Results from Game Design Challenge: Time For Change

By staff [06.15.10]

 Recently two interesting examples of modifying an existing game character's gender came to light. Artist David Stonecipher recently drew a series of gender-swapped game characters, both male and female. This was done just for fun.

On GameCareerGuide, on the other hand, SMU Guildhall masters student Shaylynn Hamm shared a more robust look at the same idea, in her project The Aesthetics of Unique Video Game Characters.

The aim of the project was to examine how female characters are created for games, what purpose they serve, and how they could be designed to stay true to the spirit of an exisiting character while offering a new experience that might appeal to a broader audience, and making sense in a real-world context.

Hamm examined existing female characters in games, conducted a survey of gamers, and then devised a scheme to meaningfully adapt two of Team Fortress 2's characters from male to female.

How would profoundly changing the main character of a game change the adventure? As designers, your job is not to work on the visual design of the characters in a game world, but on how that world works from a gameplay and story perspective. What challenges would a female Kratos face that the God of War hero wouldn't otherwise? It would change the story of the original game -- maybe make parts of it impossible.

Game Career Guide challenged its readers to recast an existing game with a female lead, and to explore the new gameplay possibilities this change would involve.

What follows are the best and most original entries we received. Here are our top picks:

Best Entries

Jennifer Sandercock, Melbourne, Australia, Leisure Suit Larissa (see page 2)
Jennifer Sandercock reimagines Sierra's bawdy Leisure Suit Larry series with a female main character, resulting in gameplay that focuses on finding a mate suitable for a lifelong relationship.

Enrique J. Gil Izquierdo and Elendil "Shin" Cañete, Princess of Persia (see pages 3 and 4)
Both Izquierdo and Cañete contribute entries that put a new spin on Prince of Persia, each remaining true to the original game's setting and plot while adding new and intriguing elements.

Honorable Mentions
Ryan George, Game Design Student, Columbia College Chicago, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (see page 5)
Ben Horwood, Swindon New College, Silent Hill 2: Mother's Love (see page 6)
Lu Qian Zheng, Assassin's Creed (see page 7)

Jennifer Sandercock, Melbourne, Australia, Leisure Suit Larissa

Leisure Suit Larissa is an adaptation of the classic adventure game, Leisure Suit Larry. Help Larissa Laffer find a husband who meets her childhood checklist, before her biological clock stops ticking.

Larissa Laffer is a hard-working business consultant living in the big city of Now Work. She has spent all her life dedicated to her job, but on her 35th birthday she decides she needs to find a husband so she can have babies before it's too late. Ignoring the attentions of her neighbour, the boring Hewill Do, Larissa sets out to find a husband and rediscovers her childhood checklist for her ideal man.

According to the list, Larissa's ideal man only likes blue M&Ms, can roll his tongue, can breathe blindfolded, never walks on the lines on the street, can recite the alphabet backwards, and likes Martian Mud Monkeys. The player must help Larissa look for a man:

Every man Larissa meets fails her checklist somehow, so she dismisses all of them in turn. Eventually, she ends up at the Pretentious Posers bar and meets Mr Wright Foryou. Wright meets every item on her checklist; unfortunately he dumps Larissa in a crushing scene. As Larissa picks herself up off the ground, she attempts to woo the other men she questioned, but all of them have got married or come out. Larissa has no options left except settling for the boring neighbour, Hewill Do. Except, while Larissa was off pursuing other men, Hewill got sick of waiting and gave up on Larissa. So now, Larissa must learn as much as possible about Hewill to impress him and fool him into proposing to her.

Players control Larissa by using a standard adventure game point-and-click interface. The game has two main stages:

Larissa never sleeps with any of the men in the game; she tries to get to know them, and in the case of Hewill Do, Larissa is just trying to marry him. The game does not objectify men and is more about talking to people than seeing them naked.

