Welcome back, readers!
As promised, I’m back to discuss certain elements about video games that help spur my creativity as a writer. For a quick recap on where I’ve gone so far with this discussion, please visit my article from June 30 on this blog for my explanation of how a strong story can serve as a well of inspiration for both current and upcoming fiction writers, particularly seeing as the information from that blog post ties in particularly close to the topic I’ll be presenting today—namely, character development. After all, video games with strong stories more often than not produce characters with plenty of depth and personality whom players come to remember fondly for years on end and, consequently, whom fiction writers can use as examples to model the characters of their own works after. Even games to which a gamer has been but recently introduced can have this appeal, because believe me—as I’ve mentioned in the first part of this mini-series, there have been a lot of games out there that I’ve become familiarized with strictly via YouTube that have made me think, “Shoot! That actually seems like it might be worth playing. I mean, if nothing else, at least it’s got a good story tied into it, and at least I’m interested enough in these characters I’m seeing to at least want to play the thing.”
To put things in perspective, a great video game character is more than just a well-designed sprite or a mass of well-meshed polygons or even a product of various state-of-the-art CGI rendering techniques. Sure, aesthetics may make a character pleasing to the eye, but just as in real life, looks are only skin deep, and without a proper back story, objective, and a fitting personality—complete with perks, flaws, range of emotions, and various other traits—the character in question might as well be nothing more than an animated image on one’s monitor. Granted, a game character might not need these attributes in order for the game that features him or her to be entertaining, but even when it comes to video game genres that don’t rely all that much on story (e.g., puzzle games, racing games, beat ‘em ups, and fighting games), the more information is revealed about a character, the more certain gamers will learn to connect with him or her and, in a small but nonetheless significant way, learn to become more involved in and appreciative of the game he or she belongs to.
To illustrate this point, we’ll first discuss a character’s backstoryas an important component in how well he or she can translate into a literary character, and personally, I can think of no better way in examining this topic than by discussing a classic PlayStation game from 1998 that I hope most gamers still remember, SCE Cambridge Studio and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s very own MediEvil. In this gem of an action adventure title, the player takes control of the jawless, one-eyed skeletal remains of proclaimed Gallowmere war hero Sir Daniel Fortesque, brought back from the dead by the necromantic energies of the foul sorcerer Zarok as he returns to the realm to avenge the loss he and his original army of darkness had suffered a century earlier at the hands of the battalion that Daniel was supposed to be in charge of. That’s right, I said “supposed to be in charge of,” only because the brief narrative that plays in the beginning of the game right before the game officially starts plays up Daniel as being this great hero who slays Zarok in mortal combat shortly before dying himself. Sadly, this is a blatant lie told by whoever documented this particular chapter in the history of Gallowmere, for in reality—as shown in a flashback that Dan has upon being reawakened by the stream of necromantic energy emanating from Zarok as the magician makes his return to Gallowmere—Dan was the first to die in the battle as the result of being shot in the eye by the first arrow fired. The narration the player receives is therefore naught but a cover-up by King Peregrin’s historians at the behest of their liege, who was, in fact, mortified by Sir Daniel’s poor show, yet felt the need to establish a semblance of security for his people by concocting this story in an effort to make Daniel—jawless, one-eyed, gangling ne’er-do-well that he now is—seem like a true hero.
