Posing these questions seems obvious to a seasoned character designer, but doesn’t always seem like a necessity to someone of more amateurish quality (like myself). While you want a main character to appear unique from the crowd, why would you want a secondary or minor character to appear unique? That’s just extra work, and doesn’t really matter. Right?
Well, no, as it turns out. While I certainly will design generic characters to fill the background - especially ones just going about their day to day lives - designing some characters who don’t necessarily have names the player will ever hear, but have unique appearances go along way in fleshing out the environment that Auryon lives in. Not only that, but thinking about the quality of the clothes that these characters might be wearing can go miles to helping to establish the current state of living conditions that Auryon occupies. Each piece of clothing, how they decorate their surroundings, and how they move can tell the audience a small story about a single minor character, and lend to the world as a whole.
One prime example of this is the Cantina scene in A New Hope. In only a few minutes, we see that this is a galaxy full of a variety of living beings, each escaping the double suns of a desert planet to drink or talk with friends, listen to some grooving tunes, conduct or search for business, or look for their next mark. We see beings argue, we see the bar tender kick droids out of his bar, we see a small bat-like being desperately trying to get a drink, and we even see someone try to rough up some farmboy thinking he’ll be an easy mark. More than a few books have been written expanding on this brief scene, but enough is there to tell the audience exactly what they need to know about this bar: Luke Skywalker isn’t in Kansas anymore.
Another good example of this brief and implicit storytelling tool comes from Cowboy Bebop. Specifically, all the ways that the minor characters decorate their living space and what sort of clothes they wear. Often these characters have only a few lines and serve to just direct the crew of the Bebop to their next clue, but even with this short glimpse, we learn everything that we need to know about each. In the episode Heavy Metal Queen, V.T., a space trucker, asks around looking for another trucker who may be carrying a bomb. The camera cycles through different characters, each spreading the word and passing information. In this brief moment, we see a burly man who has decorated his truck cockpit with plushies and toys, we see one who has several red Chinese lanterns behind him, and yet another surrounds himself with guns, ammunition, and plants (I’m sure all totally legal). These characters only appear for a few seconds each, but in those few seconds, the audience instantly gets an idea of who they are.
This type of storytelling is absolutely necessary for any story to last in memory. While I know this is my first video game, I would certainly like to give it a chance to last beyond the first play through. As such, I’ve begun to ask these questions as I design concepts for characters. How would they fill their space? What would they wear that’s different from those around them? And more societal questions such as how would the Tenants (the leaders of the three castes of the Forn - Auryon’s tribe) identify themselves? How would the Forn, which came from a military background, identify honored members of their tribe? Would each caste of the Forn have different types of honors, and what would those look like? Also, where did the Forn come from? I know it was a military background, but where within the Coalition did those soldiers come from?
In the process of writing the story for Echoes of the Old War, several of these questions were naturally answered. The Forn receive their tribal name and the name for the area around them, Thrihun, from their original Brigade, the 300th Foreign Brigade. The name of their village is a corruption of the brigade’s nickname: Bandog from “Band of Dogs.” Not only does this indicate that the war had reached a point where foreign legions were being used in major engagements, but these foreign legions probably weren’t looked upon fondly. As such, they probably weren’t well equipped, requiring their logistics units to be more creative in supplying their brigade, and much of their equipment probably came from the foreign lands they were from, so there’s probably a degree of variation in weapons and armor. This also suggests that the Forn have a variety of skin tones and various racial features.
As this is two centuries down the road, much of this old equipment has probably been lost to time and replaced with equipment and gear that had to be made from resources found within the Thrihun - primarily wood from trees and some salvaged metals. Wood tools, weapons, and armor most likely have more variation based on the craftsman or the person who created such gear. Since the metal is salvaged, however, it would probably have to be more regular in appearance as to conserve material, as well as would look a bit more corroded. On that topic, inheritance is likely a crucial part of Forn society as tossing out old armor, weapons, or tools when they could be repaired would seem like insanity.
Now we start to get a picture of where a character’s tools and surroundings might come from. But what does that mean to them? As mentioned, some armor or tools might be hold overs from the Old War, so there may be some significance in that, but is there a certain value that a person gets in receiving their armor, bow, or hammer from their father, mother, or some other family member? I don’t see why not, but how would that look in the design?
If a Nader (word from grenadier; a caste within the Forn that serves as heavy infantry) had armor that still displayed the original Brigade logo, what might that look like? From whom did she get that armor and what does it mean to her? What sort of damage has that armor received? If she’s a Nader, and her family have been Naders since the Old War, then this armor has probably seen some action as Naders are usually found on the front lines of any conflict. It’s probably seen several heavy blows and would be dented, and may have even been breached once or twice, requiring patch jobs. The 300th’s logo is likely coming off and faded, so she probably takes great care when washing the armor. This would mean that her armor probably lacks rust as compared to others due to her minimal use of water.
As mentioned before, Naders are usually found on the front lines, but even the shock troopers of the Forn must have a home. Anyone who took such care of their armor, probably also cares quite a bit about their living space. Chances are, she might decorate her home (both inside and outside) with trophies. With her armor being inherited, many of these trophies would be passed down to her for display to show that she comes from a long line of fighting against the Claive (the Forn’s enemies from the Old War). Claive weapons, hung upside down to represent their defeat, torn flags, and other treasures taken from raids and attacks adorn her walls, each with their own story. Although, she has likely left room for her own battle trophies from victories to come.
But what about a Logger (word from logistics; the working caste of the Forn) who serves as a doctor for Bandog? He probably takes great care of his surgical tools. While he may not necessarily understand why, he knows that it’s imperative to keep these tools clean and covered when not in use. The satchel that he carries them in is probably kept clean as well, and might even be sewed in such a way to prevent dirt from easily getting into the bag. While he may wear his hair long and scruffy as a point of personal preference, he may tie it back to prevent it getting in his way as well as contaminating any wounds that he might be working on. He probably also keeps a canteen of water to help clean wounds or provide the injured a drink. His clothes, though, are likely stained from past patients; especially since he can’t simply toss them away like a modern doctor may be able to.
I imagine that this doctor might work quite a bit away from his home, as sometimes its just not practical or safe to move someone who is severely injured any distance, and it’s often better for the sick to remain in their own homes to prevent the spread of disease. As such, his home probably appears more of a home than a place of work. Being older, he might have several grandchildren for whom he keeps toys around. Out of habit, he’s probably fairly cleanly, so most of these toys are probably in good shape and put up until his grandchildren return (at which point, they almost certainly get torn back down for play). He seems like the sort that might be very happy to tell you about his grand kids and wants you to know about them, so these toys are probably kept on prominent display. He also probably has a space in his home devoted to drying herbs for medicinal use. This area, since he has grand kids, is probably built in such a way to prevent little ones from getting in to the wrong herbs. As such, he has to stand while working there, so a comfortable chair is probably kept nearby for him to rest in.
It’s details like this that I need to keep in mind as I’m illustrating these characters. It’s very likely that players may never notice the toys prominently displayed in the doctor’s home, or that there’s minimal rust on on particular Nader’s armor as compared to others. Even fewer will catch the clues that “Forn” is a corruption of the word “foreigner,” eluding to the lineage of Auryon’s tribe.
That doesn’t matter, though. Without these details, the world that I’m creating for the player just won’t feel alive. More observant players will pick up on these queues and be more appreciative of the game at large because of this. If I can get one person to say, “Huh. That’s neat,” or, “Oh. I didn’t notice that the last time I played,” I will consider all of the extra effort put in to these details worth the work.