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Progression and Character Development

June 11, 2008

Virtually every video game has progression of some sort. For example:

  • Time: Do it faster
  • Levels: It’s harder now, and the opposing force (whatever it is) is either harder or more in number
  • Character Development: a progression of “things you can do”

That last one is a bit abstract intentionally. There are literally dozens of ways to develop a character. They largely boil down to a single question with multiple answers: How does the list of character actions in a game become well-polished abilities? What is the process by which that happens, skill-by-skill or action-by-action? If the progression in your game is based on character development, each action needs an answer. One of my favorite game series, Ratchet & Clank, progresses everything from movement (the many ways Ratchet can move from point A to B and augment that movment) to locks to creatures to creature numbers to weapons.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2008 10:47 am

    During my time in college one of the only forms of progression covered was the storytelling aspect. (Character Development and Storytelling for Games by Lee Sheldon was the only required reading for this course dubbed “Interactive Storytelling”)

    Even in our game design classes there was minimal focus given to the progressive gameplay aspects such as time, level difficulty and character development.

    I totally agree with the three given, however, I’d like to know your position of ‘story’ or ‘backstory’ as a progression altering ingredient?

  2. June 11, 2008 10:49 am

    ^ Sans winking smiley face.

  3. June 11, 2008 12:44 pm

    @jbwenzoski:
    I’ve had some great class discussions, about RPGs in particular and what the core experience is. I always seem to get a split in class, with some people insisting the core is plot advancement (everything in the game is about leading the player to find out what happens next in the story) and others claim the core is actually character advancement (gaining levels, skills, capabilities). I suppose it’s a litmus test for how much someone leans towards narratology or ludology 🙂

  4. July 3, 2008 3:07 am

    I like the emphasis that this article puts on “the things a character can do”. I believe that this is also important when it comes to interaction design (game controls, interface etc). A character must possess the strengths and abilities that allows her to take the challenge that is posed on her. We judge characters mostly according to what they do and what they are able to. This is what reflects their decisions, the values and their goals. Also this decides in how far a character is ready towards taking on the challenge. She must have at least some things to rely on in her fight, even though they are tiny. In other words, action is an important part of characterisation. Since game character’s actions are closely tied to the design of interaction, key assignment, interfaces and the interaction patterns that emerge from these, I believe that character development starts with interaction design.

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