Idiosyncrasies or Idiocies?

So you want a unique character but you’re having a hard time figuring out how to design it because everything’s been done? What can you do to make your characters stand out? This one is taking on a new meaning when it comes to designing Scene Dogs (google them to see what I mean but I will show some modest examples here of some creative new characters).

Scene Dog Character Set (c)
Colorful Scene Dogs illustrate outlandish character traits

Some have chosen to invent new eye colors, hair colors & skin colors. Others have chosen to use piercings, sparkles, tats, deformities, outlandish costumes or new twists on old favorites (like wings on the head instead of on the back because now wings on your back are boring). Since every conceivable eye color and bi-eyed combination has been thought up and used, we now have artists doing characters with eyes that are three different colors at once!

Sometimes, this stuff is realistic. I myself have one green eye and one gray/blue eye where you can’t even see the pupil really.

So how far is too far? That’s something each artist has to decide for themselves. It depends on who and what you’re designing the character for. If you just want something cute to stick on your online art gallery, well, there really are no limits. If you want your character to appear in a serious series then you might not want neon pink eyes and a bionic ear – or maybe you would! 🙂

If you’re giving your character weird parts and eye colors just because you want to give them weird parts and eye colors or only becuase you want to make sure him/her is original, you may want to think a little bit more before you make a final decision. But, if your character’s outlandish colors/exaggerated traits/bionic parts serve an important purpose to the story then you might be on the right track.

Continuity in character sets

Okay, have you ever played that game “Which of these does not belong”? In that game you are presented with a set of words or images and you have to identify the common link between them which will lead you to the odd one out – the one that does not belong.
The cartoon dog all the way on the end is totally different than the other 3 pets.
This is not a mistake that professional game/movie/comic/character designers typically make – but it is one that beginners do frequently.

Sometimes it works to have one character that is strikingly different from all of the rest of the characters in a set. Sometimes it absolutely fails. To further confuse the issue, there is, as with most art related subjects, an element of subjectivity to this.

What concerns are there? If one character has different proportions from another it can suggest that the character is a different age (A bigger head suggests a child, for example). So, unless you intend to suggest a character is a different age/species by altering their proportions, then it is best to follow the rules you have created for your set so that people are not confused.

Having characters that look like they were all drawn by different artists is also typically a no-no. If you have one character drawn with thick black lines and finished with cell shading next to a character with thin colored lines and soft shading it might look like you ran out of money on your project and had to hire a different artist. It also doesn’t work well from a design prospective. It messes up the balance/chi/juju/continuity/whole-ness/feng shuei of your project – however you want to phrase it. Just throws things off. It would severely annoy someone with OCD and it doesn’t look particularly professional. If you don’t care, or have a good reason to do it, then it might work but this is rare.

Finding professional examples of this is nearly impossible. If you find one, feel free to submit it to me. I can only think of one right off: Kai Leng from Mass Effect 3 (awesome RPG from BioWare)

The whole game looks and feels like a modern star wars – and the worlds/characters are almost as well developed as those in the SW universe. Then, out of nowhere, comes this super flat (writing wise, though he is pretty thin, too) assassin who looks and acts like some 10 year old boy’s anime-ninja alter-ego. It’s almost embarrassing how badly written he is (mostly because he is quite stereotypical, cheesy, overdone). The rest of the characters look so unique and developed (even some that don’t get a lot of screen time manage to feel round in spite of it). Kai is very hard to take seriously and I hated every interaction with him. I couldn’t wait for my chance to kill that little design failure.

Mismatch that works:

If you have many artists working on your project and you can’t find a style they all can match, here are some things you can do about it:

1. Have one artist do all the sketches, one do all the inking, one do all the coloring, and one do all the shading – or some variation of this so that everything still meshes.

2. Have one artist do all of the work for certain sets (like one artist does the first level world/creatures/items and a second artist does all of the work for level 2 so that everything is congruous within those levels).

3. Don’t make anything match. I have below an example of this tactic and how it works:
This site has a neat ‘scrapbook’ feel and contains art done by probably over 100 different artists with totally different styles. I know because I am one of them! The game is designed to appeal to creative types and has something for everybody (whether you like simple and cute, absolutely ridiculous, hideously ugly or majorly mechanical). The worlds and items are completely unique from one another, too, not just the creature and character designs. It works because everything is so different. It’s not just a few out of place pieces of art.

Simple Sells

You might not judge a book by its cover (Though I do regularly – I generally only pick up books with nicely illustrated front covers) but a character’s appearance can/does tell you a lot. It is an obvious and important consideration in character design. In this post I’m going to talk about simple character designs and why they work.

Cordy, Sackboy, Toadstool, Bob & Moogle comparision.

These simple game characters work well because they are appealing (cute lol) and because their design reflects their role in the game. Most of these characters are from puzzle games with fairly simple plots. Their simple design does not distract from the game play. Games with this type of character tend to be more about what you’re doing than who you interact with. Cordy (Cordy – a popular game for mobile devices), Sackboy (Little Big Planet), Toadstool (Super Mario Brothers) & Bob (Puzzle Bobble). You may have noticed I left the last guy out. That’s because his case is a little different.

#5, The “Moogle”, comes from the Final Fantasy series, which is a complex game that deals a lot with character interaction. Its world is equally complex. But the Moogle serves simple functions (to save your game, for example) and its design reflects that. It is one of the most doodled/tattooed characters from that entire series.

Some of these characters have a little more going on than is immediately obvious (Cordy, for example, has little mechanical doohickeys & the original Sackboy has a detailed texture overlay), but they can all be simplified into a big circle for a head & a smaller circle for the body. There is a lot of ’roundness’ in all of these character designs that adds to the appeal factor.

Game characters can get even simpler than that (Pacman & Kirby, for example). Simple characters are also common as company mascots and logos because they are easy to identify which makes them highly marketable. They also cost less to print which makes for good merchandising possibilities (Think “Angry Birds”).

How simple is too simple? Even stick men have their place in character design. Characters can really make a game (again, think Angry Birds. It’s similar to “Worms: Armageddon” in terms of game play but Angry Birds has many more fans and tons of merchandise. The poor worms really got the popularity shaft and it is likely because they lack the charm of the birds.