Why a female lead character is not ‘bad design’

Since this article has attracted a lot of attention and criticism, I think it’s important that I clarify why I wrote it in the first place:

  1. We’d just come back from Eurogamer Expo (EGX London!), having been asked repeatedly why we’d chosen to go with a female lead character in our game.
  2. Our artists were congratulated for keeping her clothes on.
  3. We’ve been asked many times (mostly in the good spirit of a joke) to show Kai Tana wearing more revealing clothes.
  4. Seeing the comment on YouTube brought points 1) 2) and 3) into sharp focus, and I felt I should write about why Kai Tana is the way she is, and why she’ll never be shown scantily clad by our team.

The post below was therefore not solely in response to a single YouTube commenter, but a series of events that were addressed together.

Lt. Kai Tana – saviour of the galaxy, pilot of the teleporting Quarp Jet and master of the humble jump – is female.

One of the few benefits of internet anonymity permits us to use this comment from our YouTube page without repercussion for the person who wrote it:

“I was excited about this ’till I realised it doesn’t a have male lead๏ปฟ character, the female protagonist is a huge turn off and deal breaker. What were they thinking when they designed this? An otherwise solid game suffers for bad design like this.”

At the Eurogamer Expo we were asked many times why we’d chosen to go for a female lead character in our upcoming title Velocity 2X. The simple reason is that it’s a sequel to Velocity Ultra, in which Lt. Kai Tana was the pilot.

However, we are also asked very often to release illustrations of Kai Tana in bathing suits or more revealing clothes. We always refuse, but now seems a good time to explain why that will never, ever happen:

When my father died at age 63, I was a 15yr old boy who had no clue who he was. I was confused and frustrated about life and death, but my mother was incredibly strong and resolved, and went back to work immediately to continue providing for us both. She set the example, and I followed. I threw myself into my passions with a clearer understanding of how precious and finite life is.

Independent strength and resolve is very common among the women in my family, and looking back it’s likely that which attracted me so strongly to characters like Ripley and Sarah Connor. They reflected the truth about the females I knew, and as I grew up I found myself far more attracted to independently minded girls than those dependent on males for validation. My first real job cemented my already deep respect for women as it was a wonderful place to work that felt like a family, all because it was under careful balance by a strong, independent woman.


So when I first met my girlfriend, it was the fierce independence and mental strength that caused me to fall in love within hours, and to move in within days.

When Velocity was in development, I decided to base the lead character on my girlfriend, giving photographs of her to the artist responsible for the illustrations. I did this not just as a romantic gesture, but also to pay homage to the strong female characters in science fiction that have inspired me, and of course the females in my life. Hell, I even named the character after my niece, who had the guts to make incredibly frightening life choices for the better.

Kai Tana can teleport. She is therefore very cool.
Kai Tana can teleport. She is therefore very cool.

For me, women have always been inspiring, strong, powerful and magnificent, so I find it morbidly fascinating to hear people like the YouTube commenter believing that choosing a female lead is bad design. Claiming bad design is an objective statement, not an expression of personal preference. That kind of thinking is so out of date it’s almost laughable, but it’s tragic because it highlights a severe lack of empathy, and it’s lack of empathy that is at the heart of all humanity’s problems.

This article is a small attempt at steering out-of-date thought in a better direction.

Finally, for the record, Lt. Kai Tana was not inspired by Samus Aran, as I’ve never played Metroid.

[UPDATE: This line about Metroid is irritating some people. I played a ton of Turrican 2, Super Probotector, Flashback and of course Sonic the Hedgehog. I had a lifetime of inspiration in those games. I will get around to playing Metroid of course, but not whilst we’re making this game. We designed Velocity without playing modern shoot ’em-ups like Ikaruga or the Cave bullet-hell shooters because we wanted to focus on the mechanics we had, and not be swayed by what other games are doing. This interview has the most straightforward reasoning as to why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9qtW-Melnk&feature=youtu.be&t=7m48s]

Kai Tana can run faster than you can.
Kai Tana can run faster than you can.
Kai Tana can shoot a rifle with more style than you can.
Kai Tana can also shoot a rifle with more style than you can.
Show CommentsClose Comments


  • Chris Wray (@TheChrisWray)
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 2:32 pm 0Likes

    A good post. It’s sad to actually hear that you’ve been outright asked to release pics of her in bathing suits and such, seems we have no real right to say that gaming – or the fans of it – have outgrown the juvenile stage yet. We can blame the people who make those characters all we want, but when the people are asking for it they are equally to blame.

