It’s all about replicating a kind of stodgy form that already exists.

In one of the more curious instances of WTF? that I’ve come across in MMO design decisions, I’m currently playing a game where the character creator is absolutely spot on: a pause button to stop your character flailing all over the place while you’re trying to focus on them; an in-depth and varied set of options that actually let you create attractive characters, rather than something like EQ2’s fifty seven sliders to change the size of your ear lobes, but none to correct for the fact that you look like a boss-eyed waxwork from Madame Tussauds™ that has been accidentally left out in the sun; and further customisations once you’re in the game that allow you to create characters with a level of uniqueness that makes City of Heroes’ characters look like they were dressed by the Cub Scouts.

And then, when you get into the game proper, your character looks absolutely nothing like what you created because the game engine couldn’t possibly render such detail, but the translation from one to the other is not just a slightly blurred replication, as though it had been run through an ageing photocopier twenty or so times, no, it looks like someone took a mold of your perfect character and then used the mold itself to form them. The outside part.

It’s like looking at your character reflected in a puddle of jelly.

So what you’re left with is a character creator that is amazing, but has nothing to do with the character you will play in-game, which means that you have no real way of controlling how your character will look for ninety nine percent of the time that you’re interacting with them. It’s like buying a Rolls-Royce only to find out when you get it home that it’s actually a number of Rolls-Royce-shaped boxes, glued together and suspended across the back of an asthmatic cow.

It seems like MMO developers create their games themselves as though they were making a character in an MMO, as if they feel that there is a fixed set of points that one can spend on creating an MMO, and after that one has to stop. “Ah, now, we’ve spent lots of points in Good Ideas For Character Creation so we haven’t got any points left to spend on Making Sensible In-game Avatars, which is a shame”. Perhaps it is the ultimate point system – cold hard cash – which controls such things, but really, when we said we wanted an amazing character creation tool, we didn’t really mean ‘just an amazing character creation tool’, there was a sort of implied requirement that the output of said character creation was translated faithfully into the game world.

But what’s the point in having a fabulous character creator that doesn’t control how your character looks within the actual game?

6 thoughts on “It’s all about replicating a kind of stodgy form that already exists.

  1. Melmoth Post author

    “But what’s the point in having a fabulous character creator that doesn’t control how your character looks within the actual game?”

    Answer: Pre-release hype.

    (I hope you didn’t turn to the back of the book and check the answer before you’d worked it out for yourself)

  2. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    The answer is two-fold:

    1. Having pretty character creation will draw people into the world better. Being able to adjust a billion sliders will make people feel more invested in the character. Having the characters at their very prettiest will tickle that part of the typical player’s lizard brain that rewards them for looking at better graphics. It’s the same neurochemical reward system that gets people to buy games in stores based on the (doctored) screenshots on teh back of the box.

    2. Scaling. When creating your character, how much is going on in the background? Maybe some pretty static scenery that’s been optimized for the character creation. Now, once you’re done and plopped into the actual game world, what’s going on? NPCs with yellow exclamation points above their heads, wolves that are part of the first quest wandering around in the back, perhaps even a few other players jumping around or dancing mostly naked for coppers. Unless you have a supercomputer, performance is going to be worse than in the character creation clean-room.

    Have fun,

  3. Chadmango

    There’s been a similar sounding game I’ve been playing with a pause button in the character editor. Most annoying for me is that I spend loads of time creating characters, that invariabley don’t seem to load into the game world properly. At least that’s how it seems, judging by the army of clones I see wandering around me.

    As for current games I (we?) can name, Global Agenda is one that seems to change your character face as you load into the game. I’ve created one character for each class, and each time I’ve logged in it’s like they’ve all been hit with an uglystick during loading. Ah well, I guess it doesn’t really matter, we should be able to create characters with great backs and arses, as that’s all we ever really see.

  4. Hirvox

    Eve Online’s character creator is like this. The character stands still, posing for a bust shot. You can tweak musculature, clothing, tattoos, color and direction of the eyes.. and then the result is shrunk down into a 64×64 passport image. Some ideas like cowls, semitransparent headpieces, visors and glasses simply don’t work and end up hiding most of your character. Quite a few people are looking forward to Incarna just to see their characters for a change.

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