My daughter regularly watches me play video games and being five, she’s starting to want to play them with me. Like most children her age she’s surprisingly good on a tablet or phone and can comfortably play simple games such as Angry Birds or whatever else it is ‘the kids’ now play.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve wanted to allow her to play on my computer for some time but it’s surprising how little interest she has in the games I play and instead finds herself fascinated by character creators. That’s not entirely surprising considering she loves creative games such as Toca Salon, but I’m amazed at just how much they seem to captivate her.
What I found particularly interesting when she does use a character creator, regardless of the game, is that her desire for something often far exceeds what’s available. Questions such as “Daddy, can I be an old lady?”, “Can I be super muscly?”, “Can I have a funny walk?”, “Can I have long claws?” and while there’s something flexibility in most character creators, I realized just how limited they are.
If I were to suggest a “best” character creator, I’d have to say there isn’t one but the likes of Aion and Black Desert Online do things rather well. Elder Scrolls Online is relatively limited and similarly to Guild Wars 2, despite seemingly offering some variety and flexibility, often results in Heroes that all look pretty similar. While the likes of Black Desert Online can certainly yield monsters, most of the time characters created are beautiful and it’s hard to make a something specific (such as an elderly woman).
The simple questions my daughter often asks highlights the limitations in our current character creators and I think that goes a long way in not only harming the potential for role-play but truly being satisfied with your own character. I’ve always wanted a character similar to Dekkard Cain from Diablo. Effectively a stooped elderly man and with preference, the flexibility to use magic and wield a melee staff.
I’ve never once been able to achieve it simply because looking elderly tends to be a very poor facial overlay while I’ve yet to find a recent MMO with postures (Champions Online was the last). As far as I’m concerned it’s these little things that are sorely missing from character creators and while I welcome the ability to heavily adjust my character's face or build, that’s not enough to necessarily create a ‘feel’. Even if I set out to make Dekkard Cain (or thereabouts) he’s still be a spritely, upright standing man with the same body as a young alternative: the only difference is a facial texture.
I’m not suggesting the lack of postures or genuine choice in character creators prevents you from enjoying your hero, nor am I suggesting that current creators are poor. I do however feel that they’re missing key features that would truly add variety to the way we look and how that then impacts on how we interact with others.
There is inevitably a risk with any character creator that if too much freedom is given to players to do as they please, it can result in the horrors that Aion was famed for, and yet there could quite easily be a middle ground. Postures, a greater selection of fixed body weights (where’s my Narbash?) and an age selection that amounted to something more than minor adjustment to a facial texture would be fantastic. While we’re at it, I’d also love to see a variety of walks that you can choose in order to really cement your characters movement in line with their “look”.
Many of these suggestions would likely be difficult for any developer and I’m conscious of the fact that the Charr from Guild Wars 2 have caused ArenaNet considerable problems. A unique running animation, posture and larger than normal frame has seen the race starved of good-looking armor. Perhaps with time and effort such issues could have been rectified or at least thought could have been given at the design stage to such quandaries.
For the next MMO to really make its mark (whatever that may be) I think we need to start with the basics - right back to the first things players experience - and in every instance, that’s the character creator. If we can improve that to the point where you fall in love with your character before you even start, that’s surely half the battle won?
How important is a character creator for you? Do you think the genre could benefit from more robust options? Are you fed up of typical looks and the array of default options (hair, eye color etc.) Do you think future MMO’s need to place greater emphasis on character creators? Let me know!