Transistor and the Ideal Female Character Design
Transistor is the 2014 sophomore release by indie developer Supergiant Games, creators of the 2011 Bastion. It acts a spiritual successor to Bastion boasting a similar gameplay, art, and themes. The newest and most distinctive addition to the game is the Turn() feature. While the game is normally an isometric beat ’em up just like Bastion, the player can pause time in order to plan a series of actions which will then act out in super speed. The game brings back the vocal talents of Logan Cunningham who plays the eponymous Transistor, as well as the musical talents of Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett. Check out the launch trailer below.
Transistor begins with the player character, Red, literally pulling a talking sword from the dead body of her unnamed friend. Despite being an opera singer, she has literally had her voice stolen from her and can no longer sing or even speak. Red also finds that her friends soul as been sucked into the sword placed in his chest, known only as the Transistor. From there, she begins a journey to find out what happened to her as the city around her, Cloudbank, is destroyed by mysterious creature called Process.
Despite character designs always being relevant in the gaming industry, as long as the player has been able to see their character, this has reached a new head within the last couple years. Female character designs in particular have been a point of contention. For the sake of simplification, the beliefs surrounding this can be split into two groups. The first group believes that, when designing women, too much emphasis is put on their sexuality and bodies. In addition, traditional attractiveness and and specific body types oversaturate the market and become unrealistic after a certain point. The contrasting group, however, view gaming as escapism, and thus all characters should be attractive and desirable. They also point to male characters mostly being tall, rugged, and strongly built as a counterpoint to show that men are also given unfair body standards. Finally, they want the former group to acknowledge that women with body types normally seen in games do exist in reality.
This reached a particular breaking point when Koei Tecmo announced Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 would not be released to the western market due to fear of controversy surrounding the game. Because of the nature of the game, they believed that the volleyball title would cause too much drama and this would hurt sales. This was not met with much fanfare.
However, it is my belief that Transistor skirts the lines between both extremes to create the ideal design. It manages to be both sexy and admirable without being typical or distracting. It’s also realistic for the situation Red finds herself in.
To begin with, Red is thin. She’s not built to be particularly strong and it shows in her design. Because she’s thin, she has a small bust line. While thin women with large busts do exist, most thin women don’t develop exceptionally large breasts in the vein of Tifa of Final Fantasy VII or any woman in Mortal Kombat. Her size is also emphasized in her animations. She isn’t strong, so she is forced to drag the Transistor around. Certain Functions, such as Cull(), show her having to throw all of her body weight into the attack.
After that, is her outfit. Spoilers may follow. The situation she finds herself in creates reason and logic for what she wears. When her voice was stolen, she had been performing onstage in a long ballgown. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to run in this ballgown, she rips off the lower half of the dress. Because the gown was already low-cut, this gives her a low-cut mini-dress. It shows off her thigh high stockings as well. This allows her to wear something that could be seen as sexy, but with validation on why the outfit was chosen. She also takes her unnamed friend’s jacket when she sets off on her adventure, providing her with an arc symbol, the triangle. It also provides her with a degree of comfort as it is the only physical thing remaining of her friend, other than the clothes he was wearing which would be very strange to remove and wear. It can be viewed as a method of implying romance, given that men giving their girlfriend’s their coats is a common sign of intimacy, but this is never elaborated upon. Her entire outfit tells a story.
Finally, there are the details. Her crimson hair creates a sharp contrast with the blues of the Transistor and the yellows of Cloudbank. Her haircut,while modern, also shows rebellion. Short hair on women is often used in character design to denote rebellion and emphasize how the character doesn’t fit into the traditional roles of women for that universe. While most characters would run and leave Cloudbank, Red stays to find out who tried to kill her thus showing that she is determined and hot-blooded. Red hair also ties into her name and connections to the main villains, the Camerata, who all wear red and white. Finally, her hair color is consistent with the eye color of the process. In all, the three primary colors of the game are red, yellow, and blue, all represented in Red’s design in some way.
Character design is complex and can tell a story by simply existing. When designing a character, it’s important that who they are fits into what they wear. In reality, neither group is wrong when it comes to designing women, or characters in general. Artists, as long as they’re not being commissioned, should have artistic freedom when designing characters. They can be as realistic or idealized as possible. However, overemphasizing certain features or creating the same designs can get boring. This can get particularly nerve wracking when so many artists do it.
Draw what you want, but be critical of your own art. If creating a game or other piece of media, be aware of what the target audience would want. Look at real people. They’re incredibly diverse in body types, heights, haircuts, and more. Finally, it’s a character, so their design can be used to say things the character themselves can’t. Sleep tight.