Though the gaming industry has been booming during the last several years, character development was here for more than a decade. Some people showed interest in this area after noticing characters in advanced games like Fortnite. However, we all know Mario, Pikachu, or Zelda since our childhood. So, the character design is not a new field. But it changed a lot during the last several years. Nowadays, characters are more complex, and realistic. Today technological advancements allow us to design a game character that looks and moves just like a real person. Yet, the design process requires extensive learning, creativity, and effort. Hence, I wrote this article to help you have some understanding of character design. You will get familiar with the general elements of design, accessible tools, and most helpful tips.
Before I go in-depth on character development, I want to talk about the general elements of the game design process. Those concepts are the same no matter which type of game you are working. In general, you should know that there are not any shortcuts to design a game character. It takes a lot of time and energy. Only dedicated work is capable of leading to breath-taking character designs.
Game characters should have several features to advance the gaming experience. One of them is the appeal. An appeal does not mean ‘beauty.’ Even the horrible characters, monsters, and zombies can be appealing. Besides, they should be adjustable. For instance, it should be flexible for animating. Also, designers should consider framerate while designing. It is desirable to ruin the framerate of the game with characters. In this way, the role will be memorable and real-life-like.
Game characters have various functions depending on the type of the game. Nowadays, action games are becoming more famous. Hence, I would like to focus on them. Action games involve a lot of moves which makes the game fast. Therefore, characters should be easily recognizable. While working on the design, one should constantly ask; what is the use of the added pieces? If they do not contribute, it is better to avoid them. It is also a big mistake that new game development teams make. They try to add all great functions to one character to make them the coolest. However, in the end, the character becomes unclear and muddy. Hence, it is more believable when character functions are modest.
When you design a game character, extensive knowledge in color schemes is necessary. That is among the first things an artist should excel in. Colors of the game character should be compatible with the colors of the background and other elements. In this way, designers ensure that the role provides the feeling of belonging to that environment. Also, while choosing the colors, it is essential to consider what type of game it is. In action games, darker colors with neon ones are more popular. Meanwhile, if you create a character for social games or puzzles, characters can be more bright.
Besides, one should also consider the surface - material in clothes. It should be easy to differentiate the skin from the leather, or metal from wood. Today’s software solutions offer many tools to create a realistic surface. This consideration will advance the game character design process as they will look like real clothes.
A character without proper moves is uncomplete. They do not feel real-life-like when the movements are weird. As a designer, your responsibility is creating characters that are easy to animate. If animators can work on your character, then the final result will be breath-taking. Though animating or building the rig is not your job, you should have some understanding of these processes. Only in this way, you can consider extra geometry, bending, or stretching while you design a game character.
Increased interest in game development resulted in a bust of new tools for design. Some of them are so straightforward that one does not need any programming background. Others are more complex and require coding knowledge. However, claiming that the latter is better can be wrong. The choice of software depends on the type of the game and characters one wants to build. In this section, I will share several examples of popular tools used for game character design.
When you search for software to design a game character, Autodesk appears among the top search results. You probably have heard AutoCAD software which Autodesk originated. In today’s competitive environment, Autodesk owns a huge market share. Many top designers use Autodesk programs for high-quality video game development. Currently, it has the two most popular tools. Famous and biggest game publishers have used both. The disadvantage of these programs is that they are challenging. If you are a starter, it is better not to jump using these tools. They require a significant learning curve.
One of the products of Autodesk is Maya. This software created visuals for Game of Thrones, Spider-Man, and many Pixar movies. Maya is a very sophisticated and powerful tool to design a game character. It has a precise 3D rendering function which enables creation and animation. Maya ensures that one can create or sculpt the character and then paint it in the same software. Its possibilities are so vast that many other tools cannot even compete. However, as mentioned before, one should be ready to dedicate his time and energy to learning its usage.
Many tools do not offer the features that Maya does. But that does not mean it wins the competition. Surprisingly, the biggest competitor of Maya is another Autodesk software, 3ds Max. The movies which have mind-blowing graphics, like Harry Potter or X-Men, utilized this tool to create visuals. The function that allows 3ds Max to compete with Maya is its relatively easy rendering processing. Here you can import a real picture and then turn it into a digital version. This feature is not a case for Maya. Hence, 3D rendering is more comfortable with 3ds Max.
Nonetheless, this convenient does not mean that working with the tool is easy. Learning the usage is as challenging as Maya. If you want to be able to design a game character like the ones in the mentioned movies, you need to sacrifice your time to the learning curve.
ZBrush is one of the greatest rivals of Autodesk. It has a ‘pixol’ technology which gives the tool a competitive advantage. For further information, Pixol is a smart pixel. In 2D game development, pixels include information like the plane- x and y coordinates and color -red, green, blue values. But Pixols contain more information, such as depth, material, and orientation. This technology is only available in ZBrush.
The software is an excellent choice for modeling, texturing, and coloring game characters in the 3D version. Some designers also claim that ZBrush is more like a sculpting tool rather than a drawing software. Besides, this tool does not utilize much power of the processor. However, do not think that it is less powerful, and you need a better one. Gears of War and Assassin’s Creed used ZBrush for graphics; so, it is no less useful to design a game character.
