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Finding Personality in Games


November 25, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

Personality is Sound

Sound goes a long way toward defining the personality and feel of any game. Let's take the example of Katamari Damacy again. The unexpected vocal-oriented soundtrack defined the tone and humor of the game, and many players associate the music very heavily with the game.

As others have said before, music that plays against expectation can create a more memorable experience. Another good example is the announcer in all of the Mortal Kombat games. Combined with the writing of the characters' lines, the deep voice of the narrator let everyone know that the game had a dark sense of humor and was never taking itself too seriously.

The team eventually took this idea a step further, with the face of lead audio designer Dan Forden coming out of the corner to yell "Toasty!" every so often. To this day, I don't remember any of the combos or moves that I used to repeat over and over in MK2 and MK3, but I will always fondly remember Forden and his shout out.

Having a good sound designer on your team who is open to input is essential. The sound designer should be integrated into the core team, not treated as an outsider.

In Splosion Man, we designed the music tracks out in stems, so that in single-player mode, while the music played in the background, when Splosion Man jumped, it would unveil a new portion of the music track which introduced a guitar layer.

In the four-player multiplayer levels, each Splosion Man had his own musical instrument stem, so that when all Splosion Men were alive and well, the player would hear the entire score for that level. If a Splosion Man died, the other players would subliminally miss that music stem and want to get the player back.

As cool as these ideas were, and even though they were implemented well, they were a failure compared to The Donut Song that was also in the game. Most people who played Splosion Man probably don't even recognize the music stem design at all, or realize how much work was put into it. But The Donut Song, a last-second "why not" addition, is the one musical element that people associate with the game.

Because it adds so much personality, that song did more for the life span of Splosion Man than any well thought out musical stem idea could. Some people love the song, and an equal amount hate it, but either way, it helps define the game's sense of humor. By making sure our sound designer "Chainsaw" knew that he was a valuable part of the team, he was willing to take risks and go out of his way to make the game bigger and better through music and sound design.

In our current game Comic Jumper, we have a theme song for a villain named Brad. This eponymous song has him singing about how awesome he is. In context this works because it fits the ego of the character, but if we had just thrown a song in for the sake of doing it because The Donut Song did well, it would be a disaster. Just randomly throwing stuff in doesn't always work with sound. The personality comes across based on context and how well it fits in with the rest of your world. Games that do this successfully always have a stronger appeal in the personality department.

Personality is Environment

Environments, when handled with care, can have just as much character as any player-controlled entity. Super Mario Galaxy is an example of this sort of unity of level design and environment art.

As much as Mario adds to the game (along with all the trimmings that make a Super Mario Bros. game what it is), it could be argued that Mario could be replaced with another character, or even a Mii, and the game would still be just as fun and have just as much personality based solely on what the environments bring to the mix, with their unique gravity, spherical nature, and shifting playing fields.

Last year's entry to the Prince of Persia series also did this well, allowing the player to bring the environment back to life through a series of gameplay events. While the levels were typically sparsely populated as far as characters, they were memorable because of layout and the obvious difference between the "dead" and "alive" versions.

Personality Is What You Make Of It

Personality shows up in every aspect of games. I could go on to show how personality can come from visual effects, writing, programming, and so forth; but the main point is that personality is good. It makes your game stand out, and gives players something to remember. When people mention how much "personality" something has, they don't necessarily mean the main character of your game. Personality can and should come from collaboration between all disciplines. Then you'll really have something to remember!


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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