MMO Rant #9: “Better” Character Creation

I love making my character look unique. If you can identify me as “Blackguard” or “Luckbad” or any of the other characters I play immediately because you’re a friend of mine in a game, I am happy. Many games have professed to have better character creation than every else. Interestingly enough, ignorant people have agreed with them even though they are completely wrong. I will go on record today and say that I. Hate. Sliders.

I know what you’re thinking… “OMG, Shwayder, why do you hate sliders? Sliders are the greatest thing to happen to character creation since eye tints! I can’t believe you think sliders are stupid. I think you’re stupid.”

I think you’re stupid, too. I don’t actually hate sliders, I hate the people who use them. The reliance on sliders as “good” customization makes my stomach hurt sometimes. Ook, you can make the nose longer, wider, move it up, left, right, and even make it look like it has been broken 100 times. How nice. 9 times out of 10, there is an extremely tight range in which that nose doesn’t look like a dumbass cartoon character. And 9 other times out of 10 other times, I can’t tell the difference in the game anyway.

You know what game has good character creation? I don’t know, either. Most of the times I’ve been able to identify friends in games, it has been based on the armor or clothing they wore rather than what their character customization was like. And games these days don’t seem to even have that luxury (the last games I really could say I recognized people based on their equipment were Ultima Online and EverQuest).

Anyway, back to character creation. Most character creation systems suck, especially if they rely on sliders. You either look like everyone else or you look like a giant dumbass. Then there are the ones that seem to be going in a better direction like WoW–you can swap out geometry completely and these options are created by artists so they don’t look completely stupid. But then there are usually too few options and there’s no additional cool factor, like eye color pickers, skin color pickers, size sliders (ACK I SAID SLIDERS!), etc.

Yeah, my ultimate character creation system would actually be a combination of choosing from predefined options and the sliders I claim to hate. The Wii actually does a pretty damn good job of it, in my opinion. Those of you who answered that to the question about “what game has good character creation” were close, but it’s a console, not a game. They have predefined options that you can tilt, resize, move up and down, tint, and do lots of neat little things to. You can pretty much make a Mii (the avatars created on the Wii) that looks like anyone on the planet, which is pretty awesome.

So there you have it, my ultimate character creation system is the Nintendo Wii’s Mii creation system translated into 3D MMO format. Add in some awesome equipment customization and I’m a very happy camper.

In the interest of maintaining this as a rant, screw all of you who rely on sliders for character customization if they look completely dumb, and screw all of you who rely on changing predefined options if you don’t make those options various and meaningful. I want to see real, better character creation in MMOs. Our avatars are our freaking identities in these games, and the social aspect is so blindingly important that more time should be spent making a sweet character creation system than saying that it’s better when it’s not.

P.S. If you answered City of Heroes or Villains to the question, you are wrong. It’s a great system for what they intended, but I don’t count it as good character creation if you can’t slap a bunch of other equipment on your character without harming the customization (and throwing a platemail armor set on my favorite CoH character, Digerati, would make him completely unidentifiable).

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23 Responses to "MMO Rant #9: “Better” Character Creation"

  1. Random Poster

    P.S. If you answered City of Heroes or Villains to the question, you are wrong. It’s a great system for what they intended, but I don’t count it as good character creation).

    Ahhh but for character CREATION, it has the best out of the current group. For creation anyway. It sucks completely and thoroughly once you get any levels under your belt as you will ALWAYS look the same regardless of equipment (not counting the “tailor” visits you can get, which don’t really let you change the way you look base don equipment, and instead just let you change the entire way you look). Yes semantics to an extent but one has to give CoH/Cov some credit. It is hands down the only game where I can literally spend over an hour just making a character. And equipment in the game isn’t as big a deal since you do not get equipment (enhancements aren’t really the same thing as armor/weapons). This lets them get away with your avatar not changing unless you choose to.

    (and throwing a platemail armor set on my favorite CoH character, Digerati, would make him completely unidentifiable).

    That is going to happen in any game though where you are item based in the current MMO worlds. There are ways around this I think , though it does involve more work on the developers part.

