"After watching your review of Darksiders, I looked up some character sketches, and thought to myself, 'Hmm... Looks like Joe Madureira's work.' Turns out he was the creative director for the game... almost everything that guy draws is over-developed and complicated."
- Geoff Colbath, via email
Many thanks to Geoff Colbath for doing my research for me and helping me avoid writing an introduction for this article. Yes, it seems the lead artist for Darksiders responsible for the style of character design that apparently involves throwing pieces of armor at a character with a tennis ball launcher cut his teeth in the comic book industry. Which sort of makes sense. Comic book art is about exploding huge creative ejaculations across the page to help lull the reader out of the doze that the 16 pages of adverts put them in. And besides, comic book stories exist in their own reality, the kind of place where a character can bash out a 200 word monologue in the time it takes to leap across a room.
But videogame design is another matter entirely. With the issues of game play balance, flow and intuitivity added to the mix, character design requires more thought. War's appearance is the epitome of ridiculous, overblown outfits that seem to be trying to make 14-year-old retards blurt out words like "AWESOME" in between spit bubbles and clouds of Cheeto dust. Characters like War, most varieties of power armor space marine and the entire casts of several Final Fantasy games suffer from a severe case of over-design.
Any defenders reading this are strongly advised to not respond to this article with the phrase "Well, I think he looks cool." This has nothing to do with subjective aesthetics. It's not that he's ugly - although he most definitely is - it's impractical. The outfit is meaningless. It tells us nothing about the character. And in a game scenario, when the player needs to recognize visuals quickly, you need to think about color scheme, silhouette, and whether or not the details will just blur together into a big mess when viewed from a distance; none of which, I suspect, were considered when designing War.
I've managed to acquire one of the War dollies collectible figurines, and I'd like to illustrate my issues by comparing War's design to some other, better game characters.
1. The Sniper (Team Fortress 2)
Appearance: Tall, slim build. Open-necked shirt and hunter vest with rifle shells on right breast. Sunglasses. Grim, frowning set to features. Slouch hat.
Evaluation: Team Fortress 2 is basically a crash course in excellent character design, wonderfully combining practicality with personality. The vest (and more importantly, massive fuck-off sniper rifle) give the immediate impression of a hunter, while the smart, casual clothes indicate a relaxed, professional attitude. Yet the dark glasses and jowly, downturned mouth make him seem somewhat cold and world-weary. He'll shoot you because that's his job, and he's done it far too often for a little death like yours to bother him. The hat also gives a very distinctive silhouette that can be instantly told apart from the other TF2 classes even at a distance, which is exactly where he'll kill you from.
2. Kratos (God of War)
Appearance: Heavily-built white-skinned man, with a huge, uneven red stripe tattooed down the left side of his head and torso. Red skirt. Blades attached to wrists with chains. Sandals and shin guards.
Evaluation: The skirt and footwear immediately indicate the ancient historical setting. The white skin is part of Kratos' backstory, while also making him very distinct among crowds of attacking enemies. The chains on his arms symbolize his servitude to higher beings. The general absence of other clothing makes him seem all the more brutal and animalistic. Here, it says, is a man unafraid of pain. That's especially obvious from the tattoo - you might want to look into some of the ancient tattooing methods from history, then imagine doing that to most of your face.