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“Believable”: designing Remember Me’s Nilin

Thursday, 7th March 2013 08:28 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Remember Me’s Nilin is a member of a highly endangered species: an attractive, badass female protagonist who doesn’t exist just to be drooled over by lads. We chatted with Dontnod about the design process behind the leading lady.

Remember Me – Dontnod

This interview was conducted with Michel Koch, co-art director.

Remember Me is Dontnod’s first game, but the French studio has plenty of experience. It counts veterans of Criterion, Ubisoft and EA among its staff.

Originally planned as a PlayStation 3 exclusive, the project was snapped up by Capcom when Sony reluctantly bowed out.

Capcom volunteered Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono to help nail down the action gameplay. This Combo Lab walkthrough shows the game’s combat, which boasts 50,000 combos. Nevertheless, Dontnod isn’t keen on over the top violence.

Pat went to play Remember Me at Dontnod’s offices earlier this year, and had a ball with it.

“Our main goal was to create a believable character grounded in the now, but with the addition of strong sci-fi and cyberpunk characteristics. We wanted her to feel real and slightly casual, so yes we tried to avoid as much as we could the overly sexy approach,” Remember Me’s co-art director Michel Koch told me.

“I think that our industry is still constrained by codes, mostly the norm is to have a perfect character; male characters need to be brown-haired, muscular, have a bad shave and be very manly. Female characters need to be overly sexy, very thin and have a perfect face with no flaws.

“Of course Nilin is still beautiful, thin and we had to make her attractive, but we really tried to avoid the sexualized route, and I’m glad that you noticed it.”

I did notice it. Once you become aware of how many games are targeted at sex-crazy adolescent boys, it’s hard to stop seeing it. On the one hand, it turns working in games media into a constant battle for change (and with the subsequent depression), but the more positive bunch of fives is when someone like Nilin comes along, the sun breaks through the clouds.

Quite literally, in this case, because on top of its unusually human protagonist, Remember Me pops off the screen with its bold colour scheme, which is nowhere as obvious as is Nilin’s palette.

“We have three very important colours in the game – orange, black and white – which are used throughout and will have a special importance toward the end of the game. Orange is the colour associated with important memories, the type of memory you want to cherish and protect. It was important for us to have hints of saturated orange on Nilin’s design so you see them on the inside of her jacket, the centre of her senwall and the soles of her boots. In order to have these hints of orange pop out, it was important for the rest of her clothing to be less saturated and more subtle,” Koch explained.

“Black and white are also opposites, like yin and yang, and we wanted Nilin’s silhouette to be immediately visible with strong contrasts and the use of these colours provided a good visual flow in her design.”

I think we often underestimate how much work goes into getting the art style of a game just right; Koch’s comments hint at the amount of thought out into something as simple as a colour scheme. It seems so straight forward, but every aspect has to be just right, and the only way to get there is through iteration.

“We really wanted her to look like someone that could exist, something like your everyday character, not a super-heroine with clothing that nobody else would wear. We wanted the player to feel that they could know Nilin.”

“Mostly, the problem with our early versions of Nilin was that she wasn’t believable enough. In some versions she looked like a character in a body-armour suit from a space opera game, in some others she looked like a super-heroine with a costume rather than regular clothing,” Koch said.

“It just wasn’t working. We really wanted her to look like someone that could exist, something like your everyday character, not a super-heroine with clothing that nobody else would wear. Again since we are dealing with memories and intimacy, we really wanted the player to feel that they could know Nilin so we needed her to exhibit a more casual feeling.”

That’s why Nilin looks like she’s just strolled off a particularly fashionable street rather than from the pages of a science fiction comic. Remember Me’s future setting blends everyday elements with futuristic ones to ensure the game’s world and characters feel rooted in reality; a future you can believe in, because it could have grown organically from our present.

“That’s why she is wearing a very futuristic pair of combat boots, but it is immediately contrasting with a classic pair of blue jeans,” Koch added.

“Not only does this produce a nice visual contrast, but the jeans help make the futuristic elements believable. We took the same approach for her upper body where we contrast the futuristic gloves, her spammer and her senwall with a more everyday jacket and t-shirt.”

Perhaps its this believable fashion that made me start looking for a real-world equivalent to Nilin, but in some artworks her face has something of a suggestion of Noomi Rapace in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Koch denied a conscious resemblance, putting it down to coincidence, but acknowledged some similarities.

“I really like Noomi Rapace’s character, and I think that she is an excellent example of a great female character, with flaws, imperfections, and very much anchored in reality. She is not overly sexy or beautiful, at least not in the fashion magazine standards, but still very attractive, in the end she is very human.

Sorry, your princess left the castle and is out
looking for arses to kick.

“I guess that we tried to have the same approach with Nilin and maybe that’s why you found some resemblance at some points.”

In Stieg Larsson’s books, the narrator is the reader’s first point of contact, but Lisbeth is the heart of the story. In Remember Me, the player has a more immediate connection with Nilin, and she’s just as irreplaceable; Dontnod had a female character in mind right from the start. Unfortunately, the reasoning behind Nilin’s gender betray an unfortunate tendency to stereotype.

“Even if the setting is sci-fi and cyberpunk, Remember Me’s story is about intimacy and personal memories. It was always clear for us that a female character would work better for this story, adding more sensitivity and frailty to the whole tone of the game,” Koch said.

“Some of our keywords for the whole art direction were ‘elegant’, ‘subtle’ and ‘graceful’. We didn’t want too muscular characters, nor bulky environments or heavy machinery, and this point of view was developed in every aspect of the game – characters, environments, UI and visual effects, so in the end we never really thought about a male character, it wouldn’t fit our vision.”

