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Forum Home > BIRKIN'S LABORATORY > Value of a faceless protagonist

Survivalist
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Posts: 104



Recently, I have been thinking about the importance of character substance in protagonists, particularly in Resident Evil, and in survival horror generally. I'm wondering what peoples' thoughts are on this. Is it problematic if an RE protagonist has an underdeveloped character, or if their involvement seems incidental or contrived? Does that compromise the experience? Or, can it conversely be at all precarious if their character and intentions are made explicit throughout?

June 22, 2015 at 1:24 PM Flag Quote & Reply

George Trevor
Site Owner
Posts: 1087

This is particularly pertinent to Resident Evil I feel, because without being to precious about the series & taking it too seriously, I have always enjoyed & defended Resident Evil for complementing deep atmospheric game-play with equally deeply realised, multi-dimensional characters, worthy of being protagonists (and antagonists & peripheral characters) within this intelligent genre.


Check out Joe Whyte's erudite perspective on the relationship between his character Chris Redfield & Albert Wesker, articulated between himself & Wesker's actor Peter Jessop on the Crimson Head Elder Podcast File#4 (released tonight!); which highlights the importance for the series integrity to have such multi-dimensional protagonists, and with an equally developed antagonist to play off.


Unfortunately, as you will also hear on all of our interviews with the Resident Evil actors, including Catherine Disher, Riva Di Paola, Ed Smaron, and Michelle Ruff, the enormous, and possibly unprecedented amongst video games (?), level of character biography & history, that not just the protagonists enjoy, but significantly the peripheral characters (Dario Ross et al - (I enjoyed that reference a little too much)) do too, is never furnished on these actors during their preparation and recording sessions. When asked to voice the character of Richard Aiken, Joe Whyte was never privy to his back-story, including the loss of his sister and the consequence the circumstance of that loss had on his character development. Nor was he given any basic details on Chris Redfield's main biography. Or the more reason I believe to admire the fine performances of the voice actors, especially in Resident Evil Zero & REmake.


In our aforementioned 4th anniversary podcast Peter Jessop talks about the value in playing Wesker during the early Spencer mansion scenes from the perspective of an honest, sincere protagonist, as seen by the genuine protagonists that surround Wesker, rather than commencing immediately from the point of view of deceitful antagonist, and that this is what lends credence & integrity to his character and pointedly to the game-play too. So Peter Jessop defiantly considered it precarious for Wesker's intentions to be made explicit from start to finish/throughout.


It is that extraordinary (& unprecedented?) level of character biography, the Resident Evil files being a wonderful vehicle to bring us this info, that pulls me into the series so deeply & inspires my fandom commitment so as to forgive Capcom Resident Evil 4 (to some extent forgiveness is needed in my opinion), 5 and 6.


I left out an official Resident Evil actor from our list because I wanted to place particular attention to the highly insightful & fascinating commentary, that Morpheus D Duvall actor Angus Waycott delivers during our exclusive interview with him, where he kindly talks for the first time about his experience bringing this extraordinary character to life. His referencing the significance of Joseph Wisemans's portrayal of Dr No (in the film of the same name), and the fictional character Carl Peterson (from book series Bulldog Drummond) on his performance of Morpheus Duvall, and the effect the relationship these characters had with their respective protagonists (James Bond and Bulldog Drummond) is really fascinating and I think we as the Crimson Head Elder community are privileged to have such a deep & personal window into the Resident Evil actor's understanding for their realisation of an antagonist. A short excert of this character study by Angus Waycott has been uploaded below ~


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Jessica... Lisa... Forgive me. May god justify my death in exchange for your safety.

June 23, 2015 at 4:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SamuraiEdge
Moderator
Posts: 184

I believe that a protagonist can have an underdeveloped character or just be shoehorned in and not affect the experience. What a character goes through and how they react and what actions they do is enough to speak volumes for them. Take the game D2 for the Dreamcast for example. The main character does not speak for the entire game nor does she really have any character progression, but how she handles everything in her experience makes me care for her deeply. Characters such as these can even have a much more powerful image than even a well developed character who fits well in their situation. It requires perfect execution to accomplish this though and I have seen more failures in it than success. I would love to see a completely mute character in future Biohazard titles and wish luck to whoever tackles this. I would love to see maybe a survivor of the Raccoon City incident who got out and became a BSAA member but due to the traumatic experience he/she does not talk much anymore. They can do a lot of interesting things using that background as a base.

