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Tim Schafer of Doublefine (and LucasArts before that) gave a talk at GDC this year on character design. He mainly focused on developing deep and convincing characters by writing lots of backstory. My main takeaway was a process of character development in which Tim created Friendster profiles for each of the secondary characters for his upcoming game, Psychonauts. He didn't go so far as to actually post them on Friendster (IP issues perhaps), but it did seem like a fruitful endeavor regardless.

He was able to fill out each profile as though writen by the character. This forced him to decide on things like a last name, a gender, hometown, favorite movies, and so on. In addition, he was forced to think about what pictures they would upload. The best part of this exercise (in my opinion) was that doing a Friendster profile required figuring out what other people would be in the character's friends list. On top of that, Tim wrote out lists of testimonials from the characters to each other. Thus, going into the game, Tim had a great idea of who each character was, and, more importantly, he had a solid set of existing relationships to build on. Brilliant.


One of my favourite playwrights and directors, David Mamet, is, as far as I know, completely against the concept of backstory or having a character "act their backstory" (see "On Directing Film"). Somehow, his stories have some of the most vivid characters ever. I think backstory is a total crutch, and rarely do its effects actually come through in the final result. The example of the Predator being based on a Rastafarian warrior is a pretty tenuous link to your final paragraph -- that seem like a purely visual prototype.


What I was getting at in the last paragraph was that the visual prototype of the statue provided lots of information on how the character stood, posture, etc, which might suggest a certain attitude, which itself might suggest what the character sounds like, and so on. As this information continues to glom onto the character in our minds, we start to get a feel for the character's life... backstory, present and possible future.

Ursula K. LeGuin

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.


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