Character Creation Can Be a Game All Its Own


#1

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It happens to me every time: The music swells, the game’s intro cinematic comes to dramatic close, I’m brought to a character creation screen, and I immediately break out into a flop sweat because I know I’m about lose three hours of my life. Sometimes that’s because I want to get their look just right, but more often than not, it’s about something else: lore.

This doesn’t always happen, of course. I generally have a pretty ambivalent relationship with lore, that knotted collection of old stories, characters, locations, and other info-points that builds up over a long series’ history. When I play a game with lore I’m unfamiliar with (especially one without character creation, like this week’s God of War)—I’m happy to let the game take the lead in introducing me to its world and characters without turning to a fan wiki. (That said, I was keen to look up some of the more traditional, mythological references as I played).

But when a game does let me craft my own hero at the start, I feel an added sense of duty to get it right, especially when I’m choosing more than just my character’s look. Every new Elder Scrolls game begins with me brushing up on the lore of Tamriel. When Fallout: New Vegas insisted I was just some courier, well, boy, did I have news for it. Skills, perks, factions, stats, cultural heritages: Each demands careful care and attention, a reason for each selection. And then all of that needs to come together with how they look. It's a lot.

I bring this up because, with Battletech releasing next Tuesday, I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about my OC. Fantasy wizards and wasteland warriors are one thing, but space kingdoms, giant robots, things of that nature? That’s my entire shit.

Before review code even came in, I was scouring YouTube videos from streamers that received extra-early copies of the game so I could absorb all of my options: Eight different possible family heritages, from the honor-bound Draconis Combine to the matriarchal Magistracy of Canopus to the mysterious “Deep Periphery” of the galaxy. Five reasons for my character to split from their family—I’ve already decided on exile, even though the “loner” background provides the stats I want. And six career backgrounds, which honestly is just rude. You want me to decide between Frontier Pirate and Solaris Gladiator? Are you serious? Fuck off, Battletech!

For me, all of this is a game inside of a game, a little aperitif that gets me to buy in to the game’s world (and sometimes I get more enjoyment out of building my character than the main course). So long as I can find decent setting guide, fan wiki, or lore video that offers some introductory insight (but which doesn’t go into excruciating detail), I can easily spend hours reviewing the various factions, major characters, and historical moments of a given game world. All before reaching the tutorial.

So, I’m curious, how do you feel about character creation? Do you just button through it to get on to the good stuff, or are you (like me) bound to lose sleep over inconsistencies in your OC’s backstory? Do you have a favorite setting to make characters in? Let me know the answer to these questions over in the forums in today's Open Thread!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/xw7kb7/character-creation-can-be-a-game-all-its-own

#2

There’s probably games where I spent more time in character creation than I did in the game proper. It’s hard not for me to get really lost in them sometimes, and even in games that are lighter on detail with it I find myself filling gaps in my head. There’s just something about making a history, you know?


#3

I love character creation so much I am generally more disinclined to play games that don’t let me make my own character.

I don’t care for being forced to play as Gravelly-Voiced White Dude Protagonist #27456. I feel far more comfortable when my game character is a woman. So when I’m given the chance to make a unique (within the bounds of the game’s editor, of course) protagonist, I leap at the chance. I have spent so much time learning the character creator’s ins-and-outs, loading and reloading to tweak things, etc. all while coming up with personalities and backstory details for my character that fleshes out what the game gives me. Basically every time a game gives me a character creator option, I discard the pre-made character immediately.

What’s funny is that once I do really nail down a character I like, I often keep using them on subsequent playthroughs, making the same decisions and paths as before. Once I’ve really got a “canonical” protagonist made I have a hard time getting invested in anybody’s story but hers.


#4

It’s so often a case of building a least bad. I understand it’s extremely hard to do but I’m generally disappointed by the range and quality (vs crafted characters, especially ones based on likenesses) of what can be made and so go in with maybe some ideas but drift towards whatever I can find in the range that looks least immersion breaking.

