Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Forgotten Protagonist - Kate Walker

*Fair notice - While this post contains no direct spoilers, it does allude to the plot of Syberia*

I know that talk for strong female characters in games in a well worn topic by now. It gets to the point where you feel like you\re flogging a dead horse since we can kick and scream all we like, but the past shall remain the same and we will continue to see shallow female characters in games.

However I feel that there some really great games are forgotten. Games that already said, yeah we can have intelligent female characters in our games, they can even be the main protagonist, no bother. So I feel I should go ahead and mention them, since when I seem to talk about them with my friends, consisting of almost entirely other game developers, they've never even heard of them!

So first, Syberia. A point and click adventure game from 2002. Developed by Microïds for PS2, Xbox and of course the humble PC, home of the point and click. We follow the tribulations and transformation of our protagonist, Kate Walker. She is an American lawyer sent to a dying ghost town in the French countryside to seal a deal of  the purchase of a toy factory there, from owner Anna Voralberg, who's funeral Ms. Walker stumbles upon when she arrives in the village. Valailène and it's residents are in complete contrast to our modern "yuppie" lead. Kate is efficient and business focused, causing her to often be distant and dismissive of the slower paced villagers. While trying to stop her deal from going down the pan, she is often harassed by her boss: Edward Marson, fiance; Dan Foster and co-worker and close friend; Olivia via her cell phone. Her boss threatening her with "close the deal or don't bother coming back". Dan complaining about her putting her work before him while complaining that she is going to miss the Goldberg's dinner to improve his career and making general demands for change in her behaviour. Then there's Olivia, kind of annoying and someone who turns out to perhaps not have Kate's interests at heart. Needless to say this is a lady with a lot on her plate. It would be a lot for any person, regardless of gender. As a result we get to see Kate as a fully developed character.

As her adventure continues, Kate must go look for the heir of the Voralberg factory; Anna's brother Hans, in order to sign the factory over to it's new owners. A journey from which we see vast changes in our protagonist. Kate is trying to live that very typical dream of most modern women, the "woman who has it all" type if you will. High flyer with a great job, supportive friends and a loving partner. However, as Kate travels further into the depths of Europe, heading towards to more desolate and distant lands of Eastern Europe, the more she realises that perhaps these things aren't as important as she thought. She stops letting her boss walk all over. She sees Dan's selfish ways and him not being the man she thought. She even takes news of Olivia's poor judgement and it hardly leaves a scratch.

I feel that Kate's physical attributes should be mentioned here also. Mostly due to the fact she is very understated. A fixed white coat, fixed brown trousers and flat winter boots. A beautiful face and brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. Practical while still looking feminine and sophisticated. As a character artist, I personally like going for outlandish outfits in my own work. It takes a lot of restraint and respect for the character, their story and the game as a whole to make a character that is so "of this world". She is an aesthetically pleasing character, but she is never the victim of the male gaze. The camera doesn't leer nor is she animated in a provocative manner. Two things that can render a thoughtfully and well crafted female protagonist into a character that panders to the assumed "white, heterosexual male" audience of videogames.

At the beginning of Syberia, I wasn't Kate's biggest fan. I'm sure anyone has played Syberia will tell you the same. But the more we get to know her, the more we learn about the people in her life, we realise how that woman who seems to have it all together? She's just like the rest of us. We actively see her grow and change. See the changes in our she interacts with her environment and the rest of the characters. Something that we rarely see, regardless of the gender of our protagonists.

It's not a perfect game by any stretch, after all what game is, but it was certainly an experience that has stuck with me for a long time. So if you are a fan of games with unique and interesting stories, especially if you are an adventure game fan. I would very much recommend you give this forgotten gem a whirl.

Big News

Hey all,

I've got some big news....



Yeah so this was a big decision for me. I've really enjoyed my time at Traveller's Tales over the past year and a half. But with losing my dad at the beginning of this year. I've found that being so far away from my family really tough going. I also terrible for always wanting to be learning new things and experimenting with those new skills. However due to the way that AAA game development works, there just isn't the time for these types experimentation.

The final straw was being asked by one of my best friends, game designer Anna Harakopoulos if I wanted to accompany her on some travelling in 2013. And who was I to say no! So on the 1st of January I'm heading off to New Zealand, then onto Australia. I'm going to be back at the beginning of March so I'm not completely falling off the radar. But it'll be a great break and looking forward to a completely new experience very much outside of my comfort zone.

I slowly am getting various plans lined up for all the indie fun when I get back in March. But just in case you are making games and need a "Wielder of the sacred pen of Wacom" for 2D or 3D art based goodies for your project do get in touch. I'm planning on getting started on my dream of making an adventure game. I'm super excited and will keep you all updated as things progress.