Posted by: Junahu | September 3, 2010

Junahu says stuff and you listen: Character

While movesets are a case of applying a character to a gaming framework, I find it increasingly odd, how so few MYMer’s actually grasp that. If this is really about taking a character, and making them work outside their usual context, then surely understanding the character should be priority one. Instead, I see quite a lot of movesets that all too readily sacrifice the very character they’re trying to homage, all in the name of a neat idea that won’t quite fit.

It is the point of this article then, to expand a little on the process of analysing a character, and how to apply that analysis when designing a moveset around him or her. I emphasise that this is only personal conjecture on the matter, and that all characters have multiple interpretations.

So, a brief little recap on my previous week. I have become somewhat infatuated with the world of “Scott Pilgrim”, a fictional setting where the complexities of love are juxtaposed against the simplicities (and contradictions) of video games. The central plot is of the titular character trying to earn someone’s love, by physically beating everyone she ever dated. Scott eventually recognises that such a convenient goal won’t solve any of his problems, and begins working to confront his own demons, rather than those of other people.

And this brings me to my example character for this article…

This is Matthew Patel.

Before we really start, I’ll simply tell you exactly why I’ve chosen this character. He’s simple, but then again… not. Everyone sees him as a stereotype, and this perception of him is what perpetuates his actions.( i.e. he acts as other people see him). There’s an odd complexity to his simplicity, which makes him perfect to use as an example. That, and he’s an indian emo, but that’s neither here nor there ¬_¬

Now, my first personal rule on characterisation, is to only focus on the essential points which define that character as him/herself. This way you don’t get bogged down trying to explain any peripheral details to the reader. The audience likes a firm stereotype to fix their attention to, a strong foundation that acts as the starting point to understanding the character. You don’t have to worry about over simplifying, once the reader is aware of the essence of the character, you can begin spiralling all the additional details from this base.

In other words, make the right first impression, and go from there.

So let’s put this into practice.

“Ramona’s First Evil-Ex-Boyfriend” is the easiest way to sum Matthew up, though the “evil” part is only implied by the context of the story, and never really explored to a satisfying conclusion. However, from the perspectives of the characters themselves, Matthew comes across as bitter and antagonistic, emotionally unstable and somewhat arrogant. More than enough to brand him as evil in their eyes. Of course “Ramona’s First Apparantly-But-Not-Provably-Evil-Ex-Boyfriend” is a bit too wordy, so we’ll have to simply assume he is evil and leave it at that.

Matthew Patel’s first, and last act in the story was to gatecrash (he did technically give fair notice) a Battle of the Bands contest in order to fight Scott, show off some ultimately useless mystical powers involving succubi, and subsequently dieing from a single punch. Matthew is by far Scott’s easiest fight in the story, and his interruption actually served as a useful distraction for Scott.

So, he’s evil (technically), he can summon succubi (somehow) and he’s the easiest fight ever (for some reason). This character is extremely basic eh?

The whole point of Matthew Patel is to foreshadow the kind of person Scott risked becoming if he didn’t confront his own problems. He’s simple, petty, abuses his powers to compensate for a failed relationship. His very appearance projects… well, just look at him, he’s dripping with ’emo’. He’s a walking plot device essentially. A bundle of stereotypes that you aren’t supposed to like.

So, like I said, “Ramona’s First Evil-Ex-Boyfriend” is the easiest way to sum Matthew up.


My second personal rule of characterisation, is that the only perspective of the character that matters, is their own. This is about how the character feels about themselves, their situation and their goals. It’s a common pitfall in movesets, to have the character do something that doesn’t make any sense from their own perspective. And this extends beyond just single attacks. You have to think about how the player is going to try playing this character.

An example of this that I keep bringing up, is KingK.Rool’s Kangaskhan moveset. Theoretically, the attacks are fine, and depict Kangaskhan as a defensive, but brutish, mother defending her naive Joey. But once in the hands of a real player, Kangaskhan becomes an abusive, manipulative guardian, who deliberately puts her baby in harm’s way in order to win. This is a contradiction in motive, and it only happens because the baby is actually useful, which makes the player want to use it to gain an edge on the opponent.

