What’s more interesting and involving in the creation of a story than coming up with colorful, interesting, and unique characters? This is one of the tasks I have as the writer of the Aldorlea games. Characters are crucial in a story – and an RPG. Good RPGs have a good story. A good story requires great characters, characters that people can feel something for and sometimes relate to. It can be bad (“Oh, I hate this stupid selfish character!”) or it can be good (“this heroine is wonderful and so full of heart, she lifts me up all the time!”) but it has to do something.
The Millennium series features a LOT of characters. More than 20 have come and gone throughout the first 4 episodes, and the player will again have to manage more than 20 in the upcoming and final episode, Millennium 5 – The Battle of the Millennium.
Jack the mercenary and Salome the Mermaid, both from Millennium 3 - Cry Wolf
As a designer, you need to make sure all your characters have something about them, none must feel like they were added to be sidekicks (although obviously some are going to have more of the spotlight, which is normal). But even minor ones have to be unique AND interesting to some degree. And interesting plays on 3 different levels: interesting in terms of personality, gameplay, and looks.
Personality is probably the most obvious, and natural, aspect. You wouldn’t want to read a novel with boring, neutral characters. It’s the same for an RPG. One can be witty, another can be snappy, another can even be boring as long as the rest of the cast isn’t. And, if possible, the boring side should be just one part of them. Also, make them feel like real people. Heck, I think the characters of Millennium are real. Good characters aren’t two-dimensional. They can be happy or really angry depending on the situation. They can evolve depending on what goes on in their lives. I always read my dialogues aloud so as to make sure they flow naturally. It’s important not to miss the “natural” reaction in a given situation.
Now let’s have a few words about the second aspect of “interesting”: gameplay. This means all characters have something special in their way of fighting, that they bring something unique to the party. A generic example is the class system, where one character can be a fighter, another one a healer, and you can even have one using an axe that will be slower than the fighter but hits harder. This is a typical example, but the possibilities really are endless. In Millennium, I had a tamer (Jezabel) that was able to, err, tame some enemies. Here is something special that can add a dimensional strategy to the fight. Or a robot character (Gravitron) that can equip special items altering his base stats. You even had Jack, who could hit 3 times before the fight even starts and then run away. All these possibilities give the player a huge panel of different strategies. Composing the party becomes nonlinear.
Last but not least, looks. You want your characters to look exactly the way you’ve conceived them, and you want them to be drawn as well as possible. For Millennium, I commissioned a very talented artist called Saehral, and she came up with some beautiful artworks. A game designer should always try to inject life into their characters by raising the bar of the artwork as high as possible.
Merryll the bully is hated by a lot of Millennium players
One last word about the antagonists. They are very important to your story. The plain evil arch-nemesis is a tired formula. I always try to come up with interesting antagonists, with their own motives for doing what they do. In Millennium, a lot of "antagonists" are actually in a grey area, such as Lord Dragon. They appear evil from Marine's perspective, but an outsider (such as the player) may see them differently. Don't forget to flesh out the secondary antagonists, too. Lord Borgon has reasons to make Marine's life miserable: he is trying to make sure Lord Dragon keeps his position as ruler so he can get a promotion and expand Mystrock's wealth. Even Merryll is not just plain evil. He is a bully to Marine and her friends, but is respected by his peers. It's never black or white. Protagonists and antagonists should be seen as persons, therefore having qualities and flaws.
Three of the "evil" Lords of Mystrock
That’s it for today’s dev diary, folks. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Next time I’ll be talking about gameplay and what to do to make your players addicted to your games.
But lastly, I'd like to wish everyone at Gamezebo and all of their readers a happy holiday season and a joyous new year!
PS: If you like Millennium, we need all the votes we can get to make it greenlit on Steam! Drop us a vote and we’ll be infinitely appreciative!