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Mobile Game Character Recognition Research

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Mobile Game Character Recognition Research

Role: Researcher                                                                           Duration: 2 Weeks                                                            Cooperator: Hao Ni

Project Nature: Self-Motivated  

Overview Of The Research

Highly recognizable mobile game characters have influenced every aspect of the gaming experience. In almost all of the top-selling games with characters listed in the rankings, the application icons are related to the depiction of their iconic characters. From the moment players see these icons, a connection is established with the game characters, and throughout gameplay, players derive a sense of surprise, pride, affection, and even attachment from the intricately designed character systems. In a well-developed character IP design, various factors converge to significantly enhance character recognition, creating a unique symbolic system specific to the game product, thereby laying the foundation for various aspects of the gaming ecosystem.

This article will conduct research and analysis on the recognition of mobile game characters from aspects such as cognitive patterns, case studies, and the synthesis of memorable points.

 * The foreign names of some Chinese games or the names of international servers could not be found. Out of respect for the games themselves, the Chinese names are retained in this article. If there are errors in game or character names, please understand and forgive.

Characters And Cognitive Model

Virtual Characters and Hierarchy of Needs

The design of virtual characters in games is closely tied to human needs. Within the hierarchy of needs, meeting the user's need for respect and self-actualization plays a crucial role in virtual character design, focusing on providing "pleasure" or a satisfying experience.

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Hierarchy of Needs

Media and Perspective

Different media and perspectives influence people's perception. From mobile phones to tablets, computers, TVs, and VR headsets, the proportion of the screen in people's eyes gradually increases, making larger screens more suitable for immersive experiences. In mediums like VR, third-person games are rare. However, in mobile gaming, due to screen size and touch obstructions, direct sensory immersion is challenging. Additionally, the observation of characters is similar to "distant viewing" in real life since the light entering the eye from the entire screen is in the central area. Therefore, character recognition needs to be indirectly enhanced through other methods.

Facial Recognition

Humans can recognize the faces of companions due to the evolutionary social attributes. When observing others, people often first focus on the face for identification and memory.


Facial Recognition

The Gestalt principle suggests that people tend to mentally fill in images, connecting similar images and making continuous elements out of disjointed ones. Cartoon techniques' abstraction and exaggeration, as well as the two-dimensional flat painting and NPR (Non-Photorealistic Rendering), essentially enlarge the characteristic points of visual identification and ignore high-frequency information.

Cognitive Differences in Populations

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Memory Capacity

Different users have varying abilities to remember images. Ordinary users can remember and imagine images, while about 2% of prosopagnosic users can only imagine outlines or remember descriptions, with many users' image recall ability falling between the two.

Demand Differences

Different population groups have different demands for characters. Based on the three forms of economy - "utilitarianism - experience - community", players' demands for character appearance can be categorized into three levels.



Among them, "utilitarianism" represents the basic rationality of the character, aligning with physical and operational intuition. "Experience" emphasizes player self-satisfaction, unrelated to others' personal preferences and achievements. "Community" represents a category based on social activities, with typical examples being show-off and mischief.

Players' Demands Based on the Three Forms of Economy

Characters And Character Recognition

Appearance and Essence of Characters

The design of a character's IP involves a complex structure. If we simplify character design into appearance and essence, then character recognition is primarily driven by the character's appearance. However, game characters are not just about superficial appearances and fulfilling desires; they also need to convey deeper information.

The Role of Character Recognition

While the success of game characters often relies on some unique and non-replicable aspects, character recognition forms the foundation for the widespread dissemination of the character's essence. The recognitive information within the character's appearance compiles the character's essence into "symbols" during dissemination. These symbols can be perceived and assigned meaning by the audience, forming a fundamental element of viral dissemination.


Development Process from Recognize Image to Classic IP

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Salvador Dali's classic mustache style

Spider-Man's battle suit

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe portrayed the classic plumber image of Super Mario during the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony

Character Recognition Analysis in Mobile Games

In mobile games with different artistic styles, there are significant differences in character recognition. The chart below presents the character images in various categories of mobile games.

Virtual Characters and Hierarchy of Needs


High Recognition of Cartoon Characters is a Natural Advantage

Some Mobile Games Involved

Cartoon characters inherently possess higher recognition than humanoid characters, with their own distinct advantages and limitations. The advantage lies in their ability to exaggerate and express facial features more vividly than real people, while still being accurately recognized. This makes cartoon characters more adept at portraying cute and silly expressions. The limitation, however, is the simplification of many elements present in real human characters, preventing cartoon characters from expressing a broader range of emotions and eliciting physiological responses from players.

Closer to Reality, the Greater the Need for Costume and Facial Features to Enhance Recognition

When recognizing companions, humans primarily rely on faces and hairstyles, followed by attire. This holds true for recognizing virtual characters as well. However, in mobile games where the accuracy of virtual characters is lower and the viewing angle is limited, it is often necessary to add distinctive or exaggerated costumes to enhance recognition, especially in realistic, stylized-realistic, and two-dimensional characters.

Character Recognition in Shooter Games is Generally Low, Especially in Realistic Style & War Themes

Character recognition in shooter games is low, primarily due to two main reasons. First, soldiers in these games exhibit a high degree of militarization and standardization, with uniforms and military gear being their defining features. Only gender, faction, rank, and equipment significantly differentiate soldier characters. Second, many hardcore shooter games adopt a first-person perspective and focus on immersion, making character recognition a secondary concern.

