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  • Birth Of An NPC: Writing Non-Player Characters

    [04.18.19]
    - Unai Cabezon
  • In Double Cross, you play as Zahra Sinclair, an agent of RIFT, Regulators of Interdimensional Frontiers and Technology. Throughout the game, you gather clues in different dimensions and show them to non-player characters in RIFT headquarters to solve the mystery behind a masked traitor that threatens the organization.

    From very early in the process of writing the story for Double Cross we knew that we wanted an interesting cast of NPCs for players to interact with. A slide in our very first story pitch depicted the casts of RPG masterpiece Final Fantasy VI and popular anime series My Hero Academia as examples of what we were aiming for. Visually appealing characters with complex personalities that make you want to know more about them.

    After some research, we decided to base our secondary characters upon stereotypes at a first glance, but with unexpected twists that'd made them stand out and become memorable. We also wanted to make them unique from each other and give them clear roles within the game, to help guide players who were trying to find the right NPC to show a clue to.

    Besides their personalities, we really cared about the characters' visual design. We intended to give them a variety of recognizable silhouettes, carefully crafted to match their roles and personalities. We have a very talented Art Team and we knew this could be a strong selling point for Double Cross. Furthermore, we wanted to use the visual design of the characters to showcase more about the game world's multiple dimensions. We knew we were only showing 3 or 4 alternate Earths in the game levels, so the characters were a good chance to show what else was there. Talking dinosaurs, fruit people, Lovecraftian creatures... The weirder, the better.


    With this in mind, I'll walk you through the process we followed to create four of our NPCs.

    Step 1: Character roles

    First of all, we had to establish what each character's role was going to be. This way, the entire design process could have a clear focus and everyone involved would know what each character's purpose was. Besides, we didn't want to spend our valuable time making additional characters that wouldn't add something significant to the game - our resources were already pretty stretched as they were! Much of this initial process was carried out by Alex, Double Cross's creative director, and myself, the writer.

    Each of the 4 characters whose development I'll explain have three roles, two of which they share with each other. First - They are all fellow RIFT agents, helping Zahra figure out clues she finds. Second - They are suspect of being the traitor you're trying to unmask. Third - A unique role within RIFT:

    • Character A guides Zahra through the tutorial mission in RIFT's gym. So their role is the Trainer.

    • Character B is the brilliant mind behind some of Zahra's tools, such as the grappling hook ('proton slinger') and the technology to travel between different Earths. So their role is the Inventor.

    • Character C takes care of the prison where Zahra sends the villains she arrests. So their role is the Warden.

    • Character D didn't have a clear secondary role, it was just a character we needed for a certain part of the investigation (that ended up changing later on). We decided their role could be the Janitor.

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