Monday, January 20, 2014

Know Your Role - Heroes

When you write a story you must have structure, and with that structure you must be able to present your audience with characters that either have already defined roles or you must at least give your audience some hints as to what roles your characters are going to have as the story progresses. Before a writer can take a story in a specific direction, he or she has to to know what the foundations of his or her characters are about. As a writer, you have to know what you want your characters to do, ranging from what actions you want them to take, what personalities they should have, what they should look like and what their reactions are to specific situations. Your characters must have a strength and a weakness no matter how incredible or how mundane they may be and you must revolve the world of your story around the character traits that are presented. Characters bring life to the world of the story you want to make and it's important to develop them once they are established. Character development is a process from Point A to Point B, and then from Point B to Point C, and so on.

Writing for games takes a specific understanding of the language of video games, to know the basic territories of what you can write and what you can't write, to know that the player who will take in the experience of your story must be given freedom to be a gamer, and to know that the characters you introduce have to be treated with proper care. At some point in a game, whether it's at the very beginning of the game or in near the middle of the game or even near the end of the game, the role of a character has to be determined and defined so that players will understand just what kind of character they are controlling.

Many classic stories of yesteryear have the basic setups. They have the foundation of there being a sinister villain who will stop at nothing to ruin things for all parties and they also have the damsel in distress who is need of rescuing because of the villain's actions. Who will rise to the occasion and take down the villain in order to save the damsel? The hero is the most basic character type that you can have in a story but the story can become much different than what was originally on the surface if the writer chooses to add layers to the hero as he advances past obstacles and enemies that are in his way. The hero is the character that stands out the most. The hero is the first person to turn to when it comes to a community of people searching for help. The hero is the most important character for the writer to care about because in most cases the true action of a story begins with the hero.

A hero has to be given a set of goals that he has to accomplish in the confines of a video game. A hero's value is put on display when he is forced to complete tasks that will allow him to progress in his adventure. A hero isn't a hero if there is no urgency for him to act. A hero's personality should be something that relates to the audience that is being catered to and a hero is supposed to be a character who fans would want to be like. A hero has a moral code that he keeps close to the vest and he sticks with his moral code no matter what outside influences or outside distractions say. Some video games will present events the hero will have to deal with that will challenge his moral code and how the hero moves forward from these challenges opens the door for character development.

Not every video game will give you only one playable option which means that you might be given the choice to play the game as the hero or as characters with different alignments. Along with the hero, you can choose to play as an antihero, a character who doesn't have a moral code or lacks a full moral cod, or you can choose to play as the villain, a saboteur of fun and joy for the good guys, so the story of the game can balance the focus between the hero and other characters when it comes to core attention. Some games will market their stories towards all alignments getting the spotlight and not just one alignment, so it may be more important to establish the hero's parts of the story so that gamers can distinguish the differences between the mindsets of the characters.

Let's start using examples of clean cut heroes who will do the right thing in the heat of gaming action and we will start to notice a pattern that heroes in gaming franchises share.

Let's start with Captain Falcon of the F-Zero series. In the scope of a Racing game genre, Captain Falcon is the one who is turned to for help when things get out of control and when cities reach a point of crisis that is impossible for the people to get out of. The challenging part about this is the fact that Captain Falcon primarily shows his heroics through races. How can you tell an action-packed story through a series of races? Captain Falcon is constantly challenged by the forces of evil to complete tasks that revolve around his racing skills, whether that means to clear a race under a set amount of time, to escape an imploding cave while rescuing a damsel, or to reach the finish line by staying at a certain speed or else his ride blows up because of a detonating bomb device.

There is some presence of a cinematic flow with the way a Captain Falcon story is set up and it would have to remind you of some of the classic movies hat involved racing or daring getaway chases. Captain Falcon's primary focus is not fighting (unless he competes in Super Smash Bros.) and you can't make a a character who is built for the Racing game genre something that he's not. Captain Falcon does his talking with his racing first and foremost and that is the way it should be. He progresses through F-Zero circuits by winning races and he progresses through the story by winning races and successfully using his racing skills in heroic fashion, so the concept that is presented before us is really simple.

Another example of a clean cut hero in video games would be Fox McCloud. Fox commands his crew through outer space and on various planets in the Lylat System to take down bad guys that are impeding their progress. Fox and his crew are put to the test in retrieving special items, defeating a gigantic nemesis or rescuing each other through all sorts of predicaments and the thrill of Science-Fiction combat lures gamers in to experience the story of Star Fox, to see what exactly goes on in the life of a space soldier. Who can forget the famous quote by Peppy Hare that is repeated almost all the time? "Do a barrel roll!" In Star Fox Adventures, Fox was allowed to go on foot to accomplish his goals and the basic survival instincts that Fox brings to the table appears right away when he is on foot.