Then again, as the player comes to realize during the course of play, Sir Daniel’s less-than-heroic nature doesn’t just come from his tragically comic history, although it does a splendid job on its own in portraying Dan as a hapless sot who was more bark than bite during his lifetime and ultimately paid the price on account of it. In other words, he’s not your standard noble hero who lives up to his claim to fame and, regardless of whether he has flaws or not, overcomes the odds time and again as the result of “destiny” or some similar underlying force. Such is an archetype that does have its place in the lore of literature, video games, motion picture, television, and even comic books, but can become predictable, cliché, and outright tiresome after a while. Then again, Sir Dan’s not exactly a brooding, sulking, rebellious “bad ass” anti-hero, either—another archetype that often gets played out time and again in narratives of all forms. As such, Sir Dan’s character is more likely than not a breath of fresh air amongst a slew of other medieval-style heroes and as such strikes them as being that much more fun to play as—particularly when Dan behaves in ways that reinforces his backstory and subsequent archetype. For example, never mind the fact that Sir Daniel only has one eye on account of the arrow that ended his life so suddenly and ironically; there’s also the fact that while his body was decomposing in his tomb, his mandible had fallen off, thus resulting in his inability to speak clearly or, for that matter, drink anything, as one can determine by watching the good ending of the game (not that lacking a throat helps matters in this latter respect, either). Speaking of his speech, however, it is also worth saying that Sir Dan isn’t necessarily a man of many words, even though the MediEvil instruction manual—which offers the player an even more thorough insight into Sir Dan’s history than the in-game introduction does—portrays him to have been a fantastic storyteller back when he was alive, regaling many an audience with his wild tales about slain dragons and vanquished legions, which was what had inspired King Peregrin to appoint him to the Head of Gallowmere’s Royal Battalion in the first place. It’s quite a shame, then, that such an interesting and insightful part of the story had been left out of the game itself, as it would even further illustrates Dan’s misfortunate disposition (a trait about character backstories that, sadly, is not exclusive to this particular game, as you’ll soon come to learn later on in this article). Needless to say, then, it should surprise no one that on the rare occasions when he does talk in his state of undeath, the extent of what he says is limited to a few words per phrase such as “I’ll show you!”, “Get on with it,” and “Watch it, you!” This deprival of the eloquence he used to have further adds to his mystique as a semi-comical hero—a protagonist whom only the most trusting of people would have any faith in as a savior against an horde of demonic and undead monsters, thus making it all the more exhilarating when he triumphs over some force of evil such as a skeletal knight and his trusty steed, a posse of shadow demons, a slithering “Pumpkin Serpent,” or the nefarious necromancer himself, Zarok.
In short, MediEvil’s Sir Daniel Fortesque succeeds in being a memorable action adventure protagonist thanks to his strong and mostly well-illustrated backstory that his other character traits can openly play off of, thereby making it quite easy for an author to translate him into a literary character, should such an occurrence ever happen. Then again, action-adventure games, RPGs, and other games that hail from genres known for relying heavily on story aren’t the only ones that can benefit from the solid development of the characters within them, as we shall discover by investigating how character development can also work to create interest in characters from a game that embodies a different video game genre—one that is not known for technically needing any semblance of plot in order to encourage fans to appreciate it. For this part of the dissertation, we’ll be looking into a game that I’d briefly mentioned last time and promised that I’d talk about in this article: an independent two-dimensional M.U.G.E.N. (PC) fighting game from 2009 called The Black Heart. The premise of this macabre masterpiece is pretty simple: A world existing parallel to our own that was once lush, beautiful, and full of life has, over time, become a very cruel and bitter place to live, torn by war and hate and as such stained with so much bloodshed that the entire realm itself has become colored red. Thankfully, since humanity’s fate has not been tied to this now hellish realm—which the game refers to simply as “the Other World”—we have been able to ignore the violence within it for quite some time…until recently, that is, what with the sudden murder of the king and creator of this alternate reality. Despite having grown old and decrepit in his old age, the assassinated king still possessed within him the incredible power that he had once used to create his no longer glorious kingdom in the first place—a power that still resides within his severed heart, which is now in the possession of Final, a creature from the depths of the infinite chaos that exists between the Other World and our own realm. Within the wrong hands, this power can turn deadly—if not, in fact, catastrophic—and could very well lead to the demise of both realities. Within the hands of the just, however, the heart could very well set things straight, even if only for the entity who possesses it. At any rate, it is now up to the six selectable characters to venture forth and capture the slain king’s heart in hopes of using its power for their own benefit and—hopefully, at least—the sake of both our world and the now-sanguine Other World.