Enrique J. Gil Izquierdo, Localization Engineer, EA Integration Studio, Princess of Persia

After 30 minutes, only two choices remain: marry the Vizier to save your lover's life or after his execution. Your last hope for rescue dead, you call the Vizier to submit, but suddenly realize it is up to you to save yourself. The Vizier grinning in front of you, you slowly manipulate your braid, look him in the eyes and smile when your small dagger rips the vermin's chest. After seething it back in your braid, you leave your royal chambers, with one half of the sand silently waiting to reach the bottom of the clock.

From here on, the princess will have to find her way down to the cells, the path guarded by mostly unkind soldiers. The few guards still loyal to her will be useful in such confrontations, keeping her enemies busy while she progresses. But she soon runs out of allies; the more traps, abysses and thorns overcome, the less royal her dress will look. The princess will finally resort to stripping a corpse off its robes, making all enemies suspicious at first sight. The moment this happens is a function of the princess deaths, close calls avoiding traps, jumps performed and hits received.

But even when dressed as a soldier, the princess can still use sedduction as a weapon, as lonely soldiers can be lured and silently killed with the dagger. Carrying a sword is not an option, since she never received proper training.

As she progress, her sedduction will be less useful, most guards being violent thugs, identified by their rugged clothes, inmune to her charms. The only way to pass them is finding an alternative route or defeating them in combat, when the princess' flexibility and agility can be used to her advantadge. When in combat, the arrow keys make the princess perform acrobatic jumps, rolls or dashes to dodge attacks and, once she is at touch distance, execute a deadly stab with her hidden dagger. Bigger enemies will be harder to dodge and can withstand more than one dagger wound.

After freeing her lover, both will flee from the castle (Prince of Persia 2 opening style) and reach the square before the gates. There, the prince is hit by a poisoned arrow and the princess confronts the Old Man of the Mountain, who explains her lover is but one of his trainees, convinced to be the hier to the Persian throne and forced to rescue her as a final test. After saving the princess, she'd be killed and he convinced of having reached Heaven, becoming one of the Hashashins.

In her final battle the princess has to defeat her lover, who believes he is commanded by Allah, and the Old Man.

In the sequels, the princess would wander through Asia and Europe, looking for the source of all warrior female tribe myths, including the Valkiryes, the Amazons and the supposedly dissapeared Iceni, descendants of Boudicca.

Elendil "Shin" Cañete, Game Designer, Princess of Persia

Art by Gabrielle "Beany" Mendez


Princess of Persia is a game that offers the player a deeper and more strategic playstyle, a flexible movement system and a far more attractive protagonist compared to its original counterpart.

Prince of Persia has been around for a very long time, and was known for its acrobatic and aggressive male protagonist. Princess of Persia aims to change that with its limber and more strategic heroine. Although lacking in physical prowess, the Princess possesses a sharp mind and the "Gauntlet of Guidance", a special glove that allows her to mark locations and enemy weak points with a magical beam of light.

Accompanying the stalwart princess is Eliko, a trusty palace guard she met in her travels. Armed with a handy scimitar and a burly disposition, he follows the Princess' commands and the light from the Gauntlet of Guidance.

Guidance System - Movement

Princess of Persia features "Guidance", a mechanic which allows the player to command Eliko to do various tasks for the princess. Unlike Prince of Persia, this game takes away the initial control from the player and places him on a more strategic standpoint. He no longer has the comfort of simply proceeding from one location to another while his partner follows automatically; this time, the player must follow his partner closely while the computer controlled character performs each action given to him by the player.

As the player progresses across a level, he will encounter various hotspots with action icons. The Princess can command Eliko to perform the displayed actions by facing the hotspot and holding down the gauntlet button. Eliko will then perform the action and the Princess can interact with him to execute a variety of movements.

For example: a deep crevasse separates the pair from their destination. The only way to traverse this expanse is by way of navigating a series of stalactites and grip holes across the wall. The player must act fast in commanding Eliko to do these feats, while clinging on to him as he moves from one location to another.

