Note: this is a cross post from the Giant Cop Dev Blog which is located at blog.giantcop.com.
I’m Marc McGinley, the Design Director on Giant Cop and today I’m going to be discussing some of the design considerations we made regarding the character of Giant Cop and the thought process behind them.
In traditional 3D games, there are two dominant camera perspectives, each is designed to make the player have different feelings towards their avatar and the environment surrounding them.
A third person approach allows the player to see their avatar. They get to look at what they are wearing, see their animations, and facial expressions. This perspective allows the player to role-play, and attach themselves to the character. This strong emotional attachment to the character is seen in many games with a strong narrative element.
Third person perspective in Journey.
While a third person perspective is more emotionally engaging in terms of character, a first person perspective is more immersive when it comes to feeling like you’re actually in the game. By removing the avatar which takes up a large space on the screen, placing the camera at head height and seeing weapons or hands on the peripheral the environment becomes the main character. One main reason that developers choose this approach is that it allows the player to project their personality onto the character. As the character is literally faceless it allows players to fill in the visual blanks themselves. In first person games, however, there tends to be some pre-defined signs of characterization, whether that’s seeing their torso / feet / hands or hearing their voice.
When first considering the perspective for Giant Cop, our natural choice was to go for a first person perspective, but there were some known drawbacks...
For example, a first person perspective would mean that you’re playing as Giant Cop, a predefined character. This would be similar to playing as Bruce Wayne / Batman in Arkham VR.
First person perspective in Arkham VR
But when we thought about who we wanted you to play as in VR, we didn’t want you to be playing as someone else. You’re not inhabiting Bruce Wayne’s body. You don’t look like someone we invented. You are you, and you are the protagonist.
I like to call this perspective Zeroth Person. It’s already popular with social experiences, but we haven’t seen it a lot in narrative experiences. This approach is interesting as playing as yourself aids presence, removing any pre-assigned notions of your character, allowing you to play who you want to be, the way you want to play.
If we chose a first person perspective and designed realistic hands, or gave the character a voice we’d be allowing the player to pass their motivations and destructive actions off as those of the character and not their own. We didn’t want this for Giant Cop. Playing as yourself means that we can give the player true agency and invoke entirely new feelings; we can make you feel good or bad about your decisions and actions. For the first time in video games we’re able to give players a meaningful character arc - changing your feelings as you progress through the narrative. This is only possible in VR.
You’re the protagonist, and Giant Cop: Justice Above All is your story. As you play through the intro of the game, you put on a pair of aviator sunglasses and you literally become Giant Cop. We’re all individually Giant Cop, and there’s no defined character that we’re playing.
So how did we design an avatar for Giant Cop if you ARE Giant Cop, and not playing as a specific character?
Our final solution is actually rather elegant and simple, but it took us a little bit of iteration to get there. When we think about Giant Cop’s avatar, it’s actually more about what isn’t defined than what is. We need the player to be able to project themselves into a hollow shell of a character, so it’s important to not have any defining features that they wouldn’t expect.
One of the first decisions we made was to not give Giant Cop a voice. While it would have been easy to give you a voice it wouldn’t be your voice. We’d be literally putting words into your mouth, and telling you what you should be thinking and feeling. But we’re not the thought Police (although you might be), and we want you to draw your own conclusions from the narrative. By not having a voice you also feel disconnected from the world that you’re policing. This was a conscious decision. Making communication difficult between you and the people of Micro City emphasizes your size, and how you don’t really belong in their world. More on that in a future blog post.
Aside from not having a voice, we felt it important to make Giant Cop’s avatar gender neutral. We want you to play as yourself, so it’s important that you bring your own gender identity to the character. We could have implemented a very simple selection between a male and female character to choose your avatar, but other than the fact that a binary choice does not fully represent the full range of gender identity, we also can’t create a physical likeness very similar to yourself - there are an infinite number of options we’d need to design for.
With this in mind we decided that the avatar of Giant Cop wouldn’t have a physical torso or shadow, as even a simple silhouette can break presence when trying to achieve a zeroth person perspective.
In terms of hands, we felt that it was important to stylize the hands so that their shape is somewhat neutral. We found that gloves work much better than showing real hands, which raises issues about matching skin tone, texture and other factors such as degree of hairiness.
There was still the issue of hand size, however. Proprioception is the sense of knowing where your limbs are in 3D space, even without seeing them. When experimenting with hand models we found that the user experienced a mild uneasiness any time the gloves in game were much bigger or smaller than their own hands. As a result, we’ve chosen a hand size which is somewhat average, it tends to work well with people who have small and large hands. This is true of finger size as well.
We felt like we solved the VR challenges of your avatar really well, but one problem remained… How do we represent Giant Cop in marketing materials? A pair of floating hands wasn’t enough. Since you’re the protagonist ideally we could put you into the marketing images, but obviously that’s not feasible either.
Following through with our design principles of less is more, and avoiding the uncanny valley, we devised a way to give the avatar personality, without having to give them a face. This was done by giving the avatar a pair of aviator sunglasses, which fit perfectly with the 70’s theme, as well as a traditional cop hat. Being faceless is important, and by using fun and stylish props, we were able to bring Giant Cop’s face to life without having a face at all.
Our design process focused on perspective, the meaning of identity, and the feelings we want players to experience as they play. Making the player the character was the best way to achieve our goals.
On the next design blog we’ll discuss the narrative devices we’re using to tell the story of Giant Cop: Justice Above All