Fox McCloud normally is pitted against the intimidating genius scientist Andross and his henchmen and the possibilities of the storyline branching out to plot twists or mini-cliffhangers are almost endless. Anyone who has played games in the Star Fox series would know that the villains in Fox's universe are no easy customers and they are characters you want to boo and jeer. The mercenary team known as Star Wolf is a clear example of a team of characters that just want to make Fox McCloud's life miserable by further complicating his missions and putting the safety of his crew in danger. Because of the actions taken by Wolf O'Donnell and his crew the player is motivated to get behind the Star Fox team and to root for them to overcome the Star Wolf team's challenges.

Andross is one despicable scientist with no regard for innocent life as he is a maniacal villain.Who would want Andross to succeed in his quest for absolute power? Fox McCloud has a Code of Honor that he follows partly because his late father James McCloud followed that same Code of Honor. Another reason for Fox having a Code of Honor (moral code) is because he has a responsibility to defend his people and his friends as he is a well trained space pilot. This is his job and there are consequences for not getting the job done. Fox has more than enough motivation to be a hero and he doesn't have any reason to change alignments.

One quality trait of Fox McCloud is that he is a team player. He genuinely cares about his team of friends. Peppy Hare, Falco Lombardi, Slippy Toad and Krystal round out the supporting cast and Fox keeps his friends in mind. Fox's personality is relatable because he doesn't have a selfish mindset. He knows he can't do everything by himself. A hero becomes a hero not just by what he himself does but also by what he allows his friends around him to do. Leadership is the ability to lead others as well as leading yourself.

One more example of a clean cut hero would be a skilled bomb-thrower who is simply known as Bomberman. At first glance people would look at a character like Bomberman and say "Well, he just throws bombs at enemies", but there is more to Bomberman than what he shows in his abilities. He can be viewed in a similar light to both Captain Falcon and Fox McCloud in the sense that Bomberman has a similar setup in his character. Although this isn't represented enough in the games themselves, cartoon cutscenes and Anime shows of Bomberman feature our bomb-throwing hero as a member of a defense unit that fights off the forces of evil that try to invade the headquarters of the Bomber people on planet Bomber.

Bomberman is basically described as a soldier who is doing his duty to protect his people and his purpose for doing so has layers to it. Bomberman is described as having a family of Bombers that have done their duties just like he has done his duty and it's noteworthy that Bomberman has an obviously different attire compared to the other Bombers. The difference in the attire makes it clear that there is something significant about this Bomberman we are playing as. Bomberman has a cheerful personality and he has a positive outlook on life on planet Bomber, and that message is relayed to the player during gameplay and during cutscenes. Bomberman is a good example of a hero in a lighthearted environment because of the traits of kindness and respect that he wears on his sleeves. It also helps that the throwing of his bombs sometimes leads to comedic moments that makes gamers laugh.

Bomberman is the kind of hero who welcomes his friends to join in on the adventure and he doesn't mind if others succeed in tasks that he himself can't do. For example, there are times when he has to ride on an animal named Louie to reach higher platforms because Louie has the ability to jump higher than Bomberman and he also can kick off walls to jump a second time. In some levels Bomberman can't progress unless he uses Louie. This is an example of a hero being resourceful within his environment.

What we basically need to know about the hero is that he is the kind of character that expands the life of the story. The low actions of the villain and the questionable actions of the antihero can start the engine, but the hero who stays true to his Code of Honor is the one who makes the engine go. That is the best analogy that I can use. In most cases the story doesn't move forward without the actions of the hero being successful in some way. It is important for any writer to build the hero up to have a legitimate chance to fight off his enemies. It wouldn't help to overpower the hero right from the start because an overpowered hero wouldn't experience hardship or the general sense of struggling unless he was quickly powered down, but even then that might feel like a knee jerk reaction on the part of the writer in character development. This is probably one of the reasons why I personally relate more to the underdog kind of hero when I envision an action story.

The most successful heroes have a lasting impact on the stories that are told about them. If the story is executed properly, the hero will probably be talked about the most by fans of the game series. A writer has to be mindful of the hero's role in a story because it is one of the most critical roles to develop.

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