A similar example would be Masterwarlord’s Dingodile, whose main KO option is to blow himself to smithereens. In general, suiciding is for the suicidal. Ganondorf and Bowser can pull it off, as their characters are spiteful enough to consider such extreme methods. Dingodile on the other hand, is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum, specifically hiding behind as many crystals as he can find in order to keep himself alive.

So, let’s again apply this knowledge to our example, Matthew Patel.

Let’s say we decide to literally interpret the way he introduces his mystical powers halfway into the fight. That would mean one of two things.

1) We say his mystical powers only work after he takes a certain amount of damage. This is BAD, as it makes the player want to take damage, and this is not in keeping with Matthew’s character

2) We say his mystical powers only work after a certain amount of time has elapsed. This is also BAD, as it makes the player run away and stall for time, again not in keeping with Matthew’s character.

So we can’t forcefully limit their use to the middle of the match…

But we can at least imply a use for them, which all but precludes the player uses them partway through a stock; We make his mysticism a recovery, a really good one that can double as the start of an offensive (at the cost of being too laggy to realistically use anywhere but offstage)

Since Matthew won’t be recovering unless he’s offstage, and he won’t be offstage until partway into the match, players won’t be tempted to abuse his mysticism right off the bat. Not only does this solution avoid compromising Matthew’s character, but it does so without drawing attention to itself by being a special mechanic. In other words, it’s an elegant solution, one that serves its purpose discretely.

My third, personal rule of characterisation is that while a character is defined by how they are played, the playstyle is ultimately in the hands of the player and not the designer. If you tighten the screws too far, make every move too rigid to use out of turn, then the player loses creative freedom and the illusion of ‘controlling’ the character is lost. I’d like to point to JRPG Final Fantasy XIII as an example of what happens when the designers apply too firm a hand on the player’s actions.

Before I ramble too far on this tangent, I should point out that a restrictive moveset that can only be played one way, can actually be suitable for certain characters (especially ones which are canonically being mind-controlled). Still, that’s an exception, not a rule

So, again, let’s pull Matthew into this.

He’s arrogant, he attacks first, but is ultimately weak. This is a difficult combination to pull off in a fighting game, mostly because, in that context, “arrogant” and “weak” are mutually exclusive qualities. Dan Hibiki, of Street Fighter fame, carries off this combination flawlessly by being the kind of character you pick in order to taunt your opponent. Captain Falcon also manages this in a lesser way, though whether it was intentional is debatable.

Matthew however, is not a charismatic character. He doesn’t exaggerate himself to make a counterpoint of his weakness. Matthew is just a unlikeable person that makes the opponent feel awesome for beating him.

This is problematic, but not impossible. The key to characterising him is to make Matthew’s attacks difficult to land, but extremely irritating once they do. You want the opponent to be angry for being hit, and the player gratified for having landed the hit. What we want Matthew to have, is momentum, where one hit leads into others in sequence. i.e. the “combo character”. It’s simple, it’s aggravating, it’s cheap, but more than all that, it just the kind of person Matthew is.

The important part with establishing this playstyle, is knowing when to stop and let the player take over. The choice of using Matthew as a combo character must be left to the player, and he shouldn’t grind to a halt just because someone tries to play him differently.

i.e. While Matthew should be comboing, that isn’t what really defines him as a character. It’s his willingness to use a cheap trick, to be a relentless coward while still feeling morally justified in doing so, that brings Mathew’s character to the surface. Comboing is only an expression of that motive.


I have one final personal rule of characterisation.. don’t pout, the article is almost over! It’s a simple rule anyway; just because something works in one medium(film/comic/game) doesn’t mean it’ll work the same way in another medium. The world of Brawl is an entirely different reality to most other games, with its own conventions and laws. It may feel cobbled and random, but there’s a string of logic to it that keeps it all from falling apart. In most cases, you are trying to adapt a character to fit with this logic, not the other way around. A lot of the time, you’ll have to leave behind part of the character you really wanted to show in Brawl.

But, if you flip that on its head, then there are some things about your character that only Brawl can show…



  1. I feel that Jonathan and Charlotte from MYM4 would have a good example of making a character TOO in-character, by literally just being 99% a copy-past of their in-game moveset.

    This article is also EXACTLY why I wish taunts/results animation would start returning, since it allows you to show ascpects of a character that you may not be able to portray in gameplay terms. I mean, how else could say, a Bowser moveset show off his hatred of Mario, without delegating it to a specal victory quote?

