Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Unique" Game Characters

Taken from the description for a new free-to-play game on Steam (Rusty Hearts):
Meet Unique Heroes - Angela – a sassy witch specialist of elemental magic. Tude – a mysterious, monstrous past and a clear taste for close range melee weapons. Frantz – a half vampire with mid-range melee weapons and dark magic.

So I have two topics here, and I'd like to put the disclaimer up front that I haven't played the game, and for all I know they've done something amazing with the characters that would make me say "woah, I was not expecting that". Experience has taught me that it rarely happens though. On the other hand, this is not a personal attack on the makers of the game. I'm sure they've put a lot of work in, and you guys should go check it out. It's free, and you never know - you might like it. Instead, this is an attack on the industry's tendency to reuse the same concepts over and over without really thinking about why they're doing it (other than because it worked for product X, Y and Z in the past, so why put dev time into coming up with something fresh?).

Firstly, I suspect that "unique" may be somewhat of an exaggeration there. They've taken a few of the template "cool" characters that are used in almost everything. We have the token sassy woman figure who is good with magic and spends half the trailer giving you views up her skirt, we have the guy with the mysterious past who likes to beat things to death, and finally we have the half-vampire (more on that later) who plays with dark magic and yet for some reason fights on the side of good. I hope there's a very good explanation of why they're hanging out together and fighting evil, because it seems a little tenuous on first inspection.

Secondly, I hate this whole half-vampire concept. I know it allows a cheap injection of drama, but how exactly does it work? I can think up much darker and more dramatic characters than the ones we see if I conduct that exact thought exercise (i.e., put more thought into it than "Kids like vampires these days, right? But he can't be all evil, so how about if he's half vampire? We can work the coolness and angst in but he can still be a good guy."). But it seems that the thought exercise is never quite executed, and rather than a troubled Blade-like character who fits into neither world but still fights for what he believes is right, we end up with "He's half this and half that. Isn't he so cool? See how he isn't looking at that explosion. I bet he doesn't afraid of anything."

I've kept the points short so that it doesn't turn into a rant, so I'll leave it there for now. Let me know what you think. Are character concepts stagnating and being based on "that's cool" rather than "this guy really fits the overarching themes", or am I imagining the whole thing?

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