How to Make Good Game Characters and Art: Add Iconic Features

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Iconic Features: How to Make a Good Game Character

We are sure you have a favourite game. No matter what genre it is, what mechanics it has, you still remember some visuals elements of this game. Those memorable elements are iconic features that sell the game to the players.

The goal of iconic features is to make the audience interested or intrigued about the visuals, narrative, mechanics and the game itself. It may be unrealistic, purely decorative or even considered as dumb, but it still must be unique and standing out. But what we can call an iconic feature? And how to make them in your game? Let’s figure it out.

Iconic features in game art

For better explanation we will use an example — NieR: Automata. This game is a sequel to the not so famous NieR: Replicant. Its publisher Square Enix was expecting a 1 million of sold copies, but instead got 3 millions in the first year and 4,5 millions in total. To tell the truth, the game has many flaws: boring combat, backtracking and almost no gameplay progression. So why did the players buy it? Because of eye catching art design.

The main character called 2B is a beautiful android in a revealing dress, but her iconic feature isn’t a dress — it’s the white hair and blindfold. Second playable character 9S wears a blindfold too. So after playing NieR: Automata every character concept art with blindfold will give you a NieR flashback.

2b game art

Other visuals are greatly designed too: enemy robots design looks simple and mesmerizing, some locations like Ruined Amusement Park deserve to be painted on canvas and we also have a hacking minigame stylized into a top down shooter.

Another example of an iconic feature is the hidden blade from Assassin’s Creed series. Many games had some kind of arm-mounted blades, from BloodRayne (2002) to Doom Eternal (2020). But we all know about assassin’s hidden blade because how good it was made and presented in the game.  You’ve never seen this character, but you know she’s assassin because she has iconic hidden blades

assassin's creed game art

The same concept of iconic detail is used in every popular game, no matter if it is an AAA console exclusive or F2P mobile game.

How to add a iconic feature to your art

At first, think about what the player will see for the 90% of gameplay. There may be three things: character, enemies and NPCs or surroundings.

Iconic features for game characters must be either in gameplay or visual design. If it’s visual, then it must be connected with the story. For example, in said NieR: Automata characters with blindfold saw no truth and characters with mouth masks told no truth. Only those with clear faces knew what’s going on in year 11 945. And the simplified robot design corresponds with the story too.

machines from nier automata art design

Kratos from God of War made his red tattoos in memory of his younger brother. And Lara Croft has an iconic ponytail which means nothing but “I’m ready for a dirty job”. If the game rt is tied to gameplay, it still must be visible like a “hidden” blade from Assassin’s Creed, Blades of Chaos from God of War or hi-tech bow from Crysis.

Iconic enemies and NPCs may be in every game which isn’t meant to be realistic. Although it’s almost impossible to create a new “class” of enemies which would not be like typical demons, orcs or soldiers. But you still can give them unique visual design to make them stand out from other games.

Examples of good game art design

For example, Doom series has Cacodemon — a big red flying thing with a single eye and a bad habit of spitting plasma. Other demons in Doom are mostly generic and there are many of similar spawns in Diablo or Hellgate: London. But Cacodemon became the face of Doom series, the most recognizable one.

cacodemon art

Iconic surroundings are the levels with unique design or visual style. Like with the character design, game developers must concentrate on the location where the player will spend the most time. For example, it may be a hub zone with shops, quest givers and passages to other locations. The developer’s task is to make this zone easy to navigate and somehow unique. This concept was mastered by From Software in Dark Souls and Bloodborne:

  • in Dark Souls 1 the hub location has a giant crow sitting on ruins, which is clearly visible from any point of the location;
  • in Dark Souls 2 the hub is the only sunny and warm level in the game;
  • in Dark Souls 3 it is big shrine where you can hear the blacksmith doing his job;
  • in Bloodborne it is a little house surrounded with flowers.

If your game doesn’t have the hub location, you can focus on the first few levels, a tutorial level or the soundtrack. Try to play with contrast to make a specific level to stand off from other levels in your game.

How to make a good game art feel iconic instead of gimmicky

First of all, the iconic element is just one powerful detail which makes the object unique. You don’t want to make a game character look like a mess just because you found the unique combination of glasses, face scars and tattoos. So add only one thing which will give a character it’s soul, just like the blindfold in NieR: Automata.

Want to hear a secret? Main character 2B uses the same 3D-model as other playable character 2A. But 2A doesn’t have a blindfold on her face and is much less memorable than 2B.

nier automata game design

And what makes the Cacodemon from Doom so unique? One big green eye. No other monster in this game is a cyclops and that’s why everyone remembers Cacodemon and not the Baron of Hell.

So to make a character unique you have to give it one visible detail that no other character has: hat with feather, red glasses, interesting hairstyle or something else. Just be sure that this element is the only one of its kind in the whole game.

Second thing to create an iconic element is to use simple geometrical shapes like rectangles, triangles and circles. For example, Pyramidhead from Silent Hill has a big triangular pyramid on its head. And it looks more impressive than disgusting nurses or other monsters. Igor from Persona series has a round shape and very long triangular nose and most players have no trouble remembering him.

japanese game art design

Same rules may be used for the level design. Most iconic levels have simple “corridor” level design or at least look like corridors. Anor Londo from Dark Souls 1 allows the player to see his final destination, the Palace, from the beginning of the location.

The easy way to make good game characters

The easiest way to create something unique is to use game art outsource. We have such designers capable of creating not just characters, but the iconic ones.

We can create unique characters, NPCs, enemies, items, locations and art. Contact us, explain your idea and we are ready to work.


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