    Also agreed on the special mechanics stuff for the most part, though I support including a special mechanic for the character if it’s an actual aspect of them (i.e., a fuel-based robot that is known for having to stop fighting to refuel, a refueling mechanic would make perfect sense in that case)

  2. Lets not get confused between straight copying something from the character’s source material and trying to create a moveset indicative of the personality therein. In this article, it’s suggested to base the character on their own self-view rather than their depiction in their source material, which is only one presentation of them.

    Very interesting stuff.

  3. Jonathan and Charlotte (ill)

    that being said, this was a very good article. Making a set in-character is so easy yet so hard at the same time. I guess that was a problem with Rena: she’s not really inclined towards fighting. Whereas Hitagi IS inclined towards fighting. That being said, both are pretty complex characters and hard for average readers to comprehend. I’ll probably be staying away from making sets for characters like those two from now on.

  4. No wonder you see Dingodile as being OoC. I never really knew that characterisation went this far. And yet this, in my eyes, seems to have little to do with things like concept and playstyle. On the other hand, Rool did once say that “limitation breeds creativity”.

    What I seem to get is that basically, if you take the perception of a character, there really isn’t too much you can do with that one character if you’re to draw out their character as flawlessly as possible.

    There’s something that’s stayed with me for a while. When I read darth meanie’s article about playstyle and expanding your options, he mentioned concepts like bottleneck KOing, and taking different paths to killing the enemy. I think that if you try to employ these alongside with extreme characterisation, you will only find that there’s a limit to what you can do.

    You mentioning that a restricted playstyle is good for brainwashed characters would be something where of the character would follow in the path of bottlenecking in darth meanie’s case. The character is restricted to that of only 1 kind of fighting. Though if the character is more free, they can perform multiple kills and play in many different ways.

    In my opinion there’s more than one way to characterise. In fact, I think there are MANY ways to characterise. I’d say it really depends on the media the character comes from. For example, if you want to make a moveset for your favouritest boss ever, you’d want to make their fighting style based on the initial fight.

    I’d also imagine that you can base a character’s playstyle/characterisation based off how they progress in their media. A character like Team Rocket (not picking on you Junahu) always fails at what they do every time they appear to kidnap Pikacu, but never try the same thing more than once in a row. They are also highly persistent, which I imagine would affect their recovery. The character’s relationship with each other could also have an effect on their game if you think about it. Likewise, you could use a villain who is very powerful at the start but gets weaker later on, or the exact opposite with a villain who requires a lot of set-up but is very powerful in the end (I’d imagine a villain like Kefka would be suited to that). To me it’s how THEY do things, but also how they are treated in the world to the point where what they do is affected.

    I’d also think that you can also characterise something, namely a protagonist, by taking the best of what they can do and placing it into the set for the purpose of selling them out to the reader and giving them a good retrospect to what they are. In doing so in conjunction to the idea of characterisation, you’d want to take their personality and place it into how they fight. For example, a character who goes ahead and does things without thinking a situation out would probably have moves that give them some momentum but have problematic effects like high ending lag where the character will “fall into the enemy’s trap”

    I would tend to think that you can also characterise based on a moveset’s initial reception, or how they are balanced. Masterwarlord’s Envy, for example, was recieved as having too many options in his game, and being broken. He was fast, had power. In my thoughts the way that Envy is seen by the general populus is in-character. The fact that Envy has too many options is something that reflects on his transformation ability. Being able to survive to extreme percentages is a reference to him being able to regenerate. (Blatantly) Overpowering your characters is a way to give the general public a feel for the character, a sense of helplessness which they would give out in their own references, like in the FMA series. Likewise, Mewtwo is also characterised like this in the same way, which is represented by him being the most powerful pokemon. I suppose balance is a good thing for gameplay, but on the other hand underpowering or overpowering a character according to their status in canon is a great way to give off a vibe to reader. I remember when I initially read Envy and Mewtwo when they were posted and never suspected them of being overpowered. But when people started saying that the characters were broken it left a permanent “2nd” impression on me. In other words, the reception of a set and how people view can help characterise.

    In the end, I reckon characterisation is something that is VERY important. If you can fully grasp the ideals of a character straight off, it can make the set itself. I don’t think I want to look for concepts straight off, rather, use the character themself as THE concept and ideal of the set.

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