    Great to hear your inspirations on the character as well. Both touching and admirable. Stick to your guns anyway, best thing!

    On a big u-turn into making this a more questionable post. If they want to see those sort of pictures all they need do is Google it a month or so after release. If there’s one thing I know about the internet, that is that there are questionable drawings of every single character, ever.

    • RIcardo
      Posted October 1, 2013 at 5:38 pm 0Likes

      With all due respect, my friend, but you’re kind of innocent to think that this case is just a case of juveniles asking for this, or something that could be resolved by looking porn on Google.

      I lost the count of how many times I have already heard from devs that they were “asked” to promote sex and erotism in their games, with some having even lost opportunities to not doing it.

      There’s a damn strong pressure/push by someone/something in the industry (and others media as well) to promote sex and erotism in their games. For what purpose they want to insert sexuality in the minds of the society, I let for you to realise.

      But I defy you to look deeper. If someone gets the courage to investigate deeper, he will find out that this is FAR from being an isolated case.

  • OP8
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 2:35 pm 0Likes

    It saddens me in this day and age that we have to explain why we choose a gender of a lead character, it really shouldn’t matter. Your reasons are honourable, meaningful and valid but it’s a terrible shame you feel you have to explain them to those who are too bigoted to see anything else. Please never release bikini versions.

  • Chris
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 2:48 pm 0Likes

    WOW, I’m always amazed by what people find problems with in life. A female main character is a problem? Really? Thanks for your explanation James, but it really shouldn’t have been necessary. Sadly, you won’t change the minds of those who already have an issue, so save your breath and energy for those of us who can appreciate and respect what you and your team are doing. I also grew up around strong women and they still guide my life to this day. I was taught growing up to respect others(man, women, big, small, black, white), it doesn’t matter. Be who you are, and respect others to be who they are. BTW, play Metroid when you can, it’s one of gaming’s best franchises.

  • Stu
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 3:26 pm 0Likes

    Very disappointing to hear some of the reactions, but equally uplifting to see you make a statement against them. Oh, and you should totally play Metroid if you get a chance. Great games (except the last one…)

  • Amu
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 3:32 pm 0Likes

    It should be enough for these dolts to be told that the reasons Kai will never appear in skimpy clothing are the same as the reasons would have been if her character was male – it would be a really weird thing to do and would have nothing to do with the game. By the same token, it’s mind-boggling that they can’t understand that the decision to have a female protagonist might have been made because women are also people. An explanation that there are just as many cool and interesting women as there are cool and interesting men shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly, some of these individuals refuse to recognise that women are even human in the same way they are. To them, men are the default and women are some kind of subsidiary class of sex-thing.

    Anyway, Kai is a really cool character and I wish there were more characters like her in games!

  • Graham
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 4:05 pm 0Likes

    Nice work, it should NEVER be about how the character is clad (or rather not). An exceptional game is so good you should never notice ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • artrexdenthur
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 6:25 pm 0Likes

    Great article! On a slightly different note from the comments above, please do make articles like these even when they’re not necessary, if you have the time. Regardless of whether or not YouTube comments continue to be a singularity of idiocy it’s always great to see well-made behind-the-scenes material and developers’ perspectives on their work. Looking forward to the game!

  • onmode-ky
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 6:45 pm 0Likes

    I like that Kai is a strong female character, and I’m appalled that someone would believe a female protagonist in an action game to be “bad design,” but I’m disappointed that so many of the commenters above seem to believe that the mere *thought* of a woman dressed for the pool degrades her. I guess women should never go swimming if men really have such poor self control.

    This is not to say I think FuturLab *should* release swimsuit imagery of Kai. The Velocity games themselves obviously have no connection to swimming or tropical settings, and it’s completely up to them how their own character ought to be portrayed in promotional materials to best represent the games. But to those of you who think that people who would ask for swimsuit pictures of her are on the same level as those who think female protagonists are bad design, those are two groups who do not inherently share the same views on women.