From there, it is up to the player to select one if six unique and heavily inspired characters, each with his or her own background, special abilities, and motivations, and while it may be true that six selectable characters might seem—dare I say it—paltry compared to even the seven possible playable characters from the likes of Midway’s original Mortal Kombat game from 1992, Atari Games’ 1994 cult classic Primal Rage, and Naxat Soft’s 1996 PSX flop Killing Zone, what The Black Heart lacks in terms of character selection, it more than makes up for in the depth of its characters’ development, even before one starts playing. You see, as the player plays through the game, he or she is first treated to an introduction to his or her choice character and given some insight into who the character is and how he or she is connected to the events following the king’s untimely demise. Further development for the chosen character occurs both before and after the fight with the game’s boss, the aptly named Final, and not just for the player’s choice character, either. Indeed, even Final’s story unfolds with each and every character the player manages to defeat him with, although for me to share with you such story progression would more or less be spoiling the game for anyone who is interested in paying it themselves. Rather, I’ll tell you this: The story of the game as a whole will make the most sense if the player beats it with each character in the following order: Hashi, Noroko, Peketo, Animus, Ananzi, and Shar-Makai. Why this order? Because such is the way Andres Borghi, the creator of The Black Heart, had written the story, making sure to assign a specific chapter of it to each of his characters, which goes as follows:
Chapter 1 – The Wooden Man (Hashi)
Chapter 2 – Cry from the Soul (Noroko)
Chapter 3 – The Red Dream (Peketo)
Chapter 4 – Chaos and Death (Animus)
Chapter 5 – The Daughter of the Prince (Ananzi)
Chapter 6 – Lust for Power (Shar-Makai)
Granted, this story isn’t completely flawless in that it does contain a handful of logic gaps that I’ve come to notice upon looking at each character’s chapter a second time around. Regardless, it serves as the perfect backdrop for the dynamic evolution of at least two of the game’s six characters, who are provided with rich, illustrative, and compelling backstories during the narrative’s progression. On one hand, we have Hashi (whose name, ironically enough, means “nimble ones” or “quick sticks,” both of which refer to chopsticks, according to thefreedictionary.com), a self-appointed “Knight Templar” of sorts of the natural world whose desire to protect nature has taken a decidedly evil turn. You see, Hashi hails from a race of ancient treefolk who were responsible for shaping the earth as we know it and now reside in extremely small and continuously shrinking numbers within Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. However, while his people are genuinely peaceful folk who have more or less designed the earth to suit the needs of humanity and continue to see us as the true inheritors of our world, Hashi is bitter and cruel towards our race, having grown intolerant of us over the years on account of our careless desecration of the environment and as such has turned to portraying the dark, vengeful side of nature via various acts of glorified ecoterrorism against our kind. This type of behavior was what had gotten him exiled from his people’s society for a solid couple of decades until Malen, the leader of his people, recruits him to get to the “root” of the matter (no pun intended) behind the despoilment of his people’s forest. It is Malen’s belief that these events are tied to the murder of the king in the Other World, which has lost all its flora as the result of the constant wars that have been going on in it*, and if something is not done to rectify the situation, he fears that nature as we know it in our reality will likewise be no more. Hopefully, then, Hashi’s “warrior instinct” will serve his people well in thwarting the oncoming desecration of his home forest—assuming, of course, that he doesn’t allow his deep hatred for humanity blind him in his objective to save his dying homeland.
*(NOTE: How Malen comes to this conclusion, unfortunately, is never discussed during the course of the story, thus making one question how he would know about the Other World and its history in the first place, much less the idea that the king’s killing is the cause of his people’s homeland’s demise. This is an example of one of the gaps in logic that I’d referred to earlier in the above paragraph.)