June 23, 2015 at 4:43 PM Flag Quote & Reply

NEMESIS
Member
Posts: 183

SamuraiEdge at June 23, 2015 at 4:43 PM

I believe that a protagonist can have an underdeveloped character or just be shoehorned in and not affect the experience. What a character goes through and how they react and what actions they do is enough to speak volumes for them. Take the game D2 for the Dreamcast for example. The main character does not speak for the entire game nor does she really have any character progression, but how she handles everything in her experience makes me care for her deeply. Characters such as these can even have a much more powerful image than even a well developed character who fits well in their situation. It requires perfect execution to accomplish this though and I have seen more failures in it than success. I would love to see a completely mute character in future Biohazard titles and wish luck to whoever tackles this. I would love to see maybe a survivor of the Raccoon City incident who got out and became a BSAA member but due to the traumatic experience he/she does not talk much anymore. They can do a lot of interesting things using that background as a base.

Was going to completely disagree with this until I carried on reading your example of D2 and it reminded me a bit of the style utilized in ICO. I have not even played D2 but the way you describe it conjured up a feeling that it may be comparable to ICO? Games like this do project powerful features onto an otherwise silent or unassuming character that may at first come across dull.


Your character silenced by a biohazard apocalypse I love considerably, cant see it ever happening though outside of Japan, maybe as a download long after a NTSC(J) release perhaps. The trauma of living through Raccoon City's final days would be enough to quieten even the most audible of citizens, it would work nicely as the background for such an affliction.

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STAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRS

June 26, 2015 at 2:09 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SamuraiEdge
Moderator
Posts: 184

NEMESIS at June 26, 2015 at 2:09 PM

SamuraiEdge at June 23, 2015 at 4:43 PM

I believe that a protagonist can have an underdeveloped character or just be shoehorned in and not affect the experience. What a character goes through and how they react and what actions they do is enough to speak volumes for them. Take the game D2 for the Dreamcast for example. The main character does not speak for the entire game nor does she really have any character progression, but how she handles everything in her experience makes me care for her deeply. Characters such as these can even have a much more powerful image than even a well developed character who fits well in their situation. It requires perfect execution to accomplish this though and I have seen more failures in it than success. I would love to see a completely mute character in future Biohazard titles and wish luck to whoever tackles this. I would love to see maybe a survivor of the Raccoon City incident who got out and became a BSAA member but due to the traumatic experience he/she does not talk much anymore. They can do a lot of interesting things using that background as a base.

Was going to completely disagree with this until I carried on reading your example of D2 and it reminded me a bit of the style utilized in ICO. I have not even played D2 but the way you describe it conjured up a feeling that it may be comparable to ICO? Games like this do project powerful features onto an otherwise silent or unassuming character that may at first come across dull.


Your character silenced by a biohazard apocalypse I love considerably, cant see it ever happening though outside of Japan, maybe as a download long after a NTSC(J) release perhaps. The trauma of living through Raccoon City's final days would be enough to quieten even the most audible of citizens, it would work nicely as the background for such an affliction.

ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are two other great examples. Laura in D2 was just amazing, I highly recommend for you to play D2 or at least watch a playthrough if you can't get access to it. D2 if very comparable to those two games and even more so since there is more interaction with various other great characters.

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June 26, 2015 at 9:09 PM Flag Quote & Reply

WiskUK
Member
Posts: 90

The video game genre as a whole is awash with one dimensional generic characters, Capcom are by no means the most guilty but they're right up there and the direction they've taken the series in, that's been a huge part of my adolescent life, has been nothing short of scandalous. Their reliance on stock characters with no substance to fill the most recent Resident Evil titles, all pathetic excuses for a survival horror game, has driven me to ignore all installments in the series since Gun Survivor 4: Heroes Never Die, the last great survival horror release from Capcom. So yeah you could say that these weak generic place holders compromise the Resident Evil experience for me, considerably so. Another reason why I laugh at those brainless graphic whores who bad mouth the first Survivor release, perhaps they just couldn't get their heads around the protagonist & antagonist roles in this game not being so straightforward & obvious from the start, and not having a fucking bromance like Chris & Piers.