Characterized Artistic Styles Often Excel at Showing Some Characteristic Features in Characters

Different artistic styles have distinct characteristic features in character representation. The chart below demonstrates the main appearing areas of each keyword in different artistic styles, ranging from cartoon to realistic, and from real to fantasy themes, creating a two-dimensional coordinate system.


Artistic Style - Characteristic Feature Diagram

Character Memory Points in Games

Face and Attire

Regardless of a person's appearance, the face is a memorable area. Regardless of how exaggerated a character's outfit is, the facial aesthetic standards in a particular region are generally similar. The eyes can perceive subtle differences in facial features, and a small change can influence the overall perception of the character. Attire requires more effort to capture the player's attention.


Skill Effect

Due to the screen characteristics of mobile games, many games add a close-up animation for a character's ultimate skill. The image below shows Genshin Impact's character during battle (left) and a close-up shot after using the ultimate skill (right). Such ultimate skill animations are mainly available for five-star characters in Genshin Impact (with a few exceptions). These ultimate skill animations have become important symbols for each character, significantly enhancing visual impact and leaving a lasting impression when displayed in full screen.

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Persistent Effect

In MOBA and similar types of mobile games, characters in combat usually occupy a relatively small screen space, and the model precision used is low. Therefore, in games like Honor of Kings, for skins with higher prices and rarity, more elaborate display scenes and animations are created. During combat, clear recognition can be achieved through theme colors and effects. Additionally, ultra-high-quality recording is used in skin promotional videos, and offline rendering is used in character short films, finely ingraining memories in players.

Skill Effect in Genshin Impact

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Companion Creatures and Items

Persistent Effect in MOBA Games

Players generally have expectations for obtaining superpowers. The equipment and special effects bound to a character can effectively indicate the character's abilities. For instance, in Apex, the character Pathfinder has a distinctive grapple backpack, which is a significant source of the player's impression of the character.

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The character Rek'Sai in League of Legends has a distinctive burrower pet that is prominently raised when using the ultimate skill.

Pathfinder’s Grapple Backpack in Apex

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In Genshin Impact, the character Xiangling's pet Guoba assists in attacks as a summoned creature and reveals its "God of Cookery" nature in event storylines.

Rek'Sai’s Pet in LOL


Xiangling's pet Guoba in Genshin Impact

Theme Color

In anime, characters with golden hair often have a proud personality, while characters with white hair often have a cute and silly appearance. This illustrates that colors can significantly influence the perception of a character's appearance. In the anime "Spy X Family," the character Anya has only five intrinsic colors on her body, yet it leaves a lasting impression on viewers.

Color Tendency

Color tendency reflects the overall color impression of an image. Different color tendencies in a character's appearance often imply different character traits, assisting in forming the character's distinctive visual identity. In Sky: Children of the Light, characters have highly saturated skirts, which help bridge the psychological distance between players, promoting cooperative interactions.

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Anya's Impressive Pink

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The "character creation" system gives players the creative power for iconic characters, and the skin system allows players to choose the appearance of the same character. Such diversity systems meet players' individual aesthetic demands, whether for quirky outfits, showcasing rare attire, or meeting unique aesthetic needs.

Feature Mapping

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Saturated Color in In Sky: Children of the Light

Character Creation System in The Sims 4

A character's appearance often mirrors numerous features of its core design, encompassing its social relationships, biological attributes, experiences, personality preferences, attitude, and cultural symbols of the region it belongs to. For example, faction insignias on the body, protective talismans from family, and cloud-like patterns on clothes all map features of the character's core and vice versa, affecting the character's core design.


Poses and Dances

A character's distinctive appearance and dance moves can also serve as memorable points for players. Dances in Fortnite, for instance, have gained immense popularity, even going viral on YouTube and TikTok, with various dance and quirky videos adapted.

Voice Tone and Phrases

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Dance in Fortnite

Many children might not have played League of Legends or CrossFire, but they will enthusiastically shout "Demacia" and "Fire in the hole". These iconic phrases and voiceovers carry significant impact.

Overall Game Memory Points

Initial Characters and Mascots

Characters like Daji from Honor of Kings, Feathered Knight from Teamfight Tactics, and Paimon from Genshin Impact are often the first characters and mascots introduced in a game, imprinting on players upon their initial encounter. The popularity of mascots arises from their ability to transform the impression of an inanimate object into a lively, organic entity. The cultural significance of mascots can be traced back thousands of years to the totems created by ancient people, such as dragons and phoenixes, and continues today, seen in mascots like Fuwa and Bing Dwen Dwen, representing the collective memory of the 2008 and 2022 Beijing Olympics for the Chinese people.


Character Artistic Style

Non-living / No role-playing

Pixel: Present visuals through pixel art textures

Cartoon: Use a cartoon drawing style, employing concise or exaggerated methods

Antique Style: Incorporate characteristics of traditional Chinese painting styles

2D Semi Impasto: Balance between flat (Cloisonnism) and thick (Impasto) strokes, maintaining simplicity without compromising the quality of light and shadow

2D Impasto: Bold colors and rich in details

Celluloid: Incorporate a Japanese-style flat (Cloisonnism) application and outlines

Realistic Beauty: Strike a balance between hyperrealism and stylization, optimizing visual effects using non-realistic methods, maximizing expressive potential but with slightly rigid expressions

Hyperrealistic: Create visuals that resemble the real world, with lighting and shadows following physical principles

Initial Characters and Mascots in Games

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Character Setting Themes

Modern Warfare
e Fiction
Urban Culture

Post-production Style

Post-production styles can also enhance character recognition. For instance, the cold and grey color scheme of Arena Breakout, or the classical dark painting style of Identity V.


Post-production Style in Arena Breakout & Identity V

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