The second example of a character from The Black Heart who has a particularly palatable backstory is Peketo, the ghost of a little boy who, more likely than not, would’ve grown up happy and productive like most other little boys, had it not been for his abusive occultist father. However, because his dad continuously beat him in between his sinister studies, Peketo couldn’t help but learn the dark arts himself by spying on his father, only to one day open up a portal to the Other World. As he became aware of this whole new realm, Peketo found himself amazed and consoled by all the “beautiful” redness he saw as well as, apparently, the power of the king’s heart, which he could feel from a distance. Unfortunately, his gaze into the sanguine Other World was a short one, but it was nonetheless powerful enough to motivate him into avenging himself against his dad’s cruelty by killing him—a murder after which he soon followed up with by killing several more for little reason other to see and be comforted by the redness of their blood, which was the only thing that shared the same color with the Other World. Thankfully for the general public, Peketo was finally apprehended for his crimes, and while in custody, the man who was meant to be his psychiatrist—a brother of one of the troubled child’s victims—brought it upon himself to avenge his friend’s murder and decapitate Peketo. Sadly, because of the many pacts he’d made while practicing occultism, Peketo only rose from the dead as a ghost and was free to traverse to the Other World to seek out the assassinated king’s heart and claim its power for his own. Only the Powers that Be, too, know just what kind of havoc this disturbed little boy would surely wreak, should he get his hands on such a powerful artifact.
To summarize my point, the backstories for these three video game characters—MediEvil’s very own Sir Daniel Fortesque and Hashi and Peketo from The Black Heart—are all fine examples of how a character’s background can help gamers understand and appreciate him or her, regardless of the genre of the particular game he or she belongs to. This very principle can also relate to literary characters in order to illustrate the events of their past and how said events have contributed to who they are and what they do in whatever story they belong to. Of course, backstory isn’t the only thing that can help readers and gamers come to understand and appreciate a character, as there are plenty of characters existing in both literature and the realm of video games that have become popular simply based on their personal traits. Oftentimes, a character’s basic personality can do much to complement a character’s personal history, as with the previously discussed example of Sir Daniel. At other times, a character’s personality alone can appeal to an audience and make up for an underdeveloped, unrevealed, or completely absent backstory. The next section of this article explains this notion in greater detail.
By now, you’re probably familiar with tales about lone wolf heroes with hidden pasts who wander on into town to take care of the local troublemakers, usually (if not, in fact, exclusively) by force. This is a classic archetype that is most often associated with stories that take place in the Wild West, but not too long ago in 2005, Namco took this very archetype and brought it back to life in their PlayStation 2 beat ‘em up, Urban Reign. In this ambitious title for what was considered back then to be a tired genre, mercenary Brad Hawk answers a call from swordswoman Shun Ying Lee, who controls Green Harbor’s Chinatown, to help locate an abducted member from a rival gang, only to find himself caught up in a much thicker, murkier, and deeper mess than either he or his employer had initially thought. In the beginning, very little information is given about Brad aside from that which he narrates about himself in the game’s opening track—namely, his philosophy about how “Nobody is innocent,” how justice is “an illusion,” and how “Uncertainty is the only sure thing” in that it creates fear, which, in turn, creates money…for him. In other words, the man fits the whole mercenary stereotype to a T: a wandering enforcer for hire hardened by years of experience in various altercations with gangsters, fellow mercenaries (referred to in the game as “brawlers”), and ruffians who trusts no one, believes far more in money than he does in any legal system or sense of civil stability, and who’s always willing to show up wherever the most danger is, seeing as how that place is where he can make the most profit. However, the case that Shun Ying has assigned him is more than just a simple rescue mission, especially when it comes to involve every single gang in Green Harbor wanting a piece of the action for one reason or another, be it to defend “turf,” avenge allies, or simply proclaim dominance over either the entire city or merely a specific sector of it. Rather, the situation evolves—or, perhaps I should say, devolves—into a conspiracy hatched by Mayor William Bordin and the roughest gangs in all of Green Harbor that, if successful, would land Bordin the position of state governor. As a result of this scheme’s exposure, Brad comes to learn the value of teamwork—even if only for the sake of his present mission—by uniting with many of the gang leaders and fellow brawlers he meets along the way as a means towards bringing down the corrupt mayor and the collective slew of goons under his command, thus, in his own little way, uniting the city. Additionally, Brad showcases that he does indeed have a sense of justice by confronting Bordin face to face in his own office while possessing a crucial piece of evidence that points toward his involvement in the rising rate of violence in his own city, which he had openly sworn to put an end to in the beginning of the story. No matter how much the situation changes, however, Brad remains cool and collected, keeping his emotions in check at all times so as to make sure that they don’t prevent him from making a grave mistake while on the job—a mistake that just might cost him his mission and his money and the city of Green Harbor its security. Granted, does this last particular trait help him step away from the mercenary stereotype that he had been previously established of living up to? Not necessarily…nor does the way in which he moseys on out of Green Harbor after he helps Shun Ying and the other gangsters and brawlers take back their beloved metropolis. On the other hand, the fact that the two thugs who took him on in a dark alley and failed during the first of Brad’s one-hundred objectives now back off upon seeing him cross their path again at least shows how he has advanced his reputation among the city’s underworld, thus showing a small but nonetheless notable degree of progression as Urban Reign’s protagonist while still living up to the archetype that the game’s creators have forged for him. In short, it’s safe to say that in spite of at times living up to a cliché that has been previously established in a different genre of media, the least that can be said of Brad Hawk is that at least he does display a sense of honor during the course of the game and that his calm, level-headed edge and “Trust no one” attitude make him fit the story he partakes in while putting a twist on his persona and thus help him stand out in his own way from other characters who portray the same “heroic stranger” archetype he does.