So I guess that process does help to refine the character I’m creating in my head at the same time, as I realise that these 3 accessories are the only ones that look any good or that I have to really go with this hair style to avoid crying whenever I enter a cut-scene.

Bonus points for character creation screens that show some potential outfits (for games where you change clothes) and offers to select between lighting conditions so you get a better idea of how it’ll actually look. Minus a million points if the character creator doesn’t even use the same shaders as the actual game (or just uses a lighting system you’ll never be exposed to in the game itself) and so shows you a character that looks completely different to the one you’ll see in the actual game you’re about to play.


#5

It really depends on the kind of game for me.

I know when playing the Sims, for example, character creation is the most important thing. Every little detail of this person is important in the game to come. While there is always the option to make new Sims to add in, I like to think I’m stuck with the choices I made with my initial character. In that sense everything about the character is important, because in whatever little way, it will impact the family for generations to come.

I have a different attitude in a lot of different games, however. In Mount and Blade, when making a new character, I tend to a) Give them a stupid name, b) put all the sliders to extremes, and c) click through the backstory options more casually than I should do. While my characters story is still important to me, it’s a different kind of importance which isn’t made within the confines of the creator. The following story, in this case, is more important than the creation.

For me this really varies though, and I haven’t being playing loads of games with character creation recently - but it is something I enjoy.

(I also like my weird looking characters looking super out of place in serious cutscenes)


#6

You know, i really love going ham on the creating a character in a character creator, writing their backstory in my mind, getting disappointed by how they are implemented in the game, and abandon the said game altogether.
i guess i just like to create characters and not necessarily roleplay them in a world provided.


#7

I spend a ton of time in character creators, but I think it mostly due to the anxiety that would come with fucking it up. Too many times, I get 30 minutes into a campaign and decide “this character isn’t for me, gotta start over.”

Related, I’ve been having a ton fun making folks in XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. Because there’s so many people I don’t need to be too picky and I can allow a character’s performance in battle dictate their personality and style. Alternatively, I can let their default appearance dictate how I play them and that’s fun too!


#8

Up until recently I didn’t think I was that big of a character creation fan. Usually I’d make the character look vaguely like me in under five minutes and be off to the races. But a few weeks ago I decided to try NBA 2k18, which starts by forcing you to create a player. I got weirdly invested, mostly owing to the fact that sports games are so far ahead of the curve in making custom PoC characters not look like butt. So I spend almost an hour making a 6’6” doppelgänger, and then I get to the step where I name my character. And for some reason, my last name couldn’t get passed the game’s cuss-filter. Faced with the possibility of playing with a different last name, I promptly deleted the game not having dribbled once. Turns out I do care about character creators a whole lot.


#9

True story: most of my first hour of Destiny 2 was spent redesigning my Warlock from D1 because I wasn’t happy with the way her hair looked.

Sidebar: Destiny 2 needed way more customization options (for a character we hardly ever actually see, I know).

The first thing I did after purchasing XCOM2 was to make 50 recruits in the character maker.

So, um, yes. I feel this.


#10

Character creation was why I fell in love with Dragon Quest IX. I got it when I was 15, and it was my first proper JRPG outside of Pokémon. I loved my paladin main character. Creating the rest of my party was the cherry on top. Beyond just the looks of the characters, the class options were so fun to mess around with. My thief turned into a powerful she-gladiator. My priest became an ass-kicking sage. My martial artist occasionally dipped into other classes to gain new skills. There was always so much to do, and I truly cared for these characters.

This is actually the reason I didn’t like Dragon Quest VIII on the 3DS. Putting skills into different weapons that my pre-generated characters could use was so much less interesting systems-wise than creating characters and choosing their classes. While the DQVIII story was memorable (I can’t remember a thing from DQIX), the lack of character customization ruined it for me.