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Take the Green Herb?

June 27, 2015 at 5:45 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Survivalist
Moderator
Posts: 104

It's very interesting to hear these viewpoints on the matter, since I have come to realise that the way I personally experience computer games, and particularly survival horror, has very much to do with how developed, or explicit a protagonist's character is. Certainly, most Resident Evil games feature a very strong narrative throughout, but I find that the protagonist in each case plays only a small role in the realisation of this narrative. For example, in RE2, Leon certainly has a role to play in Racoon City, but his character is very much a blank slate. Obviously, over the game, and more so the series, his character develops a great deal (for better or worse), but initially, the transparency of his character allows me to see through his character, and in fact be his character. If Leon were to take control of himself within the game by means of cut-scenes or distinctive observations, there would be something in the way of this, and it would be harder for me to assume his role. The same goes for Jill Valentine in RE3. This is why I appreciate the objective text observations when examining the environments and objects in an RE game; I am only told what I see, not how to see it.


In a similar way, despite its shortcomings, Resident Evil Survivor is such a great experience since Ark, despite having his own arc, is a wholly embryonic protagonist, and I have no choice but to project myself onto him.


This is one reason why I believe it can be dangerous to give a playable character highly distinctive character traits, as was the case for me being forced to play as Moira in RER2. I am nothing like Moira, and dislike people like her, and therefore I couldn't enjoy the experience when she was involved at all. Unfortunately, games in general seem to be shoving their characters in your face more and more. I'm not particularly fond fond, of "adventure" games anyway, but I found the "Uncharted" games impossible to play, because Nathan Drake constantly reminds me that I am playing as him, by wise-cracking at every possible juncture and therefore blocking my immersion into the game.


The real distinction is that when I play as a character who constantly reminds me that they are not me, the experience becomes much more objective, like watching a film. In this case, I have no issue in principle, but the film needs to be a good one. This is why, unlike with Moira, I loved playing as Barry, since he is such a great character, and I want to be a part of his experience. One thing that makes RE games, on the whole, so successful, is that the characters, both gd and bad, tend to be some combination of engaging, likeable and intriguing.


George Trevor, I completely agree with you about Wesker. It is vital that we are not privvy to all his actions and intentions. Then, there is always this "possibility space" in existence, which allows for interpretation and intrigue. This is why Ada is such a great character; she is defined by her lack of defintion. If you explain a joke, it loses its essence. Some things are best left unsaid.


NEMESIS, I haven't played D2, but would very much like to, after reading what you wrote. Your description of that game's protagonist immediately reminded me of Isaac, from the Dead Space series, who in the first game says nothing. The effect for me was that I was able to be Isaac, and experience the Ishimura entirely for myself. The experience would have been very much different, and in this case inferior, if I were constantly aware he was his own distinct personality. Similarly, the literally (well, until the very end) faceless protagonist of PT allows for a pure, unadulterated survival horror experience (4th wall issues aside). Generally, I believe there is value in both a faceless protagonist and a, well, faced one. For me, while not necessarily altering my enjoyment, it does perhaps alter nature of the experience.

June 28, 2015 at 1:19 PM Flag Quote & Reply

James Marcus
Member
Posts: 226

I hated the unbelievably far out narrative Capcom burdened Dr Marcus with for RE0 but I found the clear and simple motivation of revenge, and the way Marcus got to declare it to his enemies directly, at an early stage of the game, was a strong positive for developing tension into the story and gameplay, and for establishing an imposing antagonist. Sometimes these game developers over complicate the motives and back-story of their antagonists, to the point that as human beings they become so unrecognizable that as an audience we fail to understand or appreciate their value in the story and how they shape that thru their interaction with the gameplay. I prefer my protagonists complicated, mysterious and dark, and my antagonists clear, direct, pure and simple in their evil and revenge motives!

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I will have my revenge on Umbrella!

October 6, 2015 at 5:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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