Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 11, 2014
 
How important is the character creation tool for you?

In a first-person view game, you don't see your character at all, or at best his arms. In a third-person view game your character is on the screen all the time, but you only see him from the back, and usually you are concentrated on what is in front of him. Only in more passively controlled games, like The Sims, do you really get a good look at your character. So when I was reading about the incredible character creation tool of Black Desert, a Korean MMORPG, I wondered whether that was really so important to MMORPG players. Yes, you can modify individual strands of hair of your avatar in that game, but isn't all that detail ultimately lost when playing the game? Have a look at the final characters in that video: After hours of creation you end up with a bunch of same-ish looking people.

That isn't to say that you can't make good character creation tools in MMORPGs. City of Heroes was exemplary in that you could make very different looking characters with the tools provided. But in that case the costume was part of the creation process, while in many other MMORPGs the look of your armor depends on the gear you found. As clothes make out a major part of your look, the character creation tool in those games is then often full of sliders which don't do much. Do you want your nose to be a centimeter longer, or your cheek bones a bit higher? Or do you simply not care, because once he is in the game, nobody is going to notice those minute details on your character?

Games like World of Warcraft or Wildstar at least have a wide variety of very different looking races on offer. Nobody is going to confuse your pink pigtailed gnome with your troll, or your chua with your mechari. Other games, like Black Desert or The Elder Scrolls Online, stick to humans, and that limits how different two characters can look from each other. As long as your character isn't wearing a helmet, hair style and color is still quite a visible difference. But the length of your eyelashes or diameter of your biceps you took hours to plan in detail risks to be completely unnoticeable to the world.

What do you think about character creation tools in MMORPGs? Should we have a detailed one like Black Desert has in all of our games? Or would you rather have less options, but more visible differences between characters?

Comments:
Very often, when I get a nice piece of armor or a cool weapon I will zoom in and rotate the camera to see how I look. I'm mostly certain that everyone does it once in a while. Plus you get to see your character in his full glory on the selection screen.

Also, this may sound stereotypical, but the majority of the female gamers I know really care about how their avatar looks. Second Life, a game with a mostly female demographic, is very popular because you can make even the most minor tweaks to your appearance.

Finally, I'm sure the RPers care about it.

Having a good character creation tool is the first thing your customers see and it's nice to make a god impression early on. And besides, when people feel more connected to their avatar (because they shaped it exactly like they wanted), it is more likely to stick with the game.
 
Sadly, Tamriel is full of plain or ugly people, because most players are not skilled enough with the ESO character creation tool to make handsome or beautiful avatars. I would be most happy if Bethesda's artists took care of this for me!

On the other hand, I spent 3 hours playing with the character creation tool in ESO. I was about to make the point that it obviously entertained me, to have spent that amount of time in it. And then I was struck by the thought - "who is expert at something after only spending three hours learning it"?

How about adding a character market, where people who are good at designing avatars sell their creations to cack-handed scrubs like me?

 
I think I prefer a simpler tool with plenty of variation.

Carrtoon-like characters are easier for most people to make as they want. Project Entropia was ruined for me when they brought out a sophisticated character generator and ruined my old character.

As for CoH, I played CoV and was annoyed that my character, the Snooker Fiend, could not have a bow tie. The more things you allow, the more annoyance when you hit up against an arbitrary limit.
 
The only thing I pay attention to is the haircuts, because all you ever really see of a character is the back of their head!
 
It may sound odd to those who don't care much about their character's looks, but character creation by itself can be a form of gameplay. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's ever fired up a character creator just to play around with the different options, yet never actually clicking the finish button.

That said, I'm also in favour of fewer sliders and more unique looks. The only time I ever got good use out of a detailed slider system was when I spent hours in the Sims 2, trying to create Sims that looked like my friends or like certain celebrities. In an MMO, I just want to a character that looks appealing, and having too many detailed sliders instead of presets actually makes that harder.
 
Character creation is frequently the very first opportunity to get immersed into the game. So I usually spend at least 30 minutes to get a character that:
* Looks like they fit in the game world
* Gives me a starting point for whatever motivations I might think up for that character. Very important for games that have choices or at least illusions of choices.
* Allows me to care what happens to that character. If I can't stand watching the character for hours on end, the game will have an uphill battle in getting me to stay.

I admit that sometimes the choices made in the character creator can seem somewhat silly, especially if gear is not customizable. But when done correctly, the character customization and the gear will supplement each other quite well. So it's useful to be able to edit any details that might detract from the look that you're trying to achieve.

@Dàchéng: Wildstar actually has something similar. All character settings are compressed down to string of characters, which you can copy and paste into the character creator to re-create that exact same look. There are very few UI options to supplement it, but it's a start.
 
I find that the professional artists are much better than I am at designing a good looking avatar so I tend to go with more default looks. But outside of game like SWTOR how often do you even look at your toon's face? The look of the armor is much more important to me.

@Dacheng, I would love the idea of a character market. I always see these beautiful toon out in the world but I never make anything close.
 
If I don't like my character in my (MMO)RPG games, then simple I don't play those games. Is such important.
To be clear, uniqueness is not what defines my willingness to play. Is just if I like what I see, if I like the character model and the armors.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
I walk around in real-life in 1st person view. I can't "see" myself without using a mirror, but I very much care about my appearance.

Why would you assume that we wouldn't similarly care about the appearance of our virtual avatars in an online world?
 
When I read the title, my first thought was that you were going to talk about Hero Lab, but MMO character creation is good enough a discussion topic.

As for the tools I've seen, I love being able to have a well customized character creation tool. My only complaints stem from the lack of real options in some of the MMO tools. Some MMOs, such as WoW, may have different races, but the options to customize a different race are much more restrictive than on other MMOs. Among MMOs of the same (relative) age, LOTRO is better than WoW, even though the toons themselves look a bit meh. Age of Conan is nicer still with a wide range of options, except the inevitable women's breasts size range (from big to "what size implants ARE those?").

I've not played TESO, but I have played Skyrim, and their character creation tool is nice, but the options don't look very appealing. Particularly the non-human races.

 
@redbeards TES non-humans were never pretty, a little bunch of aliens. Butt looking at the games it seems these people just wanted to portray this alien world and they just sorta did that without any conerns for aesthetics.
TES Online made elves pretty though. no more alien eyes.

Back on topic - the more options the better, the detail depends on the lore and mood of the game. The weirder things get, the less consistent the world seems to be and the less serious you treat it, the less flow (immersion?) it provides to the player.

It's what Tobold once wrote. There's a 'world' game and the 'game' game. If you value the 'world' game, then detailed options and limited variety makes more sense. If you're in for the 'game' game, then potato heads, purple manga afros, mario bros oversized heads and diablo-angelic wings - all the variety of truly visible stuff - makes a lot of sense.

It's a question of balance between the visual entertainment and the rules imposed by content.


 
In almost all the games with detailed character creation, I hit the Random button a bunch of times to get something that seems ok to me. I'e found that when I try and customize, I make things look worse.
 
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