Similar to Brad Hawk’s case is the instance in which a character’s backstory is not revealed from the start of the game, but later on during play, as per the case of yet two more characters from The Black Heart—namely, Noroko and Animus. On one hand, Noroko is a Japanese ghost who inhabits a doll once used in Japanese fertility rites—that is, of course, until the murder of the Other World’s king stirs her soul and beckons her to emerge from her receptacle, killing her doll’s collector in the process. Aside from what she is, however, the only other aspect about her that the player knows right off the bat is her power of death that stems from the hate and resentment she carries around within her own heart—pain so deeply rooted within her tortured soul that it surprises even Final. Thankfully, the player eventually learns upon defeating Final the source of Noroko’s anger and her hidden desire to purge herself of it so that she can at long last find peace. This story is none to different from the case of Animus, an immortal and gravely perturbed humanoid creature who doesn’t even know much about himself aside from the fact that he has been locked inside an iron maiden for over four hundred years and, though he technically should be dead at the moment, isn’t. Who is he? Where did he come from? Why has he been suffering for so long? Why can’t he enjoy the “pleasure of dying,” as he himself so poetically calls it? Why does the voice of Final, which echoes inside his brain upon his release, keep calling him “son?” Such are the questions that feed his insanity, although his mind isn’t the only thing about him that’s unstable; his body, too, is a very instrument of chaos that is in constant flux, taking on a variety of different forms during his battles against the other characters, the most prominent of which is a topless female version of himself, complete with ballerina skirt and “Barbie doll anatomy” breasts. If that isn’t enough to demonstrate to the player Animus’s disturbing nature, then perhaps his sadomasochistic fighting style will, what with the way he constantly harms himself (i.e., hyperextending his knee, setting himself on fire, and most notably impaling himself) in an effort to harm not only himself, but also his opponent, yet only succeeding in doing the latter and not the former.* Individually, these aspects of Animus’s personality can unsettle anyone with fragile nerves, but when combined as a ghastly whole, these features are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl with fear and repulsion, even without any sense of backstory to reinforce them. That being said, anyone fortunate enough to defeat Final with Animus will be treated to his backstory anyway, and though I haven’t the “heart” (again, no pun intended) to spoil it for any of you, I will say this: The way Final explains what he knows about Animus will surely make one reflect upon the definition of the word “animus” as it pertains to Jungian psychology.
*(NOTE: This incongruence in logic comes up in an article on The Black Heart at TVTropes.com that makes the following argument: If Animus can’t even be hurt, much less die—even by his own powers—then how can it be that he can damage a clone of himself with the same metal blades that he impales himself on and vice-versa? Also, how can running one of his own blades through his body do no damage to him, but being punched, kicked, et cetera. by an opponent do just as much damage to him as it does anyone else? Finally, how can Animus take damage and die from opponents’ attacks anyway, even though the game’s plot thoroughly establishes that he can’t and that he’s actually striving to seek death?)