I’m a little dismayed by the suggestion that men can’t represent the characteristics Nilin embodies, or that women can’t aspire to the opposite – but that’s a fight for another day. Today, I’m happy that Nilin is a powerful, attractive woman with her own goals who can keep her assets to herself. Let’s have more of this, games, and less of you assuming I want pornography 24/7.

Dontnod was kind enough to share some earlier concepts of Nilin, as well as some stunning general artwork and process materials, for this feature. You can find them all in the gallery below. Remember Me is due in June on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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13 Comments

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  1. mreko3230

    I guess it does say something when you notice they DON’T sexualize female characters. It was the first thing I noticed when they didn’t do it with the Izzy and Naya characters in the new game FUSE. You could almost say Izzy “has a big butt” by usual videogame character standards. Yes, the characters are attractive (like most female leads in a movie), but its not over the top and distracting. By contrast, the Dalton character in FUSE is that over the top, muscle-bound, bad shave guy that Koch is talking about.

    FUSE
    Izzy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9VmJrF3e_o
    Naya: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_Pw0BrekSA

    #1 1 year ago
  2. viralshag

    Is this bit of a joke then? So is she a totally different kind of smoking hot female lead?

    I’m just failing to see how they’re avoiding female characters that are “sexy, very thin and have a perfect face with no flaws” by making Nilin “beautiful, thin and attractive”… From everything I have seen so far without playing the game and learning about the character she looks exactly like every other sexualised female character in gaming.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. bitsnark

    Really quite looking forward to this, characterisation issues aside.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. mreko3230

    @2 I guess they are talking about the over-the-top looks that they have in the concept art above. No bare stomach, sports bras, cleavage etc. A lot of female video game characters wear armor that looks like its made by Victoria’s Secret. She has a scar on her face and she looks kind of worn out. An athletic body is kind of a must if you’re going to have her fighting off 5 guys at a time and leaping from rooftops. I guess we have a long way to go before we can believe in an older, overweight, unattractive looking female lead (in any medium). That maybe says more about society than game creators.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. PEYJ

    I think she looks, talks and acts like all those things they said they were trying to avoid. And to imply that gamers consists of boys and men who only want to look at women who are overly sexualized is even more old fashioned that coming across the type of female game character he is trying to avoid.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. The Dude

    I do like the design of Nilin. I quite like the concept arts too, but yeah I’m glad they went with this final design. (Agree with #2 though, that she’s still thin and hot?)

    Having said that, I’m never offended when characters don’t wear much or are dressed outrageously… even having bare stomachs (shock!). That goes for male characters too. It’s all down to the design for me.

    A well designed character is a well designed character, however realistic or not they are.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. SplatteredHouse

    That second chalk/pastel artwork is exquisite! I like Nilin’s design, too.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. viralshag

    @4, But generally able bodied female atheletes are not “skinny” but they’re not unattractively muscular or big either. The idea for most female game leads, imo, is that if you stripped the armour, dirt, scars off you would still have this amazingly beautiful woman.

    I agree with what they’re initially saying about women in games but I’m annoyed that they seem to be following the exact same trend anyway.

    And also, I think the show of GoT cast Brienne pretty well.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. FeaturePreacher

    Combat seems pretty weak. Certainly need to watch a walkthrough to see if she gets any weapons or interesting moves.

    #9 1 year ago
  10. YoungZer0

    Okay, I can’t take this serious. The main difference seems to be that she has the perfect model size, which basically means extremely long legs and arms, which I find rather uninteresting. No curves, no fat and the face is too perfect, even with the scar it’s lacks any kind of personality.

    Some of the concepts look much, much better than the final version.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. Vice

    She’s probably the worst female lead I’ve ever seen. Despite being a quite enjoyable game, I’m glad it kinda flopped. Next time give her some boobs at least…

    #11 9 months ago
  12. Dave Cook

    @11 worst? Boobs?

    Did you ever play Wet? That character was an embarrassment to womankind.

    #12 9 months ago
  13. salarta

    On this site, we bash one of the few games that’s closest to bringing back the strong female protagonists we were getting in the medium a decade ago, then go on to support games that treat women like victims and sex objects while completely decimating the status those old female protagonists had as strong icons of female power.

    And actually, Nilin is pretty realistic. Known plenty of women like her, from personality to what she wears. Though if we were to try to genuinely project into the future, she’d probably be wearing less, since the trend over the past century has been for women (in the U.S. at least) to show more and more skin over time. In terms of personality, she came off big sisterly to me.

    @12: I remember hearing about WET. I never played it, but even the title sounded like it was intentionally sexual. Wet. The thing women get through arousal. Though I’m hesitant to judge it too much since I haven’t looked into the game very deeply, meaning I don’t have much right to judge. Also, it has Eliza Dushku as the VA, best known for playing Faith on BtVS.

    That actually makes me wonder for a second why with so many female characters that explicitly present awful female characters that make women look bad (largely “reimagined” ones this generation), we have women that eagerly VA those presentations, as well as women that love to cosplay as them. “This character is incredibly sexist,” then we see pictures from a recent convention of women choosing to dress like the character, and in so doing essentially promoting women being depicted that way in future games.

    To be clear, since I know some people out there love to pretend to not get it, I’m not trying to “slut shame.” I’m only trying to observe that every time a terrible depiction of women is supported through fanart, fanfiction, cosplay, etc, it’s actively promoting that treatment of women, and as such, it tells people in the industry to make more characters like them or transform existing ones to fit the bill. Video game consumers seem to be notorious of late for bitching about something happening they claim they don’t want, only to turn around and support what they say they don’t want through actions or purchases.

    #13 9 months ago