Friday, December 19, 2008

Modern Influences

When I started brainstorming the characters for “Four Kingdoms”, I actually made a point to start in a place very different from where the ‘writer’ part of me wanted to start. When you write a story of any kind, your characters are usually created from archetypes that then become more complex and definitive. To use a cooking example, normally when one creates a character, they pick a main ingredient, and then add other ingredients to accent its flavor. This is usually done over the course of the storyline, and by the end, you’ve got a tasty cake. Or a well-developed character.

In “Four Kingdoms”, I approached things differently. While a lot of our inspiration comes from stories like “Redwall” and “Mouse Guard”, where characters are defined by personality archetypes (the quiet tactician, the brash warrior, the doting Abbeymum, etc), I started as I would start with a video game design: purpose archetypes, not personality. I got the idea from the Xbox 360 title “Lost Odyssey” – for those in the know, it’s very much designed like a classic Japanese role-playing game like Final Fantasy, with lots of story sequences and complex turn-based battles that involve a combination of magical and physical attacks. The characters and their respective roles, however, seemed to have been assembled from a design perspective.

For example, an early party makeup consists of two warriors and a mage. Gameplay dictates that you protect the mage in battle because his spells can turn the tides, and to reinforce this notion, you learn in the storyline cutscenes that the mage character is actually quite a coward – his purpose in the game and his purpose in the storyline are one.

So I approached the main characters of “Four Kingdoms” as if I were designing a game. What would a “balanced” party be? Quinlan is ideal for long-range and very close-range attacks with his bow and tesque skills, making him the ideal ‘scout’ class, while Dakkan’s wooden staff and his strong build make him a good ‘warrior monk’ class, or even a ‘brawler’. Kenosh, being the strong-willed warrior that he is, is an ideal ‘knight’ or ‘paladin’. Later characters will fall into the ‘assassin’, ‘mage’, and ‘barbarian’ classes, and some characters may even switch classes as their personalities evolve.

So what does all this geeky chicanery mean for “Four Kingdoms”? Well, in the end, all it really means for you, the readers, is that the characters will have their own unique and easily identifiable roles to play when they’re in danger. I’m hoping that this more modern interpretation of the character archetype perhaps helps readers identify with the characters quicker – it’s all very much an experiment in narrative design. But then again, I design video games for a living, so if I didn’t approach it from this kind of perspective, I’d feel like I was doing something wrong!

Stay tuned to this blog for more updates about the comic as it progresses – and maybe even another update from Rachel!

No comments: