How Video Game Combat Helps With Characterisation

SpiderwickCover1In my packing, I discovered the DS game of The Spiderwick Chronicles, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, a series I had been in love with (until the film) as a child. I’d abandoned playing this game shortly after beginning, due to my inability to get past the first level or ‘chapter’. I hadn’t even unlocked all the playables yet!

However, out of curiosity, I picked it up again and played with an all-or-nothing stance. Thump, smack, smack, thump.

And I made it! Onwards! I’m now about the fifth chapter. But, after unlocking my favourite character, Mallory – whom I now realise was the fuel behind my once-ravenous incentive to take up fencing – I started to consciously see the tactics my battle-plans were making. Occupational hazard of being a Colonel’s daughter!

What has this to do with writing? you cry. Let me lay out my playable characters’ tactics:

Mallory = greatest punch, always on attack, can kill with correct special attack, but weak sprite affinity.

Simon = patsy for gaining extra attacks; best with sprite-casting, so better in shielded/defence position, except when dealing finishing blows.

Jared = mostly attack – strong thwack, but better at stunning enemies than giving finishing blows. Strongest physically, but good all-rounder; tends to be the last standing.

These mental notes got my thinking: the character abilities in the game are very similar to those in the books. Good. Even the use of the twins’ opposite natures plays into my strategies. (Of course, as I always do, I have a miniature monologue going on as I play, from walking round in circles in the caves – “I’m lost, aren’t I? Great…” to simply having the characters argue between themselves before the cutscreens dictate their words. When I’m in combat, it tends to be “you just killed my brother? Die, goblin!”)

Victoria Grefer’s posts on characters lately have been making me think of my own – what makes them unique? The Costello brothers all have the same head of raven-black hair, but, though they look similar, they must be different in skills.

I have one scene in which all six brothers feature alongside their parents and three of the servants. My first beta said she was confused by them, so in drafting, I’ve (slowly!) been trying to give them unique voices.

Stuart is in command, but his turns of phrase, though lacking contractions, are friendly; Benjamin is more casual with his speech and, the lothario, tends towards the romantic and dreamy; Andrew – the Med student – is cold and analytic; Rion is similar to Andrew in many ways, but is blunter is his speech, crueller.

Phillip, my MMC, has, of course, a clearer voice than them all: in this scene, brooding and life-isn’t-fair. The youngest brother, Peter is the most modern by 20 years and uses contractions the most.

Of course, characterisation needs to delve beyond words and appearances. Going back to the game, I think positions on the battlefield, or in some kind of combat, provide an ideal glimpse into a character’s personality; after all, when one’s life is threatened, one goes back to instinct.

Think for a minute of your own characters – how do they fight? With sword like Mallory, fists and special abilities like Simon or with any accessible junk (in his case, a baseball bat) like Jared? This exercise is not about what they can do, but about what they would do.

Original painting, inspired by ABBA lyrics. Silhouette of Phillip, July '09.
Original painting, inspired by ABBA lyrics. Silhouette of Phillip, July ’09.

Coincidently, the short story about Rion I’m working on finishes with a battlefield scene, in which I automatically utilise the exercise for three of the brothers. Rion has a pistol in his right and a sword in his left, whilst he commands his tutees. They don’t call his education ‘Warfare Management’ for nothing!

Whilst Stuart heads up the front on foot, Benjamin is the only Costello to be part of the cavalry, perhaps because he failed his first Warfare modules and prefers to tend to the horses than study. Even when running attackers through, he remarks on how outdated their uniform is!

3 thoughts on “How Video Game Combat Helps With Characterisation

  1. Great post, especially with linking it into video games. You’ve made the information that much more reachable. I hadn’t thought of it like a video game before, but I like this idea. Thanks for sharing!

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