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Character Creation: I AM series

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December 15, 2014

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how video game characters  are created

Character Creation: A Look at How Video Game Characters Came to Be

An Introduction to the ‘Character Creation: I AM series’

The subject of character creation is a fascinating one. There’s certainly a lot of dragging and dropping that goes on in the process. Ideas on the appearance, personality and design aspects of a character are often drawn from other characters, people and games. For example, let’s create a badass character called ‘Leah.’ She has that tough Sigourney Weaver vibe in Aliens and the ultra-cool swagger of Michelle Rodriguez in Avatar. She looks similar to Linda Hamilton in Terminator. Long blonde hair and similar build. We’ll use the same kind of layered-animation system used in the Uncharted series to make her really come to life. This is the kind of thought process that goes in to making a character.

Let’s have a brief look at the character creation process of three popular video game characters. Commander Shepherd, Lara Croft and Master Chief.

Character Creation Design Commander Shepard

Character Creation: Commander Shepard

Commander Shepard is the lead protagonist in the Mass Effect series. The developers were after a good, solid American name that was common. No doubt due to the fact that the story is set out in space they began to consider the names of the original seven astronauts. Alan Shepard seemed to be a good fit. He was tough and respected like their character. Their character would be the first Spectre while Alan Shepard was the first American in space.

His appearance is based on a Dutch model by the name of Mark Vanderloo. Mark Meer did a stellar job of voice acting while Caroline Livingstone gave voice direction during the recordings. The appearance and voice of Commander Shepard gave the character a huge amount of appeal.

It’s interesting to note the thought that went into the minor details, too. The red stripe, for example, in the N7 logo symbolizes the blood Shepard must sacrifice to save the galaxy.

Bioware decided that they wanted players to feel special and empowered from the start of the game. This was to create a more intense and memorable experience. They certainly delivered on that. Shepard had already distinguished himself by the time we assume the character. He had gone through the elite training program of N7 and was being considered for Spectre status. Throughout all three games a player was made to feel special by what non-player characters said to him.

Character Creation Design Lara Croft

Character Creation: Lara Croft

Lara Croft is the lead protagonist in the Tomb Raider series of games. She was inspired by Swedish pop artist Neneh Cherry and comic book character Tank Girl. She was designed to counter stereotypical female characters that gave off a “bimbos” or “dominatrix” vibe. We have lead graphic artist Toby Gard to thank for having a heroine to play. He felt that having a female character would work better from a design standpoint.

Gard came up with a tough South American woman with a braid named Laura Cruz. Eidos management, however, wanted to give the character a British sounding surname. After a look in the English telephone directory they decided on Lara Croft. Bingo! The name will forever be a part of gaming legend.  Naturally, they gave her a British background to match.

Lara, of course, is noted for her bosom size before the reboot of the series. This was the result of an accident! The story goes that while Gard was tinkering around with the character model he accidentally increased the breasts’ size by 150 percent. When the creative team saw the model they argued that it should be kept that way!

Character Creation Master Chief

Character Creation:  Master Chief

Master Chief is the lead protagonist in the Halo series. The developers pondered for some time as to what rank and branch of the armed forces the Chief would be a part of. They felt giving him a naval background and rank would set him apart from other characters and games. “Master Chief” was the name they gave him till they figured out a better one. It grew on them so much though that they decided to go with it.

Steve Downes (pictured below) is the voice of Master Chief. He based the way he voiced the character on a brief description he was given which said the Master Chief was similar to Clint Eastwood and didn’t talk that much. During recordings though he was given some freedom to develop the Chief’s personality.

Perhaps something that Bungie Studios’ Frank O’Connor said can shed light on why Master Chief says so little from a game play point of view. The Master chief is “so quiet and so invisible, literally, that the player gets to pretend they’re the Chief. The player gets to inhabit those shoes [and] apply their own personality.”

From time-to-time I’ll be writing about how video game characters were created. I call it the “I AM” series because I will start by having the character introduce himself. I will publish my first entry on Nathan Drake very soon.

Character Creation: I AM series

how are video game characters created Nathan Drake
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Master Chief Halo Steve Downes Voice Actor

Steve Downes lends his voice to the character Master Chief in the Halo series.

By Cplbeaudoin (Own work) / CC0

Commander Shepard got his name from Alan Shepard. Alan Shepard was an American naval officer, aviator, test pilot, flag officer and one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts. He was the first American to enter space.

Commander Shepard got his name from Alan Shepard. Alan Shepard was an American naval officer, aviator, test pilot, flag officer and one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts. He was the first American to enter space.

By NASA / Public domain

Mark Meer Voice of Commander Shepard

Mark Meer did a superb job when it came to giving Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect series a voice.

By Drew Leavy from London, England, UK (Mark Meer at F1.2) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Lara Croft Toby Gard

We have lead graphic artist Toby Gard to thank for Lara Croft. Otherwise, it may have been a male character.

By Jon Jordan (originally posted to Flickr as Toby Gard) / CC BY 2.0

Character Creation Design Keeley Hawes voice of Lara Croft

Actress Keeley Hawes has lent her voice to Lara Croft in a number of games. These include Tomb Raider: Legend / Anniversary/ Underworld.

By Andi064 (Own work)  / CC BY-SA 4.0


Commander Shepard on Wikipedia

Lara Croft on Wikipedia

Master Chief on Wikipedia

Legal Info

The images of Commander Shepard, Lara Croft and Master Chief are being used under the ‘Fair Use’ proviso.

Halo 4 was developed by 343 Industries and published by Microsoft Studios.

Tombraider (2013) is developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix.

Mass Effect 3 was developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts.
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