Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One-Dimensional Angry Men

I read an article about this year's E3 where the one of the developers at SCEA Santa Monica (the studio behind the God of War series) mentioned that they wanted to add a bit more emotional depth to Kratos in God of War 3, to try and make him a little less wooden. I'm not sure I like this idea. I've read plenty of game articles criticizing action game heroes for being one-dimensional, but I'm actually rather in favour of this.

One-dimensional angry man Kratos

The primary reason for this is that one-dimensional heroes suit action games. I mean, your main interaction with the games that star these heroes is to shoot things in the face, or tear enemies limb from limb. Kratos's seemingly implacable rage at everything perfectly suits the unrelenting brutality that characterises most of God of War's gameplay.

One-dimensional super soldier Master Chief

Do we really want to hear Marcus Fenix enter into a thoughtful discussion at to whether violence really is the best response to the Locust threat? Do we want Ryu Hayabusa to try and thwart another interdimensional assault on the world through means that don't involve slicing legions of demons into small chunks? I don't think so.

The single-minded purpose of these characters may leave them one-dimensional, but when done right, it can be a pretty awesome dimension. And awesome is what action games are all about.

One-dimensional surly meat-head Marcus Fenix

I don't think there is any shame in focusing action games on their strengths. In Halo 3, Bungie take a sly dig at themselves regarding this: when the Chief rescues Cortana from the Flood-infested ruins of High Charity, Cortana asks him how he planned to escape, to which the Chief replies "I was going to shoot my way out - just to mix things up a little".

One-dimensional whirlwind of death Ryu Hayabusa

I don't mean to imply that I don't want to see multi-faceted characters in video games; I think it's great when developers do successfully integrate these into their games, particularly in RPGs and adventure games, where they can contribute additional interest to the game's storyline. However, just like there can be more merit in focusing gameplay as there would be on diversifying it, there are times when a single-minded protagonist suits a game's style better than a more layered one would. A one-dimensional hero also doesn't stop a game from telling an interesting story, as games like God of War and Halo have shown.


  1. I rewrote the middle part of this post in an attempt to make it less rubbish, as it read more like a high school debate essay more than a blog entry.

  2. I think a big part of the problem are reviewers.
    You don't hear Halo fans or Kratos fans demanding more emotional depth from their fav gratuitous death-dealers.

  3. On the other hand, characters like Niko from GTA had wonderful depth. He had a history, which was vague but related to war. He had an objective which was personal and easy for the player to relate to (ie: come to America and make a life).
    He also had a personality - he told jokes, he showed remorse, anger and pity.

    Most of the "characters" you have identified never reveal any emotion except anger. Heck we don't even see that in the Master Chief. He's like a robot.

    I said "most" because I would say that Marcus Fenix does show emotions. So does Dom in a big way. The game actually presents Dom weeping in once scene.

    I welcome more of this.

  4. [Warning: contains very minor spoilers]

    The GTA series (well, all the games from GTA3 onwards) are very character-driven. They're also far more "adventure" games than "action" games if we have to stick to ancient genre descriptors.

    I disagree with you on Gears of War, though. Marcus shifts between angry and stoic throughout the second game, but never anything else. He never even comes close to cracking a smile at any point in the entire game, not even at the end when he sees Anya is okay on the Raven with Cole. You get a sense of Dom's pain at certain points in the game, but apart from one scene, it doesn't manifest itself as anything apart from anger or frustration.

    However, I still think this is no bad thing, because of the nature of the game. There is no downtime in Gears of War, you move from one set-piece battle to another. The game shows us no more than two or three days of a military campaign, and focuses on the parts where they're shooting people, as you would expect in an action game. Any attempts to add in less hostile emotions would probably appear forced.

    This isn't the case with RPGs and "adventure" games, as they often do spend time covering parts of the protagonists' lives that don't involve all hell breaking loose.