Hi, I’m Chris Dworjan, Content Designer for Burden of Command. I’ve been asked to kick off our series of development blogs with an explanation on how we create our character portraits. My role is very much like a casting director and costumer combined. The starting point is nothing more than a spreadsheet created by our writers early in the process with their character notes.
For Ashley Dearborn, we had the outline of an aristocrat who had studied the history and theory of war at VMI.
Then it was time to sit down and think about who he reminded me of. I thought about people from my military career, figures from history, and characters from movies. Who did I know that could be Ashley Dearborn? I went to the authors with the photos below and asked them the question: “do you see Dearborn here?”
After getting their input, I still had the problem of how to distill a character down to just one portrait.
Early in the portrait design process I hit on the idea that the portrait should be the photo you take out of the scrapbook to show when you are telling your story. The portrait should tell not just what they looked like, but who they were. For Dearborn, it was “smug satisfaction.” It was a man looking beyond the camera at something he was proud of. Arms folded, quietly pleased with himself.
At Burden of Command, to increase immersion and to show respect, we also strive hard for authenticity.
My responsibility in particular is getting the details “right.” Dearborn needed a uniform. I thought he should look like a US Army infantry officer in Italy. At that point, he’s been in the war long enough that his experience has caught up with his theoretical knowledge. I checked multiple photos to see what 3rd Infantry Division and the 7th Infantry Regiment specifically were wearing on operations in Italy.
Then the slide deck went to our amazing portrait artist, Mariusz Kozik.
He worked his magic and turned our vision into a beautiful portrait. I looked at it with the writers and we realized that it was a great portrait, but it just wasn’t Ashley Dearborn. This guy was too badass, not smug. So I did the responsible thing; I cast him in a different role.
This portrait got some new insignia and became our quiet professional warrior, Captain Cord Boston of the Army Rangers.
I tweaked things a bit and asked Mariusz to make our man a little less “Hollywood”.
It was easy enough to put him in the field shirt and roll up his sleeves. But details… what would make Dearborn truly Dearborn? Hmm. He went to VMI (Virginia Military Istitute). He’s the kind of guy who lets everyone know how special he is. I bet he’s the kind of guy who would wear his class ring in combat. I eventually managed to find a photo that showed at least one officer wore his class ring, and that was enough to show it was possible and we would be keeping with history.
And Mariusz delivered. He produced a portrait that I instantly recognized as Ashley Dearborn.
Portrait design has been a fun challenge.
Capturing the spirit of the character, making them visually distinct, ensuring historical accuracy, and keeping them flexible enough to work in all the different sizes and purposes in the game. But it all becomes worth it when we start to notice that the characters with portraits have become much more “real” than the ones still awaiting the process.
And finally we propose you, in pure Burden of Command style, a choice: choose wisely soldier!