In short, though character backstory is definitely something to consider when crafting a memorable character for a video game, novel, or other work, it cannot be denied that sometimes a character can still win fans’ hearts even when lacking personal background information. The key factor here, however, is a distinct personality that the audience can identify and relate to, else the character in question will be naught but a fleeting thought within the audience’s collective consciousness. Truth be told, basic personality is very much helpful—extremely, in some cases—for those characters whose backstories have either been completely torn asunder or forgotten altogether by sloppy or neglectful writing. I know this all too well, too, seeing as how two games I’ve previously talked about on this blog provide examples of what happens to otherwise good (or at least promising) characters who are either misrepresented by their games’ writers or, worse yet, ignored altogether, and it is in the final section of this article that I will discuss both scenarios.
Sloppy and Negligent Writing: When Character Development Goes Wrong
First off, as I’ve just mentioned, there are times when a strong, well-defined personality can help make a character memorable even in view of a botched backstory, and in my eyes, no character is better for us to examine this point with than Hans “Fox” Taubemann from Bloody Roar. Don’t get me wrong, folks; under no circumstances am I turning my back on and discrediting the Bloody Roar franchise. I still hold it near and dear to my heart as being the fighting game series to introduce me to 3D fighting games. However, being a true fan of BR, I find it only fair to come clean and admit the flaws of the series, especially in view of one of its co-producers, Hudson Soft, no longer existing as of earlier this year, and sadly, though I liked the overall combined plot of BR and its most immediate sequel, BR 2, I can’t exactly proclaim it as being flawless. This is especially true for the first Bloody Roar, which introduced to us the character of Hans, who—despite having a decidedly German first name and a last name that translates into “Deaf Man” in the German tongue (as one will discover after reading and familiarizing oneself with the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain and particularly the character The Deaf Man)—is actually British, according to his official profile. Not only that, but in spite of looking and sounding decidedly effeminate—the latter of which is thanks to voice actress and radio personality Samantha Vega, who also voiced, ironically enough, Hans’s “clone” Jenny in BR 2—and adopting a very cunning and vicious fighting style that one might also consider somewhat feminine based on a handful of maneuvers she executes (e.g., a stinging backhanded slap), it must be emphasized that Hans is, in fact, a man. For anyone out there who’s confused, disconcerted, or even just plain unimpressed to know this, that’s understandable…but hopefully it’s of some consolation for you to also know that Hans does have a serious cruel streak that derives from his warped sense of mind, which thankfully makes him stand out in that respect from the other zoanthropes in the game and as such helps some fans to appreciate him. Unfortunately, to further capitalize on his insanity, the BR writing staff also found humor in the notion of giving him a heightened aesthetic sense and a severe fixation on beauty, thus turning him into quite possibly the vainest and most pompous son of a gun this side of Vega from the Street Fighter franchise in that he despises everything that he sees as being “ugly,” including his intended victims and even his own beast form. As you can probably guess, it is in no thanks to this additional psychosis that he dresses up like a woman and behaves in a rather feminine fashion and why some players once thought he was actually female upon first seeing him. Fans who have played the European version of the game are particularly forgiven of this, however, seeing as he actually was referred to as being a woman in that specific edition. On the other hand if you ask me, I’d quite frankly say that if Hudson Soft’s writers had wanted an actual villainess, they’d have been much better off turning Hans into a full-fledged woman to begin with and stayed away from the whole “insane British cross-dresser” gimmick altogether, as the whole idea comes off as nothing more than a sick, twisted inside joke, even fifteen years after the original Bloody Roar, Beastorizer, hit video arcades all over Japan. Even his backstory does little, if anything, to help salvage his character on the whole in that it leaves more questions than answers based on how fragmented it is. Why exactly was he abandoned on the streets as a child? Who was it who raised him while he was growing up in the slums and taught him to become such a well-known scoundrel for his inhumane treatment of even the weakest of people? Such is information that fans and other gamers would surely like to know about this crafty killer, even though they may never know now, what with the Bloody Roar series having not received a game beyond Bloody Roar 4 back in 2003 and, worse still, the fact that Hans was never brought back for later installments in the franchise. This is especially sad considering how his ending in the game (which can be seen here) depicts him killing off an old woman who calls him by his [misspelled] real name during her last remaining breaths, which makes him snap and—as assumed by the Bloody Roar Wikia—commit suicide shortly after. Then again, seeing as Hans was off-screen during his meltdown, how can the player be sure that he did in fact take his own life? What if he spared himself and only went further off the deep end to resurface in Bloody Roar 2’s storyline? What if the bout of deranged laughter that came out of his mouth at the moment was his final bout of insanity before he decided once and for all to redeem himself in view of all the dastardly crimes he had committed in his life? Anything was possible, considering how open-ended his ending was. Much to fans’ dismay, however, his exclusion from the rest of the series prevented any such possibility from becoming a reality, and even today, many wonder what ever would have happened to Hans as a more active player in the franchise, had his character ever been handled properly to begin with. Luckily, there are BR fans out there who do appreciate Hans as a character, although they more likely than not do so on account of his cunning yet vicious fighting style and equally clever yet bloodthirsty attitude. All the same, just think of how many more fans he’d have today if Hudson Soft had taken greater care to craft his backstory rather than just slap it together so carelessly.
