Lichdom: Battlemage wants to introduce the idea of a mage as the ultimate magical badass, and the game’s combat works well based on our time with the game. The game’s story, and the team’s approach to character, is just as fascinating, although we have yet to see much of in action.
The game’s writing duties were split down the center, a male writer was in charge of the male character, and a female writer was given control of the female character.
"You can choose to play as a male protagonist or a female protagonist," Josh Van Veld, the game’s producer, told Polygon. "If you choose the male, then that character has a certain personality. Your companion, the Gryphon, who is a scout, she has a certain personality. If you choose the other way, the personalities remain intact. Each gender has their set personality."
The characters, their voice actors and their basic personalities are in the game no matter which hero you pick. The male character is given the female scout in the game's story, and if you choose a female character you have the benefit of the male scout.
The writing is being handled by Laurie Zolkosky and Ethan Skemp, who are also content designers. Troy Baker and Jennifer Hale will be providing the voice acting for their respective genders. No one worked alone.
The relationship matters as much as the characters
The choice of gender actually occurs in-game, as there is a character in Lichdom that chooses their battlemage at the beginning of the game, making your decision narratively significant. Who that character could be, and why they’re choosing a battlemage to send into the world to fight on their behalf, are mysteries you’ll solve as you play.
It all begins to sound like a house of cards: Each writer was given control of their character, allowing them to find a very specific voice, both literally and figuratively. Whether you’re playing as the female character as your hero or you choose the male hero and the woman becomes your scout, it’s the same personality talking about what’s going on in the game, voiced by Jennifer Hale. The characters remain consistent, no matter their role. The female hero will be given a male scout, voice by Troy Baker if you go that route.
"What we've done, instead of writing the script to be gender neutral and then record it one way and then record it in the reverse, we wrote every single conversation so that it is from the point of view of the character that you decide upon," Van Veld explained.
"The plot points are the same, the story unfolds in the same way, but the delivery is very different.," he continued. "There’s an incentive to play it both ways if you want to, but more importantly for us, if you’re a female player, or just value a female character, we've tried to go at it from the perspective that this is a person who is coming from a female mindset."
The characters and writing rely on each other in the game, and that reliance carried through to the creation of the story. The team spent a significant amount of time making sure the two characters didn’t just work singly, but as a team. If one of the writers had an idea for conversation they would get in touch with the other through instant message, and they would role-play the conversation in order to develop both the story, and the characters.
"We’ve tried to go at it from the perspective that this is a person who is coming from a female mindset"
They would act out each scene in text, testing each character to find their personality. The male writer would write a line without knowing how the female writer would react, and those interactions helped them refine the dialog and the interplay between the characters.
There was no one vision for how these two personalities would interact and bounce off each other; the dynamic was found in the process of writing the game, and the two writers had to come together to figure out what worked in terms of both character and the relationship between their respective characters.
That process didn't end with writing, Troy Baker and Jennifer Hale then came together in the same voice acting sessions so they could record their lines with each other, using the performance of the other actor to guide their own responses.
"They were dialoging back and forth, doing ad-libs, making sure the lines are great," Van Veld said.
This is similar to how Naughty Dog handles dialog, and the process tends to reward studios who are willing to put in the time and money to bring the voice actors and writers together. This allows for a more natural feel to the character interactions, the dialog and how the story is presented to the player.
Everyone is able to grow the character's personality, and bring them to life using the other voice actor and writer to work against. It's a natural, performance-based system that allows for creativity.
It’s hard to tell how well it worked; almost none of the story was discussed during our meeting and I wasn’t able to hear any of the voice acting. Still, this is good news for fans who are interested in games that provide a little more context to their characters, and the team behind Lichdom is obviously taking care to make sure their characters feel as real as possible.