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  • Results from the Game Design Challenge: Hero

    [08.21.08]
    - Jill Duffy
  •  In a recent Game Design Challenge, we asked you to design the next big video game hero. This was one of the biggest challenges yet, and we received dozens more submissions than in previous challenges. Read on to find out what kinds of characters stood out from the pack and why.

    Several talented artists submitted some stunning visual works as entries, the best of which is displayed on page 7.

    Observations
    An astonishing number of your heroes were situated in the future. And it was amazing to see just how many people have been deeply influenced by two modern films: Memento (2000, directed by Christopher Nolan) and Bourne Identity (2002, directed by Doug Liman). In both films' plots, the main character has to uncover his own forgotten history.

    In that same vein, the readers here seem to be rather predisposed to writing a character backstory that's completely centered around rediscovering the self, literally. A few submissions went so far as to pull in the old amnesia trick -- save that kind of stuff for soap operas!

    Another uncannily repeated detail was to dress the character in torn clothing. Do you really look up to heroes in rags? Dignified humility doesn't come from merely dressing a character in tattered garb -- there has to be more to it than that, and if there isn't, then it's just a cliché. Another cliché to watch out for is marking (scars, birthmarks, tattoos, and deformities). It's not that you can't or shouldn't use these things, but they are so over used that you have to be very careful about how and why you employ them.

    Overall, this design challenge brought forth an amazing amount of creativity and experimentation. I hope you all enjoyed participating in it as much as I enjoyed reading about your characters.

    On to the next big game heroes.

    BEST ENTRIES

    James Crow, Arkansas State University, Akiuta (see page 2)
    In only a few words, James Crow has introduced a complex and sympathetic character that could have massive appeal among one of the largest growing segments of the video game playing population: women, in particular mothers, age 30 and older.

    Akiuta is part of a repressed class (to put it mildly) but she is a mother whose husband has been killed and whose son is missing. Banding with other covert female warriors, Akiuta is on a quest to rescue the children of her village, hence saving her people from being wiped out.

    Making a strong female character who is also a mother, and whose parenthood is at the forefront of the player's mind at all times, deeply conflicts whether or how the player sees the character as a sexual being. This kind of complicated emotional status is what drives intense player-character relationships. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

    Ben Retan, Associate Game Designer at Midway Studios Austin, Jurai
    (see page 3)
    Like the stories of Moses and Superman, the story of Jurai starts out with the birth of a very special boy who should have been killed, along with many of his people, but instead was sent away secretly and raised in a foreign place by a stranger. Jurai is a survivor of an attempt at race annihilation (note that James Crow's "Akiuta" submission plays on a similar storyline, too), and it is his destiny to save or avenge his people.

    This is an all-too familiar story, but one that's so classic, it has the stamina to be told again and again.

    Colin Schofield,
    Bristol Community College, Massachusetts, Jaclyn "Jackie" Aylward (see page 4)
    Deciding which entry was going to take this third place was a close call, but the hero concept that came through is Jackie, the teen lesbian who is in search of her lover, who has disappeared.

    Marketing an openly out female character as a video game hero in this day and age would most certainly create extreme controversy. Then again, it's been almost 40 years since the Stonewall riots -- maybe now is precisely the right time to create an openly gay game hero.

    Jackie is great game character for more than simply being gay, though it would be naïve to think the public at large would see any of her other traits first. She's a rebel, but she's also very book smart. She's athletic, but not especially strong, and has to use stealth attacks, rather than brute force, on her enemies. She's driven by revenge, anger, and love for her girlfriend, and yet because she's only 17-years old, it's hard to take her undying love too seriously.

    I don't know if anyone would venture to make this game hero quite yet, but by golly, image the press.

    HONORABLE MENTIONS
    Malcolm Ryan,
    lecturer, School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of New South Wales, Australia, Magrat and Sir Henry: Steampunk Adventurers (see page 5)
    Magrat and Sir Henry remind me a bit of Nick and Nora from The Thin Man films (directed by W.S. Van Dyke). It's been a while since I've seen a good old-fashioned, crime fighting, investigating duo with a sense of humor and mismatched personas.

    Finn Haverkamp, creative writing student at Warren Wilson College, Liberty (see page 6)
    Finn Haverkamp did not create an emblematic game hero, but the game idea alone is worth noting. His game is a recreation of the Underground Railroad, wherein the player acts as one particular character only until a certain point in the game, when she or he becomes someone new. The player passes from character to character just as the slaves moved from safe house to safe house on their way to freedom.

    However, National Geographic online already has an interactive web site that lets you move through some of the Underground Railroad history. It's only very lightly interactive and not especially entertaining, so a concept like Haverkamp's might already have an established audience looking for a more robust version of the same thing.

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