The player needs to think on his feet while guiding Eliko across locations. As opposed to Prince of Persia's rescue mechanic, if the Princess or Eliko falls because of a late Guidance command, they suffer the risk of death.

Guidance System - Combat

The Princess is a very limber individual, and her graceful movements allows her to perform fascinating evasive maneuvers which she needs to use to locate an enemy's vital point. Once a vital point has been found, the player can then press the gauntlet button to command Eliko to attack. The location of the vital point will then change, and the player must find it again until the enemy is defeated.

End Note

Princess of Persia emphasizes on the gameplay changes a female protagonist can make on a male dominated game. The Princess may not be much of a combatant compared to the battle-hardened prince, but she makes up for it in speed and grace, something delicate and female in nature.

Ryan George, Game Design Student, Columbia College Chicago, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda's primary hero, Link, has become an iconic figure in gaming. In most Zelda games Link is tasked with saving the kingdom of Hyrule from the series' main antagonist, Ganon, with aid from Princess Zelda.

But what if, in the Ocarina of Time, Link was taken out of the equation? The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time further develops Princess Zelda as a character and introduces her alter ego, Sheik.

Changing the main character of Ocarina of Time to Zelda/Sheik offers numerous exciting changes that enhance the player's experience all while keeping the stellar gameplay the same with minor alterations to the story.

Character Differences:

The core gameplay of Ocarina of Time remains roughly the same however playing as Zelda/Sheik offer various interesting differences.

Whereas Link tended to confront enemies head on with his trusty sword and shield, Zelda/Sheik utilizes Impa's Sheikah training to defeat enemies in a speedy and stealthy fashion. While Zelda/Sheik may not have access to certain items that Link would have, this is made up for by a wider array of spells (See Item Difference picture for example)

Not being weighed down by bulky equipment also allows Zelda/Sheik to move much quicker than Link could have. For example, Zelda/Sheik can perform the standard roll attack similar to Link however, unlike Link, if players hold down the roll button Zelda/Sheik will begin to sprint after rolling.

Story Differences:

The Bandit King, Ganon, kidnaps a young Kokori boy (Link) to ensure that his attempts to take over Hyrule are not thwarted by the future Hero of Time.

Now, with his only adversary out of the picture nothing stands in Ganon's way.

Rumors of an attack on Hyrule Castle prompts the Royal Family to entrust Princes Zelda, whom embodies the only remaining piece of the Triforce, to Zelda's personal bodyguard Impa, one of the last remaining Sheikah, for Zelda's safe being.

Impa and Zelda flee Hyrule castle just as Ganon and his forces attack and go into hiding. Impa vows to train Princess Zelda in the ways of the Sheikah so that she may defend and conceal herself from Ganon. During her training Zelda is taught how to use various magics and combat techniques but most importantly is taught how to use the Ocarina of Time.

In order to complete her training Impa tasks Zelda with retrieving Hyrule's three Spiritual Stones as a rite of passage to be initiated as a Sheikah warrior.

Upon obtaining the Spiritual Stones Zelda returns to Impa and is given proper Sheikah garments. Zelda adopts an alter ego, Sheik, so that she can infiltrate Ganon's forces and, one day; discover a way to defeat him.

Seven years later, that day finally comes when Sheik discovers that only by awakening the six Sages of Hyrule can Ganon be defeated. Impa reveals that she is, in fact, the sage of Shadow and that Sheik must awaken the five remaining sages sealed in dungeons scatted throughout Hyrule.

Ben Horwood, Swindon New College, Silent Hill 2: Mother's Love


The original Silent Hill 2 protagonist was a man trying to find (or rescue) his deceased wife as many male archetypes do.

The protagonist in this version; is a woman and her little boy.

The player does not have to rescue anyone per se, but they do have to protect the child from monsters; as they try to find their way out of Silent Hill.

Gameplay Mechanics

Previous versions of the game created horror through fog.

