Hey folks! Welcome to Designer Diaries where I, Luke Muench, will be walking you through my process for designing my entries into the Unmatched Design Challenge. This obviously is going to be a little different from our usual flavor of articles, so let us know your thoughts on how we can improve it in the comments below!
There are a few reasons why I wanted to start this series:
- To track my progress as I explored the nooks and crannies of one of my favorite games.
- To better explore my design methods and find some that perhaps don’t work as well as I think.
- To create a record of my designs so that, even if they aren’t chosen, I can still share my process with those who are curious.
- To better connect with the Unmatched community at large.
And I think, in the process of writing this article, I’ve already started to see progress on a few of these points, which is quite rewarding. But enough idle chit-chat! Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of what we’re talking about today.
Upon hearing about the contest, the first step, to me, was obvious; finding characters to work with. In retrospect, this so “obvious” first step should have likely been my 2nd or 3rd, but it was helpful in some ways to start to jog my brain about the types of things I could do with a character.
For me, every Unmatched character design starts with a core conceit, some feeling or gameplay style that I want to see represented in my design. I want to break this specific rule or bring this archetype into the game. Going back, I would likely consider some of the types of things I’d like to create rather than cherry-picking characters and designing for them later. As you’ll see, my first character design isn’t even one of those I methodically select down below! But I do think there were some benefits to the way I went about this.
There is a wide swathe of characters that someone could choose for their design, even with the limitations presented. As a reminder, the core limitations are:
But even with those very clearly laid-out statutes, I found some potential potholes I didn’t intend on stepping into.
For one, not all public domain characters are what you think they are. One of the best examples of this is the Wicked Witch of the West, a character I was heavily considering for this design process. She is listed under public domain, sure, but only her literary iteration. The film adaptation is, to put it lightly, very unfaithful to the original text. Her skin isn’t green, she doesn’t have a personal army of flying monkeys for most of the story (though they do appear briefly, they are more so forced laborers than obedient minions), and she has a habit of summoning various creatures.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal in most cases. Yes, many of the characteristics that we collectively think of in regard to this character were conjured up by the film, but that can be okay. The nail in the coffin for me, though, is her name. In the text, the Wicked Witch isn’t really given a specific name or title, meaning that “Wicked Witch of the West” is protected by the copyright of the film, which will last until 2035. That’s why she has various other names in the adaptations of the story, like Elphaba in Wicked.
So while I could design a perfectly good fighter around her character, there’s no guarantee that we could legally refer to her as “The Wicked Witch of the West” on the box, a limitation that could disqualify my entry on that basis alone. While I did get the go-ahead from Justin Jacobson, I ultimately didn’t want to take the risk.
The other big factor that I took into consideration is the marketability of the character. I wanted to pick someone that is known, recognizable, and have a knack for fighting. Sherlock Holmes has been cited by the design team in the Unmatched Discord chat for not traditionally seen as being a fighter in the sense this game brings to mind, but I think later adaptations of the hero, such as the film duology starring Robert Downey Jr., have made there a more popularized iteration of the character. The same can be said of Alice between the American McGee’s video game series and the Tim Butron films.
The last big factor, for me, was not falling into the trap of making a “joke” character. While there is a certain appeal to selecting a character that clearly isn’t a fighter and transforming them to fit in this game, I generally avoided a lot of the holiday characters or more lighthearted narratives. The Unmatched sets that have been released thus far have included heroes that, if altered, make sense in a combat-based setting, at least to my mind. So I wanted to be aware of how a character might be perceived if shifted in tone.
All of this reduced my count down to 6 characters, including the Wicked Witch (who was later scrapped due to everything I said above). And of those, 2 more were tossed away; Ali Baba and Van Helsing.
Ali Baba has a unique legend and interesting background to work with, especially with a strong, intelligent female sidekick, Morgianna. Unfortunately, Morgianna is a slave throughout the story, and though she’s granted her freedom, she is ultimately “rewarded” by being promised to Ali Baba’s son. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable promoting a slave-owner as one of the “heroes” players would aspire to be.
Van Helsing, on the other hand, would have been a good pick if not for the recently released Cobble and Fog. Being a set that exclusively came with English characters, I felt it redundant and somewhat shortsighted to submit another English character, especially one pulled from the narrative of Dracula, a character that was included in Cobble and Fog.
So, when all was said and done, I had 3 hero candidates that I decided to work with. Yes, I know, you can only submit 2 entries, but I wanted to have a back-up just in case things went awry. Those characters were:
- Captain Hook
- The Headless Horseman
Iconic? Yep. Visually striking? Sure. Interesting and well-known stories? You betcha. I felt ready to set out on my adventure with a plan under the belt.
… That is to say, until I came up with a character design that led me to a character hadn’t even intended on using; Hamlet. That’s the funny thing about design work; oftentimes, the mechanic will lead you in the direction you need to go more often than the theme will, at least in my experience.
So, next week, I’ll go into detail about what epiphany pointed me in this new direction and why I find myself so enamored with this new idea.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my ramblings! Let me know your thoughts below, as well as if you’re also intending on entering the contest. Which characters strike you as the no-brainers?
Looking forward to chatting with you next week!