What Makes Character Creation Great

What Makes Character Creation Great

Character creation is a major part of video games. It has been interwoven into many different games across different genres. It is most commonly seen in role playing games like Dragon Age: Origins and Skyrim, but you’ll also find it in other kinds of games, like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

Just like the diverse games that include it, character creation takes on many different forms. With each game including new things, or changing details that make it stand out from other games. Sometimes this works brilliantly, making the game itself stand out amongst the myriad of character creators. However, some elements of the vital part of character creation work poorly, even to a frustrating point. There is nothing quite like spending dozens of minutes to hours in character creation to then realize the character you will be spending hours playing as looks like an insulting rendition of Picasso’s paintings in a battle harness. 

Here is a list of some elements that make character creation excellent, as well as points that we could stand to do without.

Body Types: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

In game character creation for Capcom's Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen. Shows several of the games various base body types.

Dragon’s Dogma has a selection of different body types, and allows you to edit specific details beyond the base body. (Image: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, Capcom)

People come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Though we cannot possibly account for all the intricate details that make us, and our bodies, unique in our video game characters; being able to choose from multiple body types is a great (and rarely seen) compromise.

Different games have addressed this in various ways. Some might work a bit better than others, but being able to choose from more options than just a slender feminine body and a muscular masculine body is refreshing to see in games. 

For example, in Capcom’s fantasy RPG, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, you get to create both your playable main character, and your main companion who will accompany you throughout the game. The game includes a number of sliders and starting body types. Your characters can have a slender waist and broad shoulders, or a larger build with a wide frame and strong arms. 

The Devil’s in the Details

In character creation, details matter. Is your forehead clipping through your hair and bangs? Are your cheekbones sharp enough to be a weapon by themselves? Did you accidentally make a terrifying skeleton wearing a skinsuit?

All of this and more can be avoided by rotatable and zoomable cameras during character creation. This is especially true for games that employ highly detailed character models such as games like Bioware’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series is another special example, as abusing sliders can result in ludicrous and hilarious character models.

In these games and others like them, being able to see the character in various degrees of detail and from different angles can make a huge difference in the final result. 

Lights, Cameras, Actio- Wait… Okay, Back to Character Creation

Additionally, being able to see your character in good lighting can make a world of difference. This may sound obvious, but character creation screens should accurately show what your characters will look like in-game. Strange lighting and dark backgrounds can make a bad decision look appealing. Then in the first cutscene, your character’s hair or makeup looks entirely different; meaning you need to just accept that your character looks like a hungover clown for the rest of the day, or jump back into character creation to fix the one or two mistakes.

Square Enix made an intelligent choice to counter this recurring issue in character creation. In Final Fantasy XIV, you can change the lighting into several different options of backdrops. It includes the basic blue background, a sunny coastal scene, a verdant forest, or a cozy, warmly lit tavern.

Diversity in Creation

It is vital that people see those like themselves portrayed in the media, and video games are no exception. Therefore, actively including a variety of ethnicities, skin colours, and facial features in character creation is fundamental. This goes beyond the token effort of adding one natural hair style, and has been an on-going issue in the gaming industry.

Additionally, the best way to develop a character creator is to hire a diverse development team. We have more than enough default, rugged white men as the protagonist, we really don’t need more.

Why Are We Gendering Hair Again?

It is important that people can also see themselves and their identities in the protagonists they play. Specifically, the inclusion of non-binary options during character creation. This feature has been implemented in a few games, though is sorely lacking in larger titles.

In smaller games, such as Tactical Adventure’s SOLASTA Crown of Magister, and Worldwalker Games LLC’s Wildermyth, you are given the option to create non-binary characters. Characters can also use they/them pronouns. In the case of Wildermyth, which is fully text-based, all pronouns are used correctly, though in very few situations, the associated grammar and tenses are mixed up.

In game capture of Worldwalker LLC.'s Widlermyth hair selection. Shows a variety of the base hairstyles, including both feminine and masculine styles.

Wildermyth has a wide selection of hairstyles, each one available to all characters. (Image: Wildermyth, Worldwalker LLC)

In line with making non-binary characters, many character creators enable hairstyles to be genderless. However, this is still an ongoing issue, as many games have “genderlocked” hair, and especially facial hair.

Wildermyth and Hairbrained Schemes’ BATTLETECH both do an excellent job, making it easier to create non-binary and/or androgynous characters. It is always a personal pleasure to see non-binary character options in creators.

Different Types of Character Creation

Video games and their character creators come in a wide variety. Different teams, companies, art styles, funding, and genre all play a major role in creating the main character. More diverse options should be included in massively popular games like Mass Effect and Dark Souls, as well as much smaller teams and games like SOLASTA Crown of the Magister or Wildermyth. Regardless of the size or ambition of the game, it doesn’t take much to create a great character creator. 

Games might include highly detailed character models, or simplify the process by using beautiful portraits to represent your character, but really the process of creating the main character (or entire party in some cases) is an important starting point for games and is often preferred. Many people, myself included, spend no small amount of time with character creators. It may be done differently based on the game, but it is no less important.

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What are your favourite parts in creating characters? Did we miss some? Let us know in the comments!

If you want to see something different, check out this  review of Death Stranding!

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