#11

I always spend a very long time in character creation on my first pass through games, and occasionally on repeated ones (after a dozen Dark Souls playthoughs I don’t spend much time thinking out who I’m playing as anymore). I don’t always lean in to a backstory before creating the character, but I do like to develop one over the course of the game to fit the narrative I’m creating in game, if there is one. Listening to Friends at the Table has actually pushed me in to overdrive on this. When I’m faced with a choice in a game that offers one, such as in Mass Effect games, I like to think about why my character is making their decision one way or another, and retroactively think about their history and what lead them to feel that way. ME Andromeda might have been a disappointment but I felt a real attachment to my character because of the life and beliefs that I had envisioned her having prior to the game itself. That may have been the only thing that pushed me to finish that game.

The Elder Scrolls series has been one of the most important franchises in my life ever since I faked sick to stay home from school and play Morrowind for three straight days. I have read all the in game books over and over and have spent way too much time thinking about the lore. When I went in to Skyrim for the first time I had a whole backstory for Ningishzida, an Argonian hunter, before even knowing what the game had in store.


#12

Character creation/progression has probably become the single most important aspect of a game for me over the years. I don’t need to grind levels. I don’t care about having 5% higher crit chance. It tends to go hand-in-hand with what I do care about though, which is my story showing.

I want to start off looking the way I want to look, but in rags, and work up to armor or robes, eventually shoulder pads, probably a cape. Probably eventually something absurd looking. This pauldron has 130 degrees of a pirate wheel on it. You know, from that time I skinned that boat.

I don’t want to start off looking how I’m going to end up looking, and I don’t want to end up looking how I started off looking. (Which has made a lot of ‘cosmetics only/mostly’ pricing models frustrating, to say the least, with options frequently ranging from “buy this Santa suit to look like every other Santa” to “well, after 200 hours. your clothes might be a different color, but to look different, your credit card number has been the only input you’ve needed the whole time.”)

Obviously it’ll depend a bit on the type of game it is, but that’s always been a sticking point for my interest. Even in minimal forms, like a longer tail/scarf in Journey, feeling like I was experiencing a section of the, or my, character’s story which is leaving a mark on them. (There’s also the high frequency with which games with character creators are the ones that offer up looks, voices, and characters I want to play, rather than gruff, now bearded, white dudes. In 2018. This is still what we’re doing in 2018, huh?)


#13

I really love character creators, but my approach to character creation changes depending on the game. If the game has lore I actually care about, or if it assigns a backstory to the character, I tend just to make a cool looking character I see as a part from myself.

If the game doesn’t have lore that I care about or leaves the player character a blank slate, I usually make a different version of myself. The most recent example of this being MHW, where I made an East Asian Trans Lesbian version of myself.


#14

I always say to myself beforehand that I’m going to really try to customise my character when I go into a game that I know has a proper character creator, but at some point around the third tick on the “forehead slope” slider I lose the will and give up. Which means that in terms of looks, my PCs are generally some variant of generic, only broadly adapted to what I originally had in mind.

When it comes to backstory, though, I have a bit more staying power - ask me about my gentleman scientist from Bloodborne, or my Siberian tiger Khajit who had been adopted and raised by a Nord family from Skyrim, some time…


#15

Stupid names are the best. I named my Persona 5 character BRONSON EXTRACT and my favorite Dark Souls character I’ve ever made was named BIG MCLARGE.


#16

Tactical Tuesday made me go back to XCOM and give all my soldiers personalities, quirks, and flaws. It’s been fun and fulfilling (and heartbreaking, because it’s XCOM) in a way games haven’t felt for me in a long time.


#17

I’d rather make my own lore, which is why I prefer tabletop character creation. If the GM is flexible and cedes some control to players, I’ll make the character, the character’s family, the organization the character worked for, relevant villains, etc. Since I don’t get a ton of input on what the story is in video games, I tend to just make sure I like the look and that’s that.