    Dye’s are a start but a very limited start. I’d like to see it implemented so that on a quest reward or an item drop you have an option of what the armor will look like. It all has the same base stats but you have say 3 or 4 meshes to choose from when you go to equip it. If it’s part of an armor set you can make all 3 or 4 styles fit in with each other if you like. Same goes for weapons. I can’t count how many times a bow has dropped that I would have loved to use on my dwarf hunter, but I can’t stand bows (it’s just not dwarfy damn it :P ) doing it the way I described I win the drop and when I go to equip it it pops up a screen and I then choose if I want it to look like a gun a bow or a crossbow, same stats, just a different mesh. Do that and then toss dyes in on top of it and it GREATLY increases ones options for being identifiable. Will it completely prevent copycat syndrome..no but then aside from letting everyone design their own armor (ala Second Life’s clothing) you won’t be able to.

    That’s my wishlist, I am fairly sure it’s a lot harder than it sounds but then i’m not a programmer so I get to make these outlandish requests :P

  2. Daven

    Hair length, hair color, eye color and skin color. Thats all I need.The one problem I have is that everyone does the same quest so everyones equipment looks the same and we all end up looking like clone troopers. Back in the day in eq1, I had a teal blue barnacle BP (stats sucked) but I was unique. People always knew who I was and even had trade offers for it. Thats all I want :)

  3. RickR

    SWG has a pretty good system, a combination of sliders for sizing, and options for things like hairstyle, tatoo styles, or Wookiee fur pattern, and then palettes for colour options. Players who choose the Entertainer profession can also “Image Design” other players, changing the appearance of their character for them to give them hairstyle or tattoo or colour options not available at initial character creation time.
    Combined with the impressive array of clothing and armour options (most of it able to be coloured at crafting time), really no 2 players look the same unless they specifically choose to.

  4. Daven: Stay tuned for my rant for next(ish) week entitled, “MMO Equipment, Attack of the Clones.” I actually hate the equipment issues in current games more than character creation, because character customization is pretty much trivialized by equipment anyway.

    The rant here was more directed at the poor excuses for “better” character creation that I feel is worse than older creation, though I went on about 18 tangents along the way.

  5. JuJutsu

    I’m old fashioned; I still distinguish between the avatar and the character. Character creation tends to suck even more than the creation of the avatar’s look.

  6. Teljair

    I agree, character customization in MMO’s sucks. LOTRO and L2 are the worst imo. Although L2 has the nicest armor in any MMO I have ever played.

  7. Brent Michael Krupp

    I totally agree with you that sliders SUCK.

    I am NOT an artist. Having to use sliders to make my character not look like crap asks me to be an artist. The game company employs artists — MAKE THEM design my characters. I.e. provide a number of non-crappy faces I can choose from. Yeah, some minor customization is cool, like coloration, but don’t make it hard not to look stupid (I’m looking at you EQ2 and LotRO).

    Good old EQ had it mostly right — the face choices were distinctive and non-crappy. Yeah, there could have been more, but I actually *recognized* my friends in-game from their faces. I’m not sure I could tell you what any of my friends in WoW look like, in contrast. Aside from the clown-suit pastiches of color they wear, LOL.

  8. Thermoses

    Why not have multiple levels of definition, to satisfy multiple playstyles?
    1. Get me in the game – let me pick a face.
    2. I want some freeform, but I’m not an artist. Let me pick features.
    3. I could spend hours putzing with my character – give me sliders.
    4. I’m an artist – give me a pallet.

    Libraries for #1 and #2 can be created from #3. #4 would require some extra definition, but you have an infinite budget, right?

  9. Part of the problem is that character faces just don’t take up that much screen real estate. How often do your friends’ char faces show up large enough for you to notice eye color, anyway? I love getting to pick it, but truth be told the only place it ends up mattering is on the character selection screen. Someday I hope they get to a level of texture and detail where more of these things are noticeable in game, but I do suspect that for now, equipment will continue to be how characters differentiate themselves.

