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Character Development in Video Games

By on September 14, 2009


I sometimes get the feeling that although narrative design is all the rage at the moment, maybe it doesn’t get the same level of behind the scenes developmental commentary afforded to the other disciplines.

To that end, I recently published an internal character developmental insight / postmortem from Penumbra: Black Plague, and it’s currently doing the rounds on some of the gaming websites, so I thought I’d share it here as well. I don’t particularly pretend the Penumbra games have been played by everyone – or, indeed, anyone – but it’s at least proved of interest to those of a writery disposition.

Amabel Swanson: A Character Postmortem

From her original character sheet:

“Swanson is our attempt at a ‘rescue the princess’ type character, without actually just resorting to stereotype, going for a bland sort of generic safeness, or making her a helpless goon. However, she does need to be motivational for the player – he needs to like her, to want to save her, and to be livid when Clarence kills her. The latter is our priority.”

One concept behind Swanson was to pursue the idea that female characters in video games could be something other than sword-wielding ninja bitches and cute, approachable tomboys. We set out to make her a damsel in distress – the player’s intentionally cliché mission being to rescue her – without falling into the trap of making her appear weak, or pissing him off with fetch quests…

Read on…

About Tom Jubert

Tom Jubert is a freelance games writer / narrative designer, best known for his work on the Penumbra series, for which he was nominated for a Writers' Guild Award. His upcoming releases include Lost Horizon and Driver: San Francisco. He was previously the Managing Editor at, and has also spent time in production.