On the other hand, at least one could say that Hudson Soft took some measures into crafting Hans “Fox” Taubemann a backstory at all—more so than Psygnosis did with any of the playable protagonists in their game, O.D.T.: Escape…Or Die Trying. Yes, I know I praised the plot development in this action adventure title in the first part of this mini-series for having an intriguing premise and for doing a solid job in illustrating the adventures of Captain Lamat of the Nautiflyus as he traverses through the dark tower upon which his ship crash lands on, from the depths of its dungeon all the way back up to the very top from whence he was captured by the Deviants in the first place. I also praised this story for doing a respectable job in explaining the history of Tonantzin, the realm where the game takes place, as Lamat learns it as well as the nature of the Green Pearl, the artifact with which Lamat and his crew intended to purge the city of Calli of the epidemic that has been plaguing it for some time. All the same, in spite of me standing by what I had said in my previous article, there is one problem with O.D.T.’s story that even I cannot deny: the fact that it does little to nothing to get us interested in the four crewmembers whom the player is allowed to choose from. Indeed, for all the insight we get into Lamat’s situation, we don’t get a single ounce of discernment into the mindsets of any of the adventurers whom the player is allowed to take control of. Granted, the whole story narrated to us is through Lamat’s eyes via his captain’s log, so it only makes sense that we discover what exactly he’s going through during the course of this adventure. On the other hand, seeing as the game itself focuses on what Corporal Ike Hawkins, cartographer Julia Chase, chief engineer Maxx Havok, and Archbishop Solaar are doing as they descend through the tower themselves collecting items, evading traps, solving puzzles, and battling mutated monsters, wouldn’t it make sense for them to be able to uncover some secrets of their own and hence have their portion of the story told via FMV cut scenes as well? They don’t even have to uncover the same secrets as Lamat does; similar secrets about the Green Pearl and its origins as well as the origins of the tower, its inhabitants, and their connection to the virus that has spread throughout the whole of Calli would work just as well. Besides, how do any of these four adventurers benefit from taking part in this quest? After all, their backstories, while not at all discussed during the course of the game, are nevertheless spelled out the instruction manual. Hot-blooded strategist Ike, for example, sees this mission as what could very well be his final opportunity to earn back the respect of his army comrades following a disgraceful altercation he and a fellow commanding officer had gotten into prior to his signing up for this mission. Julia, on the other hand, is all about proving that she’s every bit as competent as an explorer as she is beautiful and that she doesn’t deserve to be labeled a “helpless maiden.” Maxx, meanwhile, is desperate to make amends for the Nautiflyus crashing in the first place, seeing as the airship is more or less his pride and joy—a wondrous treasure that he’d spent years designing to become the perfect form of transportation in all of Tonantzin—and that he sees the crash as somehow being his fault. Finally, Solaar was assigned by his fellow Magi to accompany the Green Pearl on the voyage and see to its safe arrival in Calli—not to mention, surely, put to rest the superstitions that outsiders have subscribed to in respect to his and his fellow Magi’s intentions. Who’s to say, then, that Captain Lamat’s story be the only story being told during gameplay when the writers could have very well added in-game plots for each of these four protagonists to reveal even more information about not only the characters themselves, but also all that they are witnessing and interacting with. I could go even further to discuss the issue in respect to the game’s two secret protagonists—namely, Ike’s sister Sophia Hawkins, who becomes a stowaway aboard the Nautiflyus to accompany her brother for some untold reason, and Karma, a former member of the Deviants who has somehow associated himself with the Nautiflyus’s crew—on account that they have no story at all to fall back on, be it in-game or in the manual. As such, all six of these characters, according to the main story arc in O.D.T., are more or less supporting characters to the unplayable Captain Lamat and, on account of that, little more than glorified polygonal puppets for the player to control—a real shame, too, seeing as how this game could otherwise translate into a decent novel, should the playable characters’ portion of the adventure be as equally chronicled as that of their noble captain. Granted, there may have been only so much information that Psygnosis could include on one disc for either version of the game (PSX or PC), hence giving them some reason to exclude such character development from the game. Regardless, this whole reference should hopefully teach both current and future writers an important lesson in not only character development, but in storytelling in general: Show, don’t tell.
