Character, Story, and Art Part 1: Heroes
Now that we have the story finished in flowchart form and tons of art in (some of which is posted), I wanted to talk about the evolution of the characters across media.
Heroes Must Die was first pitched as a play, then the video game-theater combo. So I had all the main characters of the show worked out. Storm was an overly-energetic-in-his-role hero working for the impossibly perfect Queen Angelica. But the world was too comfortable, so a massive change swept the gameland, allowing players the choice to fight each other. Storm thus was too old-fashioned as a hero, so a new grim-and-gritty replacement was brought, appropriately named Grim. Grim promoted chaos and PvP, leaving Storm with no allies as his old nemesis returned: Lord Murder. And thus was the basis for our plot.
SUPER SUBTLE, RIGHT? Of course, this was a comedy adventure about archetypes, gaming culture, and games' place in art, so it was exactly what I wanted. When the video game started, I had the characters, so had to work backwards. How did they become what they are?
Let's look at how Storm was created so I can walk you through the process of conceiving, writing, conceptualizing, and game-asset-for-making of a hero.
Storm's backstory was easy. In order to be an established, powerful hero he had to once be a wannabe hero. I already knew his main character traits - overeager, overconfident, wiseass, but still charming, humorous, and decisive. An unfocused tide of energy, like his name. (Presumably everyone has by now noticed the pulp naming convention of everyone named after exactly who or what they are). I also knew the basic game plot - Storm gets shanghaied into the villain's army and is forced to hunt down heroes and stop them before they can undo the order of the existing empire.
So I sent the basic play and game plots to artist, sent along the basic character traits, and by request sent some references as well. I suggested some actors - Ryan Reynolds for his cocky, comic action heroes (Blade, Wolverine, even Van Wilder), Joel McHale as the too-cool-to-care-but-kind-of-does Jeff Winger in Community. It helped set the personality and look. I also referenced other game characters. Cloud for that instantly iconic I-am-an-RPG-hero look, Devil May Cry's Dante for the badboy with over-the-top style, the eponymous Prince (of Persia fame) for his lithe moves.
For story purposes, it was important for Storm to be young with potential. The player's choices drive the game story, so Storm must be a vessel through which they can wreak mayhem and/or cultivate heroism, and his design had to reflect that. As a game about archetypes, he also had to clearly read as an RPG hero in the JRPG golden age style.
I asked my former Twist coworker Al to spitball in his style, and here is what he came up with.
I liked that he had a young, cocky, JRPG-ready hero but with his own style. We talked about color and design and through a few drafts he finalized:
Lots of nods to other video games, and the right look for a would-be hero!
However, there was a little too much detail for a sprite. And, with the dialogue portraits, I wanted a little more distinctive of a style for the facial features. So Al passed his work onto Anne, who gave her own interpretation.
This struck me as the direction we needed - it used all of Al's excellent character design and color decisions, but simplified and stylized. So it was time to make a sprite.
Our art director, Evan, also had all the story, had seen all the concepts, so he set our standards for size, position, color, and such, and within our sprite template (you can read about our decisions, restrictions, thoughts, and history of pixel art here), he came up with this:
Colorful, fun, nailed the design, reads easily, personality shines through, cool but cute (sprites should be cute), all around great. Here he is in action.
This sprite has a lot to love. It makes a distinct silhouette, it has a bright but consistent color scheme, it looks good in movement, and at a glance it says cocky hero. It looks like a young guy in a fantasy world named Storm would look. It looks like a guy you can click to make move. But for dialogue, we needed more detail.
Finally, after losing touch with Anne, we needed to bring on a new portrait artist. Evan and our programmer Justin recommended Gene, whose test runs instantly nailed the characters. Here is his initial Storm concept, which we thought did an excellent job of conveying all the personality in an instant.
And, of course, all the various expressions needed to tell a good story, like drunk:
Now we had a more human looking Storm, someone with enough realism and detail you could empathize with, but enough style to suggest a comic book protagonist. We had our hero in all his incarnations.
So if you want the tl;dr version, scroll through all the art and watch a character evolve. I also posted a whole ton of Storm art in the game galleries. Enjoy!