  10. So if you put a suit of plate mail with a helmet on your Mii, it doesn’t look like everyone else? The Mii does something that City of Heroes does not?

    If you can’t think of how to incorporate items and other sorts of customization into the City of Heroes character creator, we’re back to why you’re stupid. Your argument seems to be that if we slap YAFMMORPG’s non-customized items on top of a customized character, you will not see the customized parts anymore. Yeah, that’s kind of the point. If you were to make City of Elves and Orcs, the customization level would be at the items on top, not the clothing that is covered up. Isn’t Chronicles of Spellborn doing something with this, allowing you to customize your item look without it affecting your stats?

    The real problem with the City of Heroes system is that it has affects that do just what those items do. Every */Dark Armor Scrapper really does look alike, since each is in the same cloud of darkness. Every Broad Sword and Battle Axe looks the same. Half the characters spend their time invisible anyway, so the costume does not matter. If you stack enough sparklies and effects on someone, all the decorations and customization in the world won’t matter, because you won’t be able to see it. What is needed is customization of powers, so that you can change the color of your Energy Blast or redecorate your Granite Armor. Then characters would still look different even when all the powers are flying around.

    If you are slapping everyone in the same helmet and armor, yes, they all look the same. Duh.

  11. [...] of my favorite ranters, Nerfbat, recently added to his list of classics, this time on character customization.  My take… it sounds most like a wish to figure out a way to make faces matter.  Easily [...]

  12. The biggest problem, in my opinion, isn’t that you can’t make a completely unique looking character. The problem is that most of today’s games are built in such a way that you never really see the face of the people around you.

    It’s not the sliders which suck, per se. It’s the fact that sliders create nuanced looks, and in the third person view of most MMO’s, subtlety isn’t different “enough” to be recognized.

    We tend to view the world in human perceptions, and most of the time that involves a form of thought processing which seeks to find patterns to match. That means when you see a character, unless there’s something VERY different about that character, you’ll start to mentally sort the view into compartmentalized categories.

    Character X reminds you of character Y, especially from this distance (read: third person view), and so you lump X and Y together. Later, you find a character Z who sort of reminds you of Y and now your mind’s lumped Z and X together.

    Custom options tend to work bettr because the choices tend to be fewer, but yet more extreme (read: less nuance). Because of this, characters are easier to immediately recognize apart from other characters in your mind’s eye, which leads to a sense of variation.

    Even though the technical variations in the slider based system have more chance for differentiation, due to the way our mind’s think, we see less differences, not more.

  13. Zubon: Yep, that probably should have been part of the same rant in the end. In my own way, I was trying to really point out a few things:

    1. It is foolish to claim you have better character creation when you obviously do not. Better character creation entails making your character look more unique, and more like you want it to look, and more identifiable. I haven’t seen this from pretty much anyone, and it bothers me every time I see a new game that touts its character creation.

    2. Character creation doesn’t matter. Okay, it does, but not half as much as post-creation character customization. Making it possible for players to achieve unique and identifiable looks after their character has been created is far more important than running around claiming to have the best character creation. I want to see a game that can honestly claim that their equipment is the most strikingly beautiful yet customizable and identifiable equipment in the industry, then I may pay attention.

    3. Something as ridiculously simple as the Mii character creator is better than most MMO character creation systems, but it really is the same as City of Heroes in the end, if a little better (in my opinion, primarily due to faces). The second you put armor on, you’re less likely to recognize someone, especially if that armor is a helmet.

    Possibly for another rant is the heart of the issue–lack of variety potential and an inability to both look unique and function effectively based on equipment choice. Basically: If you want to be the best, look like all the rest. If you want to look unique, shite equipment must thou seek.

  14. Just how customizable do we want to make an avatar? I know making armor customizable is a bad idea because when Everquest added dyes 80% of the population all of sudden wore black armor.

