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Games and the Ensemble Cast -- GDC 2013 Session

Games and the Ensemble Cast - Dan Nagler, Game Writer, Large Animal Games.

Dan Nagler, writer for Large Animal Games, hosted a session about the theory of building the perfect team of game characters, by drawing from the narrative archetypes detailed at the writers' resource site, This session was used as a means to help develop  good narrative brainstorming methods.

The talk was broken down into the size of each cast of characters, and different methods for creating the backbone of your character group.

2 characters

Smallest possible character combination: a duo. The key with a duo is maintaining contrast between characters.

Blue Oni, Red Oni: Two different ogres from Japanese mythology. They clash with each other, provide contrast with each other, and help drive the narrative along together.

Rush Hour

Rush Hour, Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker. Two roles in the arcitype. 

Jackie Chan - Blue Oni, intellectually focused, composed under stress, somewhat introverted.

Chris Tucker - Red Oni. Very physical oriented, and focused on the people around them, instead of their task. You can swap them out for interesting variants.

Super Mario

Mario - Red Oni. Silent protagonist, but more actively heroic. Some personality traits have been swapped out, but they still contrast.

Luigi - Blue Oni. One more talkative but less self confident.

Portal 2

GLADOS, Blue Oni.

Wheatley, is Red Oni. The interaction between these two AIs are the forefront.

Sam and Max

Sam is the Blue Oni, one considerably more outgoing Max, the Red Oni.

3 characters

The Fruedian Trio. You take Blue Oni, Red Oni and you add a balanced character between those two extremes.

Harry Potter

Hermoine - Superego. Superegos are very similar to Blue Onis. They act more according to logic and social constraints. Mentally skilled. Contrast in personality and approach to the Id.

Ron - Id. Ids act on their emotion, more impulsive, and more physically skilled. Ids can be evil, but don't have to be, since they are the emotional and social ones, they can be the spiritual or moral compass. McCoy from Star Trek, a moral Id.

In the middle, you have the balanced architype,

Harry - Ego. It's their job to mediate between the two sides and sythnisize their two sides. It's the ego's influence who keep the team together, but not entirely so. They fall into the middle of these two other sides.

Sly Cooper

Sly Cooper, the title character, is the ego. 

Bentley, the mastermind, the Superego.

Murray, the muscle, the Id.

Something a bit simpler, you can use the Mental, Physical, Social make0up. Beyond that, the characters personalities can be defined however you wish.

The Powerpuff Girls

The Powerpuff Girls, they do these very well.

Blossum, the Mental

Bubbles, the Social

Buttercup, the Physical

The Legend of Zelda

Three characters that work well in both frameworks Zelda: the three elements of Triforce.

Zelda, Mental - Superego

Ganondorf, Physical - Id

Link, Social - Ego

4 characters

Four Temperment Ensemble: Make a grid, a grid of personality types. Introverted on one side, extroverted on the other side. Mission focused on the top, people focused on the bottom. You take each of the four characters, and place them in each quadrant. Each character gets about two elements to define themselves.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Leonardo - Leads. Introverted and people-focused, he cares about the people closest to him. he's gonna be the leader, but the quiet parti f the team. Strong sense of judgement, but over ally dependent

Michangelo - Extroverted and people focused, big show off party, great to hang out, very social, not the brightest lightbulb, a little impulsive.

Donatello - Mission focused, introverted. The process guy: very diligent, very strong analytical skills. Techies, but can get detached from reality and up in his own head. 

Raphael - He's extroverted and mission focused, he cares about the team, but does it on his own terms. He gets on Leonardos nerves for that reason. Has is a strong personality, very convincing, and can lean towards aggressiveness.

Star Fox

Fox, leader, keeps team together. Introverted & Team focused.  Falco, hot-head, goes off on his own, Extroverted & Mission Focused.

Slippy, the team mechanic, techie, Extroverted & People Focused Peppy, the veteran, the tactician. Introverted & Mission Focused.

5 Characters

Upgrade of the Ninja Turtles structure, Augmented Four Temperment Ensemble.

You take the four previous character archtypes, and you add a fifth character right in the middle of that personality grid. The jack-of-all trades that doesn't fall into the professional extremes of the others. A Splinter type mentor character.

In DnD, a Bard. This new characters is OK at everything, but doesn't specialize, make them the frontman or team leader, it gives them something to do that sets them apart. It's also useful to dial back the previous leader's (Fox, Leonardo) more active leadership, so they don't step on each other's toes.

The Five Man Band

Star Wars

The Hero - Main protagonist, main leader, player character: Luke Skywalker

The Big One, the best character at the team at brute force, loyal, not too strategic: Chewie.

The Heart, spiritual and moral center of the team, keeps them socially skilled: Leia.

The Lancer, like the hero, designated second in command, personality contrast, he'll be a bit different, has his own opinion, independent: Han Solo.

The Smart One, the physically weal, but very smart techie, like a Donatello, but he is defined by his role on the team: C3PO, R2-D2.

5+ Characters

Dupicating roles, define your characters as outsiders, or different from the others in the group.

The tagalong kid, the younger and less experienced. Short Round. Pearl from Pheonix Wright

The team pet, limited number of settings, Scooby Doo, Teddy from Persona 4. 

The mentor, older and more experienced, Obi-Wan, Auron.

The Six Ranger. Enjoys the adventure, midway through. Green Ranger, Enqrique from Skies of Arcadia. A prince who joins a group of pirates midway through.

In conclusion

Go write, none of this counts for anything if you can't write these characters. They give you the leeway to do just that. These things help define their role of the tram, but you can still expand them personality-wise as much as you want. Experiment and use these as a backbone to your own ideas.

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