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Telling a story with facial expressions

Building personality using nothing but faces

Edd Coast

February 11, 2016

4 Min Read

In the first scene of "The Godfather", what is the thing the strikes you the most?
Is it the shockingly detailed description that Bonasera gives?
Is it how unique Corleone's character is?
Well, for me its neither; For me, it is the facial expressions, or maybe the lack of them.

How is depth acquired so quickly in a scene thats not even 10 minutes long?
Why do you like Corleone so much, without even knowing his past?

I guess you're already tired of me beating this dead horse, since i've answered this with the article's title.

But lets get deeper, shall we?
Yeah lets do that.

Why are they frowning? Why are they not happy?
Do you know why?
I do, let me tell you: because they've got a bunch of problems going on in their heads, serious stuff, murders, people in danger, people that have been hurt and specially how much they are hurt.

So why is your protagonist still smiling?

"Oh-a yes! The love of my life just got-a kidnapped but i don't care life is great!"

Heres a quick logical assumption, if your character is full smiling non-stop, maybe, just maybe hes a sociopath.
I know that Mario is aiming for kids and that hes supposed to be happy "because kids", but this isn't the way to go. Chopping off a piece of your character for the sake of inclusion almost always ends up backfiring.

How to do this for kids?
Like this:

(The new disney shorts are great by the way, i wish i could write an entire article about it)

So what does this have to do with video games?

A lot actually (i mean, if the game does have a character).

In So Long Earth i kept a "predominant" facial expression for each character. Thats their way of telling a story without having to move their mouths. It says: "I have been throught some stuff"

This is Dom (Dominique) and hes obviously tired due to what hes been through.

Even thought this is a shameless self promotion, its still a good example of how to break video game rules; I never really understood how can protagonists be smiling all the time, cheering with so much energy while trying to save the world that is in current danger, is it that natural for them?
So in protest i gave the opposite personality to my protagonist - he never smiles. And for good reason.

It is worth mentioning other games that followed the same example brilliantly, such as:

The Binding of Isaac - With Isaac: the sinful boy who lost everything, including his clothes

Zelda: Ocarina of Time - With Link: the boy who left his home to save the world, does it look like hes enjoying it?

Battleblock Theater - With Hatty Hattington and his sweet nature corrupted by the power of the hat

All these characters have something in common: They aren't supposed to be manly deep sad hurt characters, but instead, friendly-looking. All that with a different expression, just so they can tell you how they feel without the need to talk.

(Im pretty sure theres more, but these are the best examples i could think of)

Thats exactly how i plan to tell the story of my game, with as few dialogues as possible, with as much freedom as i can give the player, without interrupting his experience and at the same time giving him the impression that he knows the protagonist and his story, just by looking at him.

So this is it guys, thanks for reading and until next time.

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