The Process of Character creation in Gaming

Olia Fe
Olia Fe
Aug 16 · 8 min read

Creating characters for the Altar: the War of Gods is a fascinating process, as one of the game’s features is the historical identity of those divine entities that we describe.

The main theme of the Altar’s world is directly related to world religions. We plan to develop 10 pantheons, but now we are working hard on four. Each pantheon contains a certain pool of gods, and the gods, in their turn, have their armies of mythical creatures: werewolves, spirits, fairies, and monsters. Each character of the pantheon is unique, being endowed with special qualities, and having different fighting or defensive abilities. Moreover, each god and essence of our game world has a rigid pool of attributes assigned by conscientious believers.

Altar: the War of Gods — promo

And today I will tell you about the process of creating characters in our game. And just for you, I’m gonna open the veil of mystery about some of the entities that you won’t find anywhere else!

So, a character of the Altar world is a priori something related to religion, cult, myths. Often, legends, describing the phenomena or the situation give an incomplete description of certain characters, so sometimes we have to put together the image of our god by pieces from different sources. By the way, concerning the sources. I use everything available: movies, books, the Internet, religious texts, fairy tales, you name it. The insight can be hidden anywhere. For example, once I spent several days just reading an interesting book about the Aztec culture. When watching anime, I notice interesting creatures, and then try to find out more about them from authoritative sources.

Wikipedia is the very thing for a superficial search. I always start with it, studying some phenomenon, and after that, I dig deep into the proposed sources.

Where do the characters come from?

In Shintoism — the religion of the ancient Japanese, there are 7 million gods! Imagine. Seven million😱 It’s like the infinity, but for our pantheon, we need to choose only 32 creatures. As I mentioned before, besides gods, there are essences that belong to their armies. Thus, first I focus on the gods — the most prominent and popular deities within a faith. For instance, now the face of the Altar Game is represented by Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun from Japanese beliefs. She was, by the way, the first goddess I had developed. Now, if to break the creation process into components, it would look like this:

  • The Lore: Description of the character’s nature, abilities, appearance, etc.
  • The Art: Setting up the terms of reference (ToR) for the art department; description of attributes; search for references; choosing a pose.
  • The Mechanics: Description of the character’s game characteristics; balancing.

The Lore: What is the character’s description?

After the character is selected, one has to prepare its description. In our case, it’s much easier to make a concept, compared to other games, because we do not have to come up with a brand new idea, but study the history and take out what is relevant. It’s simple, yes, however, often being tied to the historicity, the character seems boring. That’s exactly how we ended up with the Celtic sea god Manannán mac Lir. In the pursuit of historicity, I used the most reliable source of information about him — his sculpture, which contained all the necessary attributes.

Statue of Manannan at Gortmore, Magilligan, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

It would seem, the Celtic god, in the end — a man, without supernatural powers, turned out to be as banal as one could imagine. Banal, but absolutely historically justified. The first sketch of this Irish sea grandfather was drawn in the image and likeness of the statue. Then followed two more sketches, as the artist also did not like to let the god look simple.

Evolution of Manannan Mac Lir

So, our Celtic god survived to the state of rendering. His hands are no longer turned to the sky, he is well armed and has a lot of Celtic paraphernalia. However, he is a sea god and, accordingly, the ocean is his zone of inhabitance. Therefore, the artist decided to give him a few sea features. An attentive one will notice that the render differs from the sketch quite significantly. Sometimes one has to go beyond the bounds and limitations, not to damage the final product. Thus, the freedom and sense of taste gave birth to one of the most beautiful Celtic gods.

Altar: the War of Gods, water God — Manannan. Final art

The Art: How to make up the Terms of Reference for the Art Department?

Now let’s have a look at how one prepares the terms of reference (ToR) for the art department. ToR is very important! As one lecturer said, “Without the terms of reference be ready for “nobody the hell knows what”.

What for the ToR? — concept creator leans on it, it is used for proper rendering, and it is needed to accept the results from the art-team.

Here are a few basic rules for creating good terms of reference:

Write the ToR in the language of your artist.

No matter how many special terms and interesting idioms you use for the beauty of speech — it makes no sense if the artist does not understand them.

Avoid abstract notions.

The more specific the task is, the more predictable will be the result. Imagine a situation where you ask to draw a chair: you expect to see the drawing of the object for sitting, while the form, color, and other trifles are up to the artist. But you know for a fact that the future object will, either way, turn out to perform an absolutely definite function. However, if you give a task to draw, let’s say, “hope for the best”, it is barely possible to guess what the artist will create. And it’s just because the first concept is more specific than the second one.

The devil is in details.

When you come up with a character, imbue it with typical and distinctive attributes. Think of the character’s origin and depict it in the ornament on clothes, shoes, accessories. Consider the nature of the character and the world it lives in — to avoid any sorts of inconsistencies. Ask questions about your character and write the answers in the ToR. The more clarifications you give, the fewer liberties will be left to the artist.

Give references.

References — is one of the most important components of the process. Wikipedia defines it as “an auxiliary image: a drawing or a photograph that an artist or designer studies before getting down to work, to convey details, additional information, ideas.” When choosing the references, try to find them in the best quality and highest resolution. Attach all the sources of the references to the ToR, upload photos and drawings in a separate folder and share it with the artist. Leave comments for each reference.

Sketch with references vs Final art

To elaborate a structure, demonstrate a pose and even character of lines one can, for instance, use photos from museums. It happens so that a human can perfectly repeat — so why not use this ability? And here is a vivid example of how references are used.

The first stage of the visual component is the search for the posture.

Man postures
Woman postures (no, this is not a teabag in her hand, it is omamori)

A character’s posture should reflect its nature or occupation. Also, the pose can always correctly focus the attention of the viewer on important semantic features, for example, on some combat attribute.

Models: virtual and real

To choose the posture, references of various kinds are used: these are the pictures from the Internet, mannequins (both real and virtual), and even the study of your own body parts.

Once the posture is chosen, the character gets drawn and gradually dressed up. Some artists draw a line (lines, contours) first, while others create a character “On-the-Spot”. In our team, we have examples of both directions. Below, for example, are shown the stages of creating a character from a spot. The peculiarity of this technique is that the surface of the sheet is immediately filled with paint.

On-the-Spot drowing

When the character is dressed, the colors are adjusted and the attributes are in place — the work with the background begins.

What is placed behind is no less important than that, in the front. In our game, it’s especially noticeable, because the place depicts where the character comes from, where it inhabits, and what it does. For example, at the Miku’s background one can see the walls of the temple (see the series of pictures below).

The Mechanics: Consider the in-game balance

The characteristics of a card, which relate to numbers, abilities and interaction features, often fall within the remit of game-designers, because the game character is not only a beautiful cover but also a powerful engine. If a card is beautiful but lacks the abilities, the value of its character is low. Therefore, it is important to back up the visual with the proper content.

In the Altar, each character has one or two abilities. We try to choose the abilities in a way that fits the character to the best possible extent. For example, if your character is a god of fire, there’s no need to give it the ability to kill with an ax, because the description of the hero suggests that its fire essence already contains the necessary weapon.

Stats of characters are also not spun out of thin air. Each Altar game coin has 5 characteristics: attack, attacking ability, defense, defensive ability and speed (moves). In addition to the complex in-game balancing, it is important to understand that the character, whose nature is connected to speed, can not have in its stats low value of moves. For example, a tank, should not have a low defensive ability at high speed. All in all, balance is important, but one should neither go against the character’s nature.

I could write on this topic without ending, but I’ll probably stop for now. First, something should be saved for later, and secondly, — please ask your questions!

See you soon;)

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