personality flaws — Is she obnoxious, flighty, secretive, mean-spirited, nosy?  Generally personality flaws serve to humanize characters, making them more relateable, and just might trigger the compassion/sympathy response in the player.  Or the player could just want to kill them. 

7. Casting the actor — This method is a common, viable shortcut.  Instead of listing all the traits of the character, simply mention the actor who would play the role, or the famous movie character who could play the role: “This role would be played by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack.”  Drawback with this method is, of course, we may have no idea who you’re talking about.

 All of these methods will come in handy as well when you come to casting voice actors and animation.  But I don’t have to tell you that — you’re a pro.  Have you found any other variables that proved particularly useful in communicating character concepts?

Published in: on February 22, 2007 at 8:15 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very nice article. I would add those two other factors too, even if they only add to the dialog on some occasions:
    8. Who is the character talking too and what is his relation with that character? If a character is talking to his new love, it will be a lot different than if the character’s talking to his worst enemy.

    9. What setting is the character in? If the character is in a forest, at night and lost with another character, the tone might be different than if those two same characters are at school during the day.

  2. Good point! If the writers will not be involved in creating the scenes and settings you mention, then they would definitely need to know about them. Ideally, of course, the developer can bring in writers early enough so that this won’t be a problem.

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