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Feature: 'Building a Better Player Character'

In this latest exclusive Gamasutra feature, Iron Lore writer and designer Ben Schneider (Titan Quest) references Psychonauts, Greek mythology and
What sort of characters work best in video games? In this latest exclusive Gamasutra feature, Iron Lore writer and designer Ben Schneider (Titan Quest) references Psychonauts, Greek mythology and Planescape: Torment in order to give insight into making playable characters that are “vibrant, real, and memorable.” In this excerpt, Schneider breaks down the differences between what he sees as the two fundamental “staples of video game heroism,” namely the heavy handed action hero and the more down to earth everyman, offering examples of each: ”The everyman is Dorothy of Oz and Frodo of Middle Earth. He or she is essentially the closest thing to who we ourselves are, thrown into the extraordinary circumstances of a ripping good tale. True, we often find the seeds of greatness in these characters, but, like Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker, they have humble beginnings. Everyman characters are always a person stripped down to just their most sympathetic qualities. They are good, but not too good, and humbly average, at least at first and in outward appearance. Their most important feature is a highly polished surface, in which we can see our own faint reflections at all times. The everyman is never very proactive, at least to begin with. As with Dorothy, Frodo, Harry, and Luke, the action must come to them.” He later adds: “The action hero, on the other hand, is more about who we wish we could be. This type has never seen much point in depth or nuance. A look, a particular swagger, phrase, or other gesture is all it takes to get you Indiana Jones, the dusty cowboy, Batman, or the essential sardonic, hard-drinking ex-Green Beret. After all, there’s no need to clutter your fantasies with details. Unlike everyman characters, action heroes can jump into the action. They can jump onto your screen, fist flying, doing what they do best.” You can now read the complete feature, which includes more from Schneider on these two distinctive types of characters, which he notes are “really just flip sides of the same coin” (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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