Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Developing Character Appearance

Syp, the proprietor of Bio Break, is hosting guest posts this week because he is off doing good in the real world somewhere. This was my contribution, refined:

I once wrote a guest post for Multiplaying about character backstories, developing them as motivation for in-game actions. Having a good idea of where your character comes from goes a long way toward "fleshing them out" in your mind, and even the minds of other people with whom you may share those stories. There are two other aspects of character customization. One is how you combine your character's skills, or talents and abilities, as you progress through the game. The system for this varies for each game that I have played, from the classes and talent trees of World of Warcraft, to the Soul System of Rift and the Ability Wheel of The Secret World. Usually, however, it is a slow progress that occurs throughout the game. The other aspect of character customization takes place within seconds of logging in to the game for the first time, and—depending on the game—is more or less permanent for the "life" of the character. This is character creation.
I am not talking here about choosing a class or even necessarily a faction, though that can impact what I am talking about. To me, the major part of character creation is deciding on the physical appearance of my avatar. Some games have lots of races (species really) to choose from. A fantasy setting will likely have variations on the Tolkien arch-races: crafty dwarves, brutish orcs, stately elves, and, of course, humans. A sci-fi game will probably have aliens of some sort. Choosing a racial appearance may lock in certain racial benefits like extra hit points or expertise with certain weapons, but I find that these tend to be trivial, and moreso the higher the level of your character (assuming there are levels).

A face that could launch a thousand quests.

Some character creation systems, like WoW, are fairly simple, a few hairstyles and colors, a few faces, skin-tones, maybe facial hair or tusks, and jewelry. The clothes are already set based on your race or class. Despite upgrades in graphics, the most recent games I've played are pretty much the same system. Both Star Wars: the Old Republic and TSW really have only a few options for faces, and SWTOR's costumes are fixed at the beginning based on class. Other games have more elaborate facial customization, like the facial shape triangles of Rift and Age of Conan, which seem to have tons of minute variations, so you can make the perfect face.
In addition to the facial customization, which is frankly only a slight improvement on WoW's, and then mostly in the graphic style, TSW has customizable outfits right from the character creation screen. While the choices are limited, especially compared to what can be purchased later in the game, the mere fact that, regardless of class, you can choose your avatar's clothing is a huge leap forward, in my opinion, though not quite revolutionary, as we shall see. TSW's wardrobe has enough variety that you can decide if your character is businesslike, a working stiff, or funky-punky. The clothes make the man (or woman), so to speak. And since clothes are not tied to player attributes like health and strength, you may become quite the clothes horse before you're through, without worrying about how it affects your gear progression.

The most extensive character creation system I have experienced is Star Trek Online, hands down; though I have heard Champions Online, also by Cryptic, is at least as elaborate. There are reasonable limits to established Star Trek races; but if you choose an "alien," the possibilities are almost endless. I have seen Na'vi from Avatar and Yoda from Star Wars running around in Earth Star Base. While there are a set number of uniforms, all the colors are customizable, plus there are uniform styles available from every canon era of the franchise. And again, none of it is tied to gear progression, so you can change out your outfits whenever you like. Re-customization does come with a fee.

It's all up to you.

Sometimes how your character looks can make or break your enjoyment of the game. Things like scars can give your avatar's face character, and be the launching point of a backstory. (Where did the scar come from?) Hair up, or down, can show a difference in personality. While I liked my priest and paladin characters in WoW (they were twin sisters), as soon as it was possible, I changed their hairstyles at the in-game barbershop to be more businesslike, reflecting their serious outlooks on their jobs/classes. In STO, for the first time, I made a character that actually resembled me, or at least an idealized version of me. In contrast, I couldn't get into Lord of the Rings Online partly because I couldn't get my avatars to look the way I thought they ought to.
I think you can tell a lot about a character by their appearance. Their personality, some of their background. A fat Sith is more about indulgence and study than a well-muscled one, who is probably more action-oriented, or even vain. A scowling character is not likely to be a carebear type. Much like the backstory, appearance can help flesh out your character, make him or her or it more real for you and increase your enjoyment of the game.

Are you the sort of person that takes an hour to get your character's face just right? Or do you just hit the random character generator and go with whatever pops out?


  1. Hehe, I know what you mean, I always need to be happy with the way my character looks like, otherwise I'll enjoy a game a lot less! (I keep thinking about playing Knights of the Old Republic, the first game, and how the game was great but I thought "ugh" each time I saw my female character - why couldn't she look a bit more like Bastila or Mission?)

    Perhaps I'm a bit less picky than you, as I do like the characters in LotRO, although, if I would have to start a male character, I'd be in big trouble. Let's not get into what the male elves look like... :P

    1. I know you love LOTRO. :) The characters' appearance wasn't a game breaker, just one more annoyance. :) In the end, it just didn't draw me in the way other games have.

      I did spend a lot of time with my SWTOR characters trying to get them just right. And a couple are still . . . off. The right (or wrong) voice affects SWTOR toons, as well, but is out of player control.

    2. So true! I have this dark skinned sentinel, and the jedi knight voice is so not right for her. Nothing to do about that, though. I don't think there is any voice in SWTOR that fits her, but luckily I still enjoy playing her. :)