Design tools are fun to test and work. For beginners, these powerful tools can be challenging to learn. Besides, you should spend a considerable amount of your money, too. However, with the help of free and open-source tools, beginners get a chance to develop their skills.
One of these tools is Blender. One cannot claim that this software is as perfect as the ones mentioned before. Nonetheless, it allows for the creation of some incredible 3D art. It is an open-source platform and has an extensive community. Some top gaming artists are also members of this community. It is compatible with many platforms, including Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Another example of free platforms is MakeHuman. As its name suggests, artists use this software to create some realistic human characters. Though it is an open platform among paid industry giants, it has won several awards, too. The reason is that many designers, video game programmers, and academics work together to develop this software. All those people have the interest to digitize humanity. Hence, if you also have a dream of realistic game character design, MakeHuman is a great place to start your journey.
We discussed general concepts and design tools. In this section, I want to go through a more detailed process of character designing. I will also share some tips for future consideration to add more meaning to your characters.
In almost all video game programming and development processes, the first step is planning. Without a plan, diving into the actual task will be inefficient. Before starting the design, one should think about the character. It is helpful to create a plan on traits that the character will have. For instance, you can focus on the general nature of the character. What humanistic characteristics it has? It can be a heroic or cruel character. Alternatively, it can carry and master gun usage. The choice is yours. Try to be as creative as possible.
When you plan your character, it is also better to research other characters. Try to analyze others to understand what lead to their success or failure. Besides, researching can lead to inspiration.
Finding a reference that inspires you is excellent, yet you should create original work. Thus, you should be careful. Sometimes we stick to reference too much that the final result becomes very similar to it. The best strategy to design a game character that is original and creative is remembering the reference. Look at it and remember. Do not look at it when you design. Only in this way, you can get inspired and still develop original work.
Sometimes game companies do not understand the importance of backstory. Let me explain it first. People are different. Even the twins have different characters. The reason is that their life path makes their characters unique. When they face a particular event, their differences make them react differently. As people have backstories, your characters should have it, too. A backstory adds more excitement to the game. Besides, the characters feel alive.
Game character design requires a well-though backstory. If you add historical or familial context to them, you will give cues to players. Gamers will expect how the characters respond to their environments or what motivates them. Besides, one should create a backstory that is related to the theme of the game. Then, the character will automatically connect to the game’s plot. Players love detailed characters with well-established backstories.
Assing small details to the game enhance the gamer’s experience. It brings depth to the characters. For instance, you can mention that the character likes jazz music when you design a game character. The game can be in a different plot. Jazz music can have nothing to do with the game. But the character might pass a restaurant where jazz music is on. If he stops and taps his foot hearing the song, it will be a subtle touch. This action will add depth to the character and make it stand out. The detail can be trivial. However, for a gamer, it will make the game more realistic and engaging.
When a player selects the character in the game, he sees its actions. The character shows one-two action. It is the pose of it. During the game, the pose can be unnecessary. We usually notice them when the character does not move. However, the pose is an excellent feature to connect the character to the game plot and backstory. For instance, if he bows, it means the character is polite. Alternatively, if you want to design a game character that has a lot of strength, pounding on his chest can be a right pose.
The right silhouette is the essence of the game character. It yields several benefits that you cannot ignore. First, it makes the character different. Imagine that all characters have the same silhouette but different physical abilities. On paper, that can be okay when you read about traits of character. However, when you design a game character, it will not look distinct. In general, the lack of diversity will make the game visuals repetitive.
Second, the silhouette talks about the qualities of the character. If you create a bulky character, it says the character has more power, but a slow movement. On the other hand, if you create a slim and tall character, it can signal that it moves fast. But, it lacks strength. Players should get necessary information like power or speed from the silhouette of the characters. If your shape is misleading, then it will confuse the players.
Details of the character should not blend too much in the profile. For instance, let’s imagine the character has a sword in her hand. If you draw the sword too close to the character, elements of it, including clothes, accessories, body shape, and sword, will blend. The character will end up with a blob-like form that does not look like anything. When you design a game character, try not to overlap details and keep them simple.
Exaggeration is a famous trick used in game development. It benefits as it emphasizes particular qualities. For example, if the character is strong, you should create massive bulging arms. They should not be in standard size; try to make them five times more massive than usual. It will immediately signal that the character has much power. Besides, this trick is a solution for a clean silhouette. As you increase the arm size, you ensure that no accessory or hair will cover them. In that way, the character is clear.
Designing a game character is a rewarding process. However, it is challenging and requires a significant learning curve. If you are an artist, you should put much effort to excel in tools and to find inspiration. Alternatively, if you have a great gaming idea, you can outsource professional artists. Those people have needed skills, knowledge, and creativity to design a game character. Hence, the process takes much less time and effort. Game development outsourcing will ensure you get the best story and character design. A professional company like Stallion Gaming will be your best partner in this journey.