It’s months or even years into the game development process and you’re struck with an incredibly haunting realization: your characters suck. They’re shallow and cliché, and worst of all, you’ve been getting feedback about how the writing is lacking. A good game writer is worth their weight in gold, but if you haven’t been blessed with the ability to lay eggs made of precious metals, here are some tips to fix characters that fall into certain tropes and possibly save the game’s story
If It Hurts When You Do That, Stop Doing That
The simplest answer to the problem is, of course, to not write a poor character to begin with. Time-allowing, it’s absolutely possible to redo the writing in your game if the situation is dire enough and you’re not toooo far into the development process. Art assets have already been created and much of the code has already been written, so a realistic solution is to get better writers or make your writers work better and have them start over from the top. Often, the formation of trope-heavy characters is a result of a lack of vision in the overall creative process of the game. Somewhere along the line, there was a huge disconnect between what would make the game fun, enjoyable, and unique, and what would make the writing so as well. So sometimes, you gotta suck it up, slap on your double-thick Pull Ups, and muscle through dozens and dozens of hours of rewriting. But other times, you’ll be able to get away with just adding content.
The Noble Sidequest
So, your main character isn’t bad per say, but he or she is suffering from a handful of tropes, from starting the game with amnesia or having a dark secret past to being the natural-born sword-wielding (or gun-toting) leader of the party. What makes a trope a trope is usually the lack of critical development, so while amnesia and secrets and generic weaponry aren’t tropes in and of themselves, simply slapping these labels onto a character without doing anything else makes that character a trope or trope-heavy. Enter in The Noble Side Quest, a side mission or main story point that completely changes the player’s perception of the character or characters. This is also useful as a transition for if you want to take the writing or tone of the game in another direction.
The important thing to take away is that The Noble Side Quest functions as a counterbalance for whatever particular thing about a character isn’t working too well. These are events that highlight a different side of a character that until this point has been pretty one-dimensional. The comic relief character gets a dramatic moment, the bumbling fool gets to shine as a hero (possibly in just a small way), the fearless hero is shown to be haunted by a poor decision he made. The sooner you can get these kinds of things into the game, the better, since they’ll drastically change the player’s perception of the characters. Now the comic relief character makes jokes to hide the pain instead of just being an annoying anthropomorphic animal.
The Peanut Gallery
The Peanut Gallery can best be summed up as breaking the fourth wall. The writing isn’t quite up to snuff and the characters are a bit cliché, but it’s overlooked because the game acknowledges it and uses its trope-heavy characters to create another level/depth to the writing. Whether it’s Bastion tacking on the voice-over narration to the entire game or one of any number of indie games with quirky and/or snide character remarks (I’m reminded of this Sonic mod as a very poor but hilarious example), the important thing here is that the game recognizes the writing it has to deal with and dispenses with pretensions. “I know what’s going on with the writing. You know what’s going on with the writing. So let’s just relax and have fun.”
The Tarnished Silver Bullet
Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet that will magically turn sub-par writing into good writing. This is especially true for characters that are a culmination of a player’s experience and interactions with them. Rather, there are many tarnished silver bullets lying around that could work wonders for your game so long as you put in the elbow grease to shine them back up.
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