Iconic game characters

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Chikochamp
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Iconic game characters

Post by Chikochamp »

In this month's Edge magazine there's an article on the long-forgotten idea of mascot game characters and what makes a game character great - it's not specifically about Sonic, but both he and the mistakes that have been made with him that have been discussed ad infinitum on these pages are regularly mentioned throughout. It's an interesting and well-written read, especially for a gaming mag. I don't have a scanner, but I found it written online - check it out:

There was something missing from the Xbox 360 launch line-up (bonus points to the witty wag who shouted "good games"): a single marketable, iconic character. No Sonic, no Mario, or - let's face it - even a Pac Man. Heck, I'd even take that witless, purple, fire-chuffer Spyro the Dragon over charisma-free throwbacks like Joanna Dark and That Girl From Kameo. To whit: where have all our characters gone? Where once distinctive giants bestrode the industry, swinging their massive, luminous jockstaps, I'd now struggle to name a single game character created in the last five years. Even the legends are apparently failing to contain mid-life crises or drink problems, beset by over-familiarity, or their insecure creators' wholesale dismissal of what once made them great. Mario is being stretched ever more thinly (we've had baseball, racing, golf, tennis, football, board games and beat 'em ups - where next? Kabaddi? A cookery simulation? An ostrich enclosure sim?), Sega doesn't have a clue what it's supposed to do with Sonic, and Tomb Raider is no longer relevant to anyone bar a few mentally ill Lara fetishists.

These characters were once symbols, and statements of intent., Mario sold Nintendo as a family friendly company, whereas Sonic once defined Sega as streetwise and cool. There was a time when the launch of a new Sega or Nntendo console would've been marked by the next step in the evolution of these signature franchises. If it were up to me I'd have delayed the Xbox 360 launch until Halo 3 was ready - Master Chief being perhaps the closest we've come to a new gaming icon in recent years; the sort of corporate mascot the PlayStation brand is sorely lacking. Instead, the 360 was thrown into the public arena with one of the safest, blandest launch line-ups ever. Yet a single strong, identifiable character could've spun that perception on its rump. Only a few years ago any mainstream coverage of gaming was accompanied by a graphic of the Tomb Raider enchantress, or a sassy hedgehog with a wagging finger. Now it's usually an indistinct FIFA screenshot or an out-of-context image of someone being diced by a rusty chainsaw. How many more off-the-peg gangsters, soldiers and gloriously rendered sports cars can we handle before we implode with apathy?

What makes a strong, iconic, game character? It's probably not any one thing, but like a house of cars removal of any single element means the icon crumbles. There are probably a few obvious - but rarely followed - rules worth stating. Make the characters distinct: there's a good reason why the characters in The Simpsons don't look like the characters in South Park. And there's a very good reason why Joanna Dark will never make the same culutural impact as the Tomb Raider star; because she looks like any one of a hundred wtered-down Lara Croft clones. Likewise any of Kameo's woefully bland and cliched characters. The simpler the better. All great cartoon characters are recognisable in silhouettte, from Bart Simpson to Mickey Mouse.

Make the character's world reflect the characters: this is precisely where Sega is going wrong with Sonic. Back in the day, Sonic looked like he lived in the Green Hill Zone. Nowadays every Sonic game sticks him in a semi-photorealistic city, and the contrast is jarring. Likewise, Lara Croft has never worked as well once the fanchise dragged her out of dusty tombs and into the harsh glare of street lights.

Ensure the character can do stuff that no other game character can: one strong, simple, original, iconic gameplay concept is all we ask. Give them a theme tune. Whatever happened to great theme music in ghames? When was the last time we got anything as memorable as the Zelda theme, or the Tetris music? Make them format-specific. They're just not as special when they're spread across more than one system.

Think about what you're trying to say with your character: I'm not for a second advocating that anyone try and promote some sort of political agenda with a game character, but once upon a time the big game characters were synonymous with their host systems. Sonic sold Sega's dream that the Mega Drive was streetwise, while Tomb Raider made the PlayStation sexy. What is anybody trying to express with, say, God of War? That the PS2 is for violent, semi-naked men in skirts?

Keep the franchise focused on its core characters: there's a good reason why the original Street Fighter 2 characters continure to endure. It was fair enough when Tails and Knuckles were introduced to Sonic's world, but now his extended family has become so big and unwieldy that Sonic himself has been obscured.

The games industry doesn't have the benefit of celebrity the way that other entertainment industries do, and needs its characters now more than ever. You can't rely on 'celebrity' games journalists or producers to be the figureheads of the industry. We're hideously deformed social misfits to a man.

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Post by PBJClock »

WOW... :shock:

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Post by Green Gibbon! »

So what's up with Edge magazine, anyway? Is it good? I only just discovered it at work and as such haven't had much time to read it thoroughly, but the first impression I get is Next Generation. It's got high quality paper, thick covers, simple and clean layout, and articles which I think may be written by actual high school graduates (unlike every other gaming magazine currently in publication). I scanned over one really well-written article about Dark Chronicle that managed to explain how the game is so awesome despite the fact that it kind of sucks, and this short character article is interesting as well. To my knowledge, videogame journalism had died with Next Generation, but would that I could dare to hope there are still people writing intelligently about games and the game industry. So how is this Edge business? Is it really on top or is the beauty only skin deep?