    Disclosure: while I am not a member of either group being discussed above, I am the person responsible for what is, as far as I know, the only fan art of Kai in a bathing suit. I drew it and submitted it to FuturLab, poor artist though I am, precisely because I felt it could be done without Kai’s character as a smart, strong woman being compromised, without her automatically being lowered to the level of “sex object.” Also, for the record, I have beaten Velocity with every medal attained; my interest in the games has nothing to do with how the character does or does not look.

    • James @ FuturLab
      Posted September 30, 2013 at 9:16 pm 0Likes

      Hi onmode-ky, as I said to O below, this is something that we hear a lot, and rather than reply to every person, it’s much more efficient to link to an article that explains why it’s not something we’re going to do. Hope you understand!

  • O
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:28 pm 0Likes

    Wow, I’ve been called a lot of things in my time, but dolt is a first.

    I am the one who asked for the Kai in a two-piece art a few times. But seeing as I always asked in the most awkwardly of ways, I had assumed that the good folks at Futurlab knew I was joking. Would I be against it, no, I’m not going to pretend I would be because it’s currently the hip thing to do, but I didn’t seriously think it would happen.

    But, whatever. I don’t feel the need to debunk the asinine theories that some of you have formed. I will say that it is unfortunate that what was said jokingly was taken as the opposite.

    Still excited about the game though.

    • James @ FuturLab
      Posted September 30, 2013 at 9:11 pm 0Likes

      Hello! Please don’t sweat it O. Lots of people have asked, and when lots of people ask the same question, I write an article so I can link them to it for speed (just like the article about designing an awesome video game). Your requests were taken in the good spirit of a joke, but this is the honest reason why it’ll never happen ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Pete
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 8:52 pm 0Likes

    I remember in the 90’s being on tender hooks as a game called Great Giana Sisters was about to be release on the Atari ST – I was excited as this game was reported to play like super mario brothers – and of course you could only play that on Nintendo consoles. I don’t really remember even really noticing the game was female based, all i knew was that the gameplay would rock. Unfortunately it turned out a bit too similar to SMB and nintendo moved to get it banned so I never did play it (theres a remake on xbox/ps now but its very different). Now though looking back it does stand out as one of the few games around to have a female leads (do we count ant attack on the zx spectrum!) – Its incredibly sad for me that this is still the state of play – i know there are some great female leads, but its still rare enough to warrant comment. I imagine the vast majority of your players are entirely behind Kai, and at worst agnostic on the issue. Well I hope thats the case…

  • Sarah
    Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:32 pm 0Likes

    โ€œQ: So, why do you write these strong female characters?
    Whedon: Because youโ€™re still asking me that question.โ€

    I find it difficult to believe this is still a thing. Before reading this post, I hadn’t given the gender of the protagonist any thought whatsoever. The only time I notice is when we are portrayed simply as sex objects or helpless victims. This is my deal breaker.

    To those that think that’s a “huge turn off and deal breaker”, let them keep their money. Keep Velocity 2X for the cool kids ๐Ÿ™‚

    • James @ FuturLab
      Posted September 30, 2013 at 10:54 pm 0Likes

      โ€œQ: So, why do you write these strong female characters?
      Whedon: Because youโ€™re still asking me that question.โ€ – Awesome ๐Ÿ™‚

  • germaximus
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 12:43 am 0Likes

    Geeze man. The quote at the top of the article: Where do these people come from? Freakin idiots. /sigh

  • Sinan
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 3:32 am 0Likes

    I can say that this post is awesome (and it is), but it won’t really do much to support you, material-wise. So instead I’ll say this:

    I’m getting this, day one, along with any preorder bonuses that may be available. Because you’re awesome, and I love you guys.

  • Zac
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 3:50 am 0Likes

    Damn but this game looks fun. And Lt. Kai looks pretty damn badass. Should be pretty good, and I’ll be excited to play it.

  • Laurence Nairne
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 10:16 am 0Likes

    I played this at Eurogamer. I didn’t even acknowledge the character as a female. Maybe the narrative exemplifies this (as I didn’t see any plot in the demo) but hopefully to return balance to the universe, I don’t care about character gender. Just make good characters graphically and personably, and I’ll like em.

