Tzipora Herzog: The story behind Total Rendition’s main character

In Total Rendition you become Tzipora Herzog

Earlier on, I had promised to write a treatise how Tzipora Herzog was conceived. I’m not going to tell anything about her that you may discover by playing Total Rendition instead, although I am going to tell you how she came to be. Even by game dev standards, the degree of care I take in character design is painstaking. Yet, that should not be surprising.

In general, I personally like games that depict personalities best. Nowadays, whenever I write and make a game, it should have its fair share of characters. This precludes me from making “small games” with arcade mechanics that constrict opportunities for character development by play. However, I do manage to get around the resource limitations by showing their attributes and statements about them.

The very first design document of Total Rendition, envisaged two main characters for Total Rendition, one male and one female. Nevertheless, I did not want to appear as endorsing the policies of any government either, since I am not myself. However, it is extremely difficult to maintain that when one main character is an actively serving member of a government agency, in this case, Chinese state security. So, one playable character was dropped fairly quickly as a playable character. Yet, doing so exposed a different problem.

The other character was an ex-Marechaussee officer who got dishonourably discharged over investigating the Total Rendition’s deuteragonist’s ties to Total Rendition’s main antagonists. Indeed, he was inspired by Fred Spijkers, Edward Snowden and Andy McNab; think of a whistleblower with combat skills, like JC Denton. There was however a major problem with that, being of European descent, while gaming is oversaturated with white action-hero-esque protagonists. This isn’t necessarily a problem, until you consider Call of Duty…

While Call of Duty may not promote racism as such on purpose, there is a streak of chauvinism pervasive throughout that series (especially in Infinity Ward’s rendition of Call of Duty) and this is certainly not helped by the descent of most protagonists therein. Forget about the usual charges of wokeness/PC’ness and I think for a moment how boring it would be if we went ahead with creating yet another Aryan action-hero dude. As admirable their heroics are, it should be obvious they should not have a monopoly on the same.

The intended player character became disadvantaged in relation to his host society purely by some choice, which gives hardly any opportunity for players to introduce moral complexity to his character, should they desire so. So, at some point, I had made the decision, back in 2019, for him to be of Afro-Surinamese descent as opposed to Dutch. This would require no name change either, since it’s common for those of Afro-Surinamese descent to have very Dutch-sounding names.

However, institutional racism within the Dutch justice apparatus is possibly one of the worst in the world, even in comparison to most American police forces, so that he could have been selected into the gendarmerie does not make any sense in the sense it would depict an institution as much more benign than they deserve to be depicted as. Of course, since I’m not black myself, I probably not have the right to put someone like him at the centrestage of Total Rendition’s narrative either. Surely, I would have in the legal sense, freedom of speech being it what it is, although it would not be fair and thus morally and artistically bankrupt.

Besides, the original backstory intended for the 1st incarnation of the original male protagonist, featuring an ill-fated sports career and his current occupation which similarly emphasised physical strength and courage, yet juxtaposed with his retconned descent, appeared at best comically; and at worst offensively stereotypical now.

I can therefore only portray him to the extent that I could plausibly have known him myself. So, I had decided that he would become a criminal defence lawyer for the player character instead, supporting the player with his intellect and personality, thus defying stereotypes while at the same keeping the original spirit when he was first created, as an upholder of rule-of-law, intact. Thus, a former main character evolved by three iterations from a very standard main character to a supporting character who is still empowering and inspirational to everyone who encounters him.

A playable character in Total Rendition, on the other hand, it would need to be a character I could closely identify with myself and, insofar I couldn’t, was able to enlist help from others to take up where I can’t. Furthermore, the reason for her involvement in the world of Total Rendition would be believable and identifiable to many players. That is, inspiring for those who struggle with being an outcast of any sort, yet also easy to empathise with if such struggles are very alien to you personally.

At some point, I had envisioned a supporting character who was to act as an important questgiver, Diane Schuler, although later, Schuler’s name was changed into Tzipora Herzog. When Total Rendition’s plot commences, she does no longer work for any government institute and in fact, while she works in the repression industry, players may opt to introduce a degree of unwillingness to it, owing from the fact she still has college debts to pay.

On an ethnic level, I’m at least sufficiently qualified to depict Tzipora Herzog life story, which presents her with socio-economic issues that are familiar to me, as well as probably to anyone disadvantaged on account of ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, et. al. Tzipora uses a wide away of tricks to camouflage her disadvantage when needed be, although it can never be completely washed away. Thus, Tzipora Herzog is the ideal protagonist by which to explore the world of Total Rendition.

Despite friends of mine have pointed out that Tzipora seems to carry autobiographical elements, transsexualism would not be one of them. While the bigotry transsexuals face from religious fundamentalists, pseudo-feminist karens and the alt-right is deplorable, while the ability to change your body to match your spirit is actually a great thing indeed, at the end of the day, I am personally still a cisman. I will also remain a cisman in the future as I was one in the past, as I am one now. So, you might ask, how on earth are you able to portray Herzog’s womanhood? The answer is that I’m not.

Indeed, I had help from a person who is qualified to portray Tzipora’s womanhood, which would not be me. She had however asked me not be credited for her work by name, given the controversy surrounding Total Rendition. However, it’s fair to say, while I have created Tzipora Herzog on account of her ethnicity and socio-economics, Herzog’s co-creator provided Tzipora’s womanhood and sexuality. Like Herzog’s co-creator could not have provided her ethnicity, I could not have provided Herzog’s womanhood.

Building a game is team effort. Even if one particular person assumes the full risk of it and places that person’s mark on the project, like I myself am doing with Total Rendition, even that person will not be able to do everything. Even if that person was, it would not necessarily be desirable and this is true even for the most auteuristic of works.

-Mordechai Gabai