Larger-Than-Life Live Action: Character Design in a Mobile Game

The Making of  Colonel Ling: Creating a Live Action Character

 

How do you make a character that drives the entire narrative of a game? What goes into the personality, design and execution? Character design is always a difficult process in game creation, making a believable character for players to identify with can either make or break a game. Taking inspiration from AAA games and bringing a live-action element to a mobile game is a rarely attempted feat, and Fantastic, yes faced it head-on. Returner 77 featured one key character other than the player, Colonel Ling.

For Returner 77, Colonel Ling leaves video logs scattered across the ship that help the player along their way, and tell the story of how Ling fought her way through the ship in the hopes of completing her mission. In this blog series, we will dive into what went into designing Ling as a character, what it’s like to cast an actor in a video game and how we are creating the full live-action video clips for Returner Zhero.

As an indie studio, we had the full control of creating our characters. When designing a character from scratch the exploration process is crucial in finding what works. That means many iterations of sketching, brainstorming, and creative definitions.

 

Video polaroids concept

Very early on in the concept phase of the Returner 77 our creative director had strong ideas about what the character Colonel Ling should be like. The process started with a list of characteristics that were then woven into a walking, talking person who we could cast an actor to embody:

– Focused as a soldier in combat

– Sigourney Weaver style cool

– Human, but not affectionate

– Has seen the end of the world – and lost everybody she loved

– On a mission, but needed to be a fascinating character to the player so a little splash of charm was important

-A hardass on a mission, with a hint of a smile, humor deep down below

 

After weeks of discussions, sketches and scribbles, Colonel Ling was born:

Having a list of characteristics is one thing, taking those and weaving them into a believable character is another. Once the list is created, the difficult task of taking a bullet list translating it into how someone looks and talks begins. Even though it isn’t shown anywhere in Returner 77, there are several pages of backstory on Ling. The backstory covers everything from where she grew up to how she got involved in the Returner program. A story of a young woman determined to be the CEO of CNSA (Chinese National Space Agency) who climbed the ranks of a program dedicated to saving Earth after the aliens arrived was brought to life. Even though the details of who Colonel Ling is aren’t part of the main story of Returner 77, they served as a backdrop to decide exactly who we wanted to cast as the Colonel.

 

How did we translate live-action casting logic to video game production?

If you’ve been following our development journey you know already that Fantastic, yes doesn’t like to play by standard game development rules. We wanted to have the player feel that Ling was a real person. It was important to us to create a strong connection because this character is one of the only human survivors other than yourself. The decision was clear that we should do something a little unconventional and cast a live actor to play Colonel Ling. The impact of seeing an actual person in the video logs felt like the perfect contrast to the loneliness of the game environment that is communicated through the expansive empty halls and the sound design of the game.

Live action casting involves the daunting task of taking your dream character and evaluating actors that could potentially take up that role. The process involves seeing past things that are modifiable like the hairstyle, clothing, etc. of the person and seeing the potential there. Ling is inspired by some of the great characters not only in sci-fi movies and shows, but in games as well. The extra pool of inspiration of game-characters gave us an extra boost in knowing what we wanted.

The studio did a wide sweep looking for someone who fit the description of Ling, which was a quite wide net at first. Enon Chia just stood out to our co-found David Fellah. David said that Chia stood out to him because “She looked badass”, which given the characteristics list was exactly what we wanted. The rest is history, and Chia was brought on to continue the role of Colonel Ling for Returner Zhero. Returner Zhero expanded the role from just polaroid video logs to full live-action first-person perspective video cutscenes, where Ling interacts with Returner Zhero. We flew Chia to Copenhagen on short notice to have her fill the role.

 

Take a peek of the behind-the-scenes of the shoot:

Enon standing in for test lighting and sound

 

To see the full behind the scenes, come back next week to read about the live-action capture for Returner Zhero.

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