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Post by Ngangbius »

Next Generation was supposedly Edge's sister mag in the U.S.

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Post by Green Gibbon! »

I remember hearing they were similar, but I don't think they were ever affiliated. Next Gen was published by IGN before IGN stood for Ignorant Gaming Nitwits.

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Post by chriscaffee »

Obviously the author of this article is forgetting Sam Fisher.

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The T
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Post by The T »

chriscaffee wrote:Obviously the author of this article is forgetting Sam Fisher.
Isn't he technically a book character first?

I don't actually know whether the book series or games came first, but.

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Post by Light Speed »

The book did.

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Kishi
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Post by Kishi »

That and the fact that Sam is spread across multiple platforms.

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Post by chriscaffee »

Yes but he is instantly recognizeable. Those three green dots are pretty distinctive.

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Post by Segaholic2 »

Green Gibbon! wrote:I remember hearing they were similar, but I don't think they were ever affiliated. Next Gen was published by IGN before IGN stood for Ignorant Gaming Nitwits.
I was wondering if you were still alive.

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Post by Cuckooguy »

Segaholic2 wrote: I was wondering if you were still alive.
It might not be my place to say, but I think it's because the GHZ forum is going through a phase of bad threads.

Or perhaps maybe he's doing cool and productive things and getting somewhere in life.

Perhaps.

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Post by Baba O'Reily »

Poison Eggroll wrote:
Segaholic2 wrote: I was wondering if you were still alive.
It might not be my place to say, but I think it's because the GHZ forum is going through a phase of bad threads.

Or perhaps maybe he's doing cool and productive things and getting somewhere in life.

Perhaps.
The internet used to be so good like three years ago. Now all of the old members have left and it's a boring cesspool for bad ideas. God, I signed up for the internet because of the community, not to have a bunch of people post seemingly unrelated ideas in bizarre fashions that would fill even the most mentally challenged infant with bitterness and disgust.
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Popcorn
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Post by Popcorn »

Edge is an excellent publication. It could be accused of self-indulgent pretention-- for example, I dislike its penchant for referring to itself in the third person (and without referencing individual writers), giving it a frankly creepy symbiotic quality-- and I frequently disagree quite passionately with its opinions, but Edge remains the only English-language publication that is attempting to actually take games seriously.

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Post by plasticwingsband »

Segaholic2 wrote:
Green Gibbon! wrote:I remember hearing they were similar, but I don't think they were ever affiliated. Next Gen was published by IGN before IGN stood for Ignorant Gaming Nitwits.
I was wondering if you were still alive.
ditto

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Post by Dunjohn »

Popcorn wrote:Edge is an excellent publication. It could be accused of self-indulgent pretention-- for example, I dislike its penchant for referring to itself in the third person (and without referencing individual writers), giving it a frankly creepy symbiotic quality-- and I frequently disagree quite passionately with its opinions, but Edge remains the only English-language publication that is attempting to actually take games seriously.
Edge is so full of itself it's going to explode any day now. I can't stand that rag. It's the pruned intellectual at the party who's not happy until he's proven how much more sophisticated he is than everyone else there. It thinks it's feckin' Time magazine, that every issue and cover it puts out is going to be some milestone in print media. That casually dismissive article above is absolutely typical.

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Post by plasticwingsband »

also joanna dark is a way better character than lara croft ever was

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Post by Protodude »

Green Gibbon! wrote:I remember hearing they were similar, but I don't think they were ever affiliated. Next Gen was published by IGN before IGN stood for Ignorant Gaming Nitwits.
They were indeed affiliated, according to the wikipedia article on Next Gen.

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Post by EmeraldGuardian »

Make the character's world reflect the characters: this is precisely where Sega is going wrong with Sonic. Back in the day, Sonic looked like he lived in the Green Hill Zone. Nowadays every Sonic game sticks him in a semi-photorealistic city, and the contrast is jarring.
<3

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Post by Green Gibbon! »

That casually dismissive article above is absolutely typical.
I don't know, I think that article is pretty funny, and quite on the mark. The only statement I'd disagree with is the suggestion that Master Chief and Halo are anything remotely resembling iconic.

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Post by Popcorn »

Green Gibbon! wrote:
That casually dismissive article above is absolutely typical.
I don't know, I think that article is pretty funny, and quite on the mark. The only statement I'd disagree with is the suggestion that Master Chief and Halo are anything remotely resembling iconic.
It's worth noting that the quoted article is by one of their regular guest columnists, most of whom contradict one another entirely every issue, rather than the magazine proper.

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Post by Light Speed »

Green Gibbon! wrote:I don't know, I think that article is pretty funny, and quite on the mark. The only statement I'd disagree with is the suggestion that Master Chief and Halo are anything remotely resembling iconic.
I dunno, he hasn't been around very long, but you can't deny how popular the Halo series is. Isn't Halo 2 one of the best selling video games ever? It was definately one of the most anticipated. If he isn't an icon yet, he surely will be.

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Post by Esrever »

He's certainly POPULAR, but I don't know if he's all that iconic. Maybe his helmet is, but the rest of him is pretty indistinct compared to other human-in-robot-suit characters like, say, Samus.

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Rlan
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Post by Rlan »

On a similar note, The new Tomb Raider looks absolutely fantastic:

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Post by chriscaffee »

Fails for one-handing a pair of USPs with match compensators.

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