And that more or less concludes my discussion on how video games can teach writers the value of character development. Hopefully, you’ve all learned an important lesson from this dissertation: the lesson that if you want your audience to care about the characters you create, be they gamers playing a video game or readers reading a novel or other work of fiction, you have to show that you yourself care about your characters. After all, without proper build in either background information or especially personality, characters in any form of media are doomed to fail. It’s quite a shame that many do, too, because there have been so many potentially appealing personalities in books, video games, television shows, motion pictures, and the like that could very well have lived up to their potential, yet failed to on account of some writer or writing team’s sloppy, lackluster writing. Hopefully, then, with proper attention to such a keen detail, the writers of tomorrow will know well enough to succeed where certain predecessors of theirs haven’t and will provide their audiences with characters that they will remember for ages to come.
Speaking of writing, I can assure you all that this discussion on how video games inspire my own writing isn’t over yet, as I have one or two more articles to add to this mini-series before I can at long last bring it to a close. In the meantime, please look forward to my next installment where I discuss video games that have Create-a-Character modes and how they’ve helped me as a writer in creating new ideas for potential novels and novel series. Also, expect a “Poem of the Week” this coming Sunday as per the tradition of this blog as well as a new “In Relation to My Work” mini-series where I discuss rebooting my favorite fighting game series of all time, Hudson Soft’s (nowadays Konami Digital Entertainment’s) very own Bloody Roar. Until then, however, thank you for once again stopping by to read my material, and please stop by my author page at Smashwords.com, where you’ll see that all three of my current books—Kyle Summers, Booker, The Sun Shan’t Set on Me! Poems from My Younger Days (Ages 16 to 23), and Best of Luck, Jeff Babbage! are all 25% off the regular cover price until July 31. Just remember to use the coupon code SSW25 before checking out to receive your discount. Likewise, I am slowly but surely wrapping up my current woman’s literature venture, UWWX: The Underground Women’s Wrestling Xperiment, and should get to editing it by the end of the month, if not sooner.
Otherwise, thanks again for your time, and happy reading!
Dustin M. Weber
PS: For the sake of convenience, here are the links to the other parts of this miniseries:
Part 1: June 30, 2012
Part 3: February 9, 2013
Part 4: March 26, 2013
PS: All images of The Black Heart courtesy of TheBlackHeart.com.ar; all other images courtesy of the website mentioned in the accompanying caption. Also…
Urban Reign © 2005 Namco Ltd./Bandai Namco Games
MediEvil © 1998 SCE Cambridge Studio and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
The Black Heart © 2009 Andres Borghi
Bloody Roar © 1998-2012 Hudson Soft Co., Ltd., now © 2012 Konami Digital Entertainment
O.D.T.: Escape…Or Die Trying © 1998 Psygnosis/SCE Studio Liverpool
All rights reserved. All opinions expressed in this article, however, are those of the author himself.