    I’m sickened when developers cater to the WB of hormone driven teens looking for a fantasy fix. Redtube exists, use it.

  • Louis
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 12:41 pm 0Likes

    You say you’ve never played Metroid like it’s something to be proud of. To me it comes across as arrogant and ignorant. Play some Metroid games, damn it. You’re making a platform game, for dog’s sake! It’s like making a comedy if you’ve never seen a Chaplin movie.

    • James @ FuturLab
      Posted October 1, 2013 at 12:47 pm 0Likes

      Hello Louis, thanks for your comment. I’ve updated the text to address this. It’s not arrogance buddy, it’s the fact that we don’t want to be swayed by what other games have done in the genre. Velocity has unique mechanics and we want to explore those fully.

      This interview gives reason as to why:

      I will of course get around to playing Metroid at some point, but not whilst we’re making Velocity 2X. It’s our design strategy, not arrogance. If you spend more time around us, you’ll see that we’re a studio of very humble people.

  • mithrandir
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 1:08 pm 0Likes

    I find it awkward that this discussion is still needed. Especially when there are two forces driving this discussion: 1. female leads apparently tend to lower sales, especially when they feature on the cover of the box, and 2. female characters are normally dressed very cantly clad, making sure it’s obvious they are female.

    The first point amazes me the most. As a demographically average gamer (mid-life male), I have no desire to ‘muscle up’ and be a testosterone driven maniac, running around guns blazing, like apparently so many gamers do. Also, especially when a game is not a FPS, and you actually get to see the person you are playing, I definitely prefer to watch a female lead’s bum than a male hero’s behind. Yes, that may be sexist, but that’s just the way it is. So, whenever I get the chance, I prefer to play as a female lead. In D&D games, I ALWAYS play female. In Mass Effect, I play as Female Shepherd. I love to play as Lara Croft, and adored Nilin in Remember Me. I really don’t see an issue with that. Can someone please tell me WHY they so eagerly want to play a male lead??

    2. This is a more serious issue, and has much to do with caricatures and stereptypes. This -again- is an issue from all times, and not isolated to videogames. Especially in D&D (both videogames and the boardgames), Fantasy films, and heroic comic books, males are always extremely muscular, heavily armored, and have huge shields and weapons. Females generally are scantly clad, skimpy, and have far less impressive weaponry, even though their stats can be exactly the same. Many a time, I’ve wondered how a skimpy jumpsuit can provide the exact same defense as a full-body knight-in-armor. I’m not exactly decisive on how I WOULD like this to be different: should the females have equal armor, or should their stats be hugely different (lower defense, but way better agility?)

    This is not a thing of today, or even yesterday, it’s from all ages. I remember Lara Croft becoming a sex object when Eidos started to send out pics of Lara in designer clothes. That really was the first time I started to get worried about where they were taking Lara. It took them until last year to realize their mistake, and re-introduce her as a strong -still very attractive- and able woman.

    So, what I think I’m trying to say is this: I love games with a female lead, and I really don’t mind her being sexy and attractive, as long as it’s not TOO obvious, and too much to simply attract a certain population, just to allow her to be oogled over. (Yes, certain scenes in Remember Me are exactly that, sadly).

    Futurlab,you did the right thing. Keep the female lead, and keep her strong. But most of all, keep her sexy and attractive, with her clothes ON.

  • bummed
    Posted November 1, 2013 at 12:14 am 0Likes

    We get so many stories about male identity crisis and/or a crisis of masculinity/insecurity or an empowerment fantasy that I think it’s time we explore those same themes in women as well. So yeah, bring it on! Keep up the great work as always!

  • Iris
    Posted September 28, 2014 at 7:40 am 0Likes

    I’ve been playing this game for a while now and was pleasantly surprised to see a female lead character, and a kick ass one at that!

    How funny that this YT commenter thinks a female lead character is a turn off for him, but when women complain about the lack of female leads because they can’t identify with the characters they’re playing, their concerns are usually brushed off.

    Futurlab, thanks for making a great game!

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