The Character Fleet Sheet
When creating new characters for a game, the people on your team require a lot of clarity, they’ll have lots of questions and there’ll be many facets that need to be covered in the delivery of its information.
For this, I started creating FLEET SHEETS for new concepts.
Before I go into what a Fleet Sheet is, let me explain a little about a process I go through…a lot.
When coming up with new concepts, there’s a large amount of soul searching, intense and lax moments of clarity, internet scouring and a ton of material consumption happening and it’s hard to shut off.
For this process, I’ve started using OneNote more than ever, to help collate information. I can quickly type up notes, drag in images, add video or audio clips into a central area, creating what is essentially, a creative collage of thought.
The more I use it, the more I found it to be a great central repository for information, not just for me, but for the team. Rather than transferring that information into separate documents or internal wikis (such as Confluence), I shared the link to my OneNote Notebook with the team. It’s in the cloud and heavily collaborative based, so the team can clearly see what I’ve changed, other people can update it, too, and it generally handles multi-user collaborations well.
Anyways, back to the Fleet Sheet.
I wanted to provide an example character design, to set the expectations for all characters in our new game. With this in mind, I started the idea of the Fleet Sheet; a one-stop shop for all the core information on a character.
So What’s In A Fleet Sheet?
Pretty much everything you need to know to help start the creation of a game asset, and this case, I’ll outline a character one; this is your characters’ creative brief and it is your pitch to the team. Not only does it outline written details of your character, it should also contain images to help visualize them as quickly as possible.
You’ll know you’re hitting the mark if people see the images, read the name and design goals, and become partially on-board with the idea, before you even utter a word.
I’m not going to go too deep into the Fleet Sheet process here (as I’ll be doing follow up posts which step through the creative process, with an example Fleet Sheet), but here’s the general information within them:
- Design Goals – what is the reasoning for creating this character, for this game
- Race (if applicable)
- Faith (if applicable)
- Skin Color
- Character – this covers their personality, general traits, philosophies etc.
- Role (if applicable) – how does their function fit into a team/group situation and which part do they play in it
- Visuals – a description of the character, including clothing, body posture, motion characteristics,
- Story – a brief concept about who they are and where they’re from
- Why This Character Feels Good – explain the high points of the experience you want players to have, setting this will also keep your thoughts straight in the functionality area. For instance, “precision sniper & perfectionist”
- Drawbacks/Deficiencies – to know a character and its functionality, you should also highlight what doesn’t work for them (it will also help you define them better)
- List of actions and animations (I also create diagrams to help sell the characters core actions)
- Passive attributes (if applicable)
As you start to get art concepts going for your character, you can start to remove your reference images and begin to make it a truer representation of what the character becomes. It’ll also become a great resource for new hires, marketing etc.
How You Do Anything, Is How You Do Everything
I use this term a lot, and why it resonates so deeply with me, is because you need to understand why and how a character would do the simplest thing, to understand how they’d deal with something much more complex, or new.
If you understand the core of the character, then you’ll have all the answers to the questions the team, and the game, will throw at you.
As an example to this, I want to share a very quick process with you for defining character animations.
I’ve worked with many talented animators, each having a unique way to work, but all having some level of knowledge about how Disney and Pixar work on their characters. One process they use (or have used), is the idea of having all their main characters do something incredibly simple, such as open a door and enter a room, or walk over to a chair and sit down.
This all sounds very mundane and simple, but it is here that the knowledge of a character is really put on show. At 5th Cell, we used this process on Project Carbon, and had our main characters open a door and enter inside.
The results were great and very telling!
One character slowly itched up to the door, as if trying to keep out of sight, slightly opened the door and slowly seeped into the room, closing the door behind himself. Another, run right up and shoulder barged through the door and into the room….and so on.
If you create the right Fleet Sheet, animators, concept artists, writers, sound and vfx people will all be able to do their work more effectively, as they can visualize how the character “does anything”, and get you to the results you want, quicker.
I want to go through this process by designing a new character for an existing game (not one of mine), explaining my choices and reasoning behind the thought processes. I play League of Legends a lot, so I may do a Fleet Sheet for a new Champion.