#18

I don’t always love character creation, mostly because I have a hard time making a character that looks good, but my favorite experience with character personalization came from Salt and Sactuary.
Initially I just built my character as a generic rogue because I like to move fast. But early in the game you are asked to select a religious faction, and I chose Devara, the goddess of light, as I liked the idea of a spot of goodness in what was clearly going to be a dark game. Over the course of the game, my religious affiliation gave me access to holy buffs and I stated my character into a faith build. I also found a scythe that became my only weapon because it looked badass. Eventually I found myself playing a character I made up in my head. I wasn’t just a faceless dark souls-esque pc exploring the world, I was the assassin for the goddess of light, cleansing this vile island of baddies.
It was a great time and really improved the game experience for me.


#19

Character creation is also my shit. If there is a random creator I click that generator until I get something that calls to me. Then I go in and sculpt. I spent my younger days always making an idealized version of me. Straight off the assembly line white guy, messy brown hair, beard, only this guy had a cool a eye scar and abs instead of a drinking problem and affinity for weed. These days in my old age, I want to play something different. I know how worlds and situations play out for a straight white dude. I usually make WOC now. I want every experience, even imaginary ones, to be new in some way. In today’s world I need some stimuli that isn’t the same drudgery of the currently awful real world. Calgon or Paradox, take me away.

I’ve always loved the dress up facet of character creation and as graphics and memory budgets have increased, I love anything that lets me set up various looks. I will change them based on situation. In Destiny I I gear up for strikes in a bright shining red and gold outfit decorated in lions and wolves with a face mask resembling an ancient Japanese demon. I want PIZAZZ! For crucible, I switch to Earthier tones and a leaner profile. I want to be hard to see and full of deathly fierceness. When I go to the city/tower I change back to the Iron Man, but lions and wolves gear but take off my helmet and let my large swooping purple mohawk and deeply purple glowing eyes shine free, Then I kick in the dance emote and crush all my junk guns for parts, and then run around to the vendors and take selfies with the selfie emote with people I think also look cool.

If I had a way to request one thing though, is that I wish sculpting faces in games was easier for me. My Shepard will always look like his parents were first cousins because my try at altering the default Shepard left me with a head out of the worst 90’s comics, and I got far enough in that I was too invested in “my” Shepard to start over. I have no clue how one would allow an enforceable, yet not shittily named, “normalizer”. It’s my idea and I can’t think of a word that doesn’t feel mean spirited and exclusionary. But basically when my OC DO NOT STEAL gets too off the rails it morphed back towards a default setting without wiping my changes.

I used to run Shadowrun campaigns in high school and college and I would ask that everyone write up some goals and a backstory for their characters and I’d make their stats and all to fit that, and then build a story outline out of those goals. One that seemed to go over very well was right after Reservoir Dogs had come out and I had an idea for a campaign where no one knew who the other people were, and also would have conflicting interests and stakes in maintaining their secret identities. The overall story itself became secondary to the plotting and scheming to learn each other’s identities and see their faces. One character had killed another’s sister in a heel turn on a previous run, one was a high ranking executive who wanted his freedom from his corp and was forced to hide his humanity to shelter people where he could from his corporate overlords, but had been in charge of a project that displaced hundreds of people from their slum homes and led to another player’s family being split up and abject poverty for them.

I hope like hell Cyberpunk has a dope ass character creator.


#20

Yup. At least for games with any kind of RPG mechanics, I spend hours in the character creation. I’m pretty sure I spent more time in the character creator of DC Universe Online than in the actual game. I’m not super good at using sliders, so for me its more of a process of finding the best looking combination of template settings. Name is another aspect that I can get stuck on for hours.

MMOs are the worst offenders though, especially ones where you can twink - like EverQuest. I would spend days researching and planning a new character. The race, class, name, gear etc. It would often take me weeks before I actually got down and started playing the character. And I would often find that I had more fun doing the planning that actually playing the game, resulting in a long list of low level characters wearing all sorts of cool gear I spent days farming/buying with my main character.