This instalment creates horror because the Mother is burdened by a child which hinders movement speed.

The Child can either be left to walk, in which case the Mother must move at the Child's speed or risk leaving the Child behind at the mercy of various monsters.

The Mother can also pick up the Child, but this leaves the player with no way to defend the pair as the Mother's hands are full carrying the child.

The Mother can give the child a tool to use such as a flashlight, radio or even a gun.

At first the Child does not understand how to use the tools but as the game progresses, they become more proficient with them as the Mother teaches the Child by example when and how to use it.

Choice of tool will affect how the child develops throughout the game.

The Mother could also hide the Child in chests or cupboards or use a blindfold or ear muffs to protect the child from exposure to the horror.

Another facet which I think would be optional depending on difficulty would be hunger and possibly defecation.

After a certain amount of time has passed, the child starts to complain that it is thirsty or hungry and the Mother must find something for it to eat or drink to mitigate it complaining more and attracting monsters.


The game is about the consequences of the Mother's actions on the development of the child.

The game over screen could appear because the Child dead because the Mother ran away and abandoned it in a "boss fight".

Alternatively, the game could end with the Mother having taught the child to use a knife to aggressively attack monsters on sight; subsequently the Child becomes a homicidal sociopath and kills a friendly character.

Another possibility is that the Child is actually imaginary or has been kidnapped by the protagonist or that it is a facet of her mind such as Pyramid Head was a part of the Protagonist in Silen Hill 2.


I think it is critical that the Mother be portrayed as being as competent in combat as the Protagonist of Silent Hill 2 was.

I believe that the Mother would be highly appealing to both genders, but I admit that the burden the mechanics place on the player may be unappealing to some as the Child is literally a burden.

Lu Qian Zheng, Assassin's Creed

When changing Desmond and Altaïr of Assassin's Creed to be females, we want to add another lens for the player to perceive the original, rich and developed world and offer an engaging complement that enhances the overall Assassin's Creed experience. Our heroine's height and weight are adjusted to represent the body of a toned athletic woman. Little changes are made to her costume to make them lighter and more versatile. Her unique taste of weaponry is revealed through the use of lighter swords, daggers, whips, projectiles, arrows, and poisons. Rather than being part of a brotherhood, she may be part of a guild of both women and men assassins. Unveiling the secrets and scandals within "history" with her keen eyes, the heroine shall provide the player another perspective that may be unconventional, but not to be dismissed.

Having a female Altaïr creates gameplay enhancements and possible new features. If we keep the origin of Altaïr's training, then it is believable for the heroine to carry similar movements, swiftness, and capabilities as Altaïr. Yet our heroine cannot rely on physical strength alone; thus, features of the game reveal her clairvoyance. Allowing players to use Eagle Vision while not on a View Point lets players decipher NPC's intentions by examining their facial expressions, tone of voice, and interactions with either Altaïr or other NPCs. Since civilians emit no glow, placing hidden enemies within the crowd to trail our heroine will provide gamers a new level of excitement and challenge.

Furthermore, our heroine can be a master of disguise using her assassin suit. When placed in an area of high alert, the male Altaïr had to hide or blend into the crowd. Another way of reducing alertness level can be for our heroine to change her facial features with various masks that she collects, changing her face to be bearded, old, or heavily scarred. She can also twist her robe to create various looks similar to today's "twist wrap dresses." The player must transform the heroine while she is hidden and out of enemy sight. This feature will also be effective while infiltrating guarded areas.

To protect her safety and identity, the heroine will use a less direct approach in certain situations. Appearing to be less daunting, the heroine will not rely as much on brute force as her male counterpart, but use traps and tools more often to aid herself in various situations. In addition, being an expert at using the surroundings to her advantage, she may assemble a pair of flying daggers from the debris she finds in a scene, or upset an uneven fight with a clever trap. Setting up the trap, hiding the trap, and then luring the enemies into the trap can offer a sequence of intense but satisfying challenges.

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