There’s been a lot of talk recently around the role of women in games and in the industry. Some have criticized the lack of female characters or the portrayal of these characters in videogames, Anita Sarkeesian being probably the most vocal and visible one. Questions like: why are female characters more often than not depicted in oversexualized form, or why are they reduced to secondary support characters are very common. It has even been questioned if male designers are able to create a female character that doesn’t look like coming straight from an adult magazine. The most recent example can be seen when Square Enix had to defend the design of Cindy.
Cindy in Final Fantasy XV – My mechanic doesn’t look like this.
The design of the main character in a game is often a marketing decision rather than a design or artistic one. AAA studios need to create characters that sell, apparently that often means a badass male hero or an oversexualized female one. Indie studios aren’t bound by these constraints. Don’t get me wrong, we do want to sell, but we want to do it making a game that fits our artistic vision not something designed based on the outputs of a market analysis.
When we started developing the story of Dimension Drive and defining the lead character we decided to make it a woman. Some people ask us why? A simple answer would be “why not?”. A longer answer would be that a woman fits the story and the plot elements we want to explore. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that we want to tackle certain family relations and feelings that need the lead character to be a woman. We are an all male team and we are creating a female character that will not resort to oversexualization.
Sergi Cardo (our illustrator) was tasked with the design and art style of Jackelyne (a.k.a. Jack). We discussed with Sergi the story of Dimension Drive, we gave him plenty of inputs on Jack’s traits and character and provided him with examples of other female characters for reference. Jack is supposed to be a mix between a space pilot and a fighter. She’s the last survivor of her race that has been obliterated by these cruel multidimensional aliens. She’s strong, cunning, intelligent and in a quest for revenge. This is the first concept of Jack based on all our inputs.
We immediately loved that design, her face was already spot on and Sergi managed to capture what we wanted. That concept also made us take the decision to ditch the helmet. We wanted players to be able to relate to Jack, covering her face was not a good idea to achieve that. This decision also impacted the design of the ship’s cabin. Instead of going for a typical jet fighter cockpit design we went for a more open design similar to Star Trek bridge but in smaller size.
The next step was creating Jack’s suit. We wanted something functional and that would be realistic. That of course meant that going for a bikini armor kind of suit was out of the question. Jack is a space pilot so a light fabric suit could be an option. However, she’s also a fighter and a more armored outfit would be necessary. In the end a trade-off was the solution.
That concept triggered a (heated) discussion in the team about Jack’s hair and suit colors. And this happened.
After a lot of debate, we couldn’t decide between black hair or red hair so we went for a mix of both and the suit with neon green lights. Sergi worked on several poses for Jack to be used in the promo art of the game. Based on all of that and with a lot of research of other female characters we went for a pose similar to the first one and inspired by the solo poster of Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy.
The final design of Jack
So, how do you create a non-oversexualized female charactare being an all male dev team? It’s not that difficult actually, just create her thinking about a real human woman and design her in a realistic way.
PS: If you want to know more about Jack and Dimension Drive. We are now on Kickstarter.