    City of Heroes has the best character creation system I’ve seen but it wouldn’t work for any game that uses equipment. Not just fantasy games use equipment either. I believe Tabula Rasa, Hellgate London, and Huxley are all going to have visible equipment

    The best option I think is just to have tons of different weapon and armor models like Everquest but to better control the ability to dye armor so the black wearing assassin look doesn’t overwhelm your player population. Perhaps make a quest which involves completing a series of dungeons before a player can get one bundle of dye. As long as you don’t make it too easy you should be able to avoid clown suits in the game.

    When I first started playing WoW I thought they were doing a good job then I say how often they re-used the same models and just applied a different coloring scheme. And I used to think player dyed armor looked bad.

  15. Mythilt

    Well, I doubt that anyone wearing platemail would be that distinguishing from anyone else. That was part of the reason of Heraldry after all, identifying people at a distance. So perhaps the best system would have the following things. Sliders for things like height, where a fine tune would be nice, many presets for items that are less in need of fine tuning. (head shape, body shape, and such.) and a personal standard, with a *HUGE* number of options, to allow for many possibilities. Your shield could have your standard and such to make you more unique in appearance.

  16. Yeebo

    In defense of CoH, the system in place there makes perfect sense for the setting. How often did Super Man change his look? Not very damn often, and even then the “extra costume options” in CoH have you covered.

    Sliders:

    For the rest of the MMO world, I think that height and weight sliders are pretty essential. CoH did a pretty good job with these, but PSO (and PSU…which otherwise sucks) are the only game that really nailed them. Hieght and wight sliders are good becase they allow you to customize your character in a way that is obvious regardless of what equip[ment you have.

    Sliders for your eyebrows, nose, and ears are just dumb. Even if you aren’t wearing a helmet, 99% of the time no-one is close enough to you to tell what you picked. I think you are dead on about interesting and diverse pre-made options being preferable. Sliders for tiny facial features also tend to kill frame rates in any crowded situation.

    Equipment:

    It amazes me how few games let you dye your equipment. I honestly think this helps a lot, personally. However, even better than that, would be allowing you to customize the stats of our equipment. That way, you can wear whatever models you prefer. For example, in Morrowind there was this really cool looking (to me) squid helmet. Unfortunately, I could never find one that had decent stats. Eventually, I resorted to using one that was unenchanted and enchanting it myself.

    This is not the same as the system in WoW or several other games where enchantments go on top of the stats an item already has. This ruins customizability because you are still forced to start with a powerfull base item, and there are only a few in any given level range. In Morrowind an item is enchanted or not (ala AD&D). If you like a particular model, you can enchant it yourself to have whatever stats you like. Several games have somewhat similar systems, but none takes it to the extreme that Morrowind did. Even Morrowind fell somewhat short of my ideal becuase “base items” varied in number of points of enchantments they could hold.

  17. Yeebo

    I had a long ass reply that is no longer. In any case, the bones of it were:

    1. Height and weight sliders good, nose and ear sliders bad. Height and weight makes a difference in any equipment, and at a distance. Face sliders only matter if you don’t wear a helmet and your real damn close. Plus they tend to play havoc with frame-rates.

    2. Part of the problem with character customization in MMOs is that good stats are generally locked onto particular items. If we could customize the stats of items it would allows us to use the items with models that we like, rather than locking us into the same models that everyone else with high end gear has.

    3. Minor points:
    -I like dye. All equipment heavy games should have it.
    -the character design system in CoH fits the setting perfectly. Comic superheroes don’t tend tp mix up their costumes very frequently.

  18. Pezhead

    Yeah, Sliders are relatively… primative? But on the other hand, what other tools would you prefer to use to create a character? Presets? To create a more unique character, you can’t rely on presets. Yeah, the distance factor is a problem for character customization, more often then not, people can’t tell at a distance what you look like true enough. Even close up, it can be difficult.

    So far, I’d say the best character customization system i’ve run across is the one in Perfect World. The sheer number of changeable features and the fact that it is noticeable, at least, once at a certain distance, makes for a creation system that I putzed around with for hours when I first got it(I still do when I create a new character. You have presets, I think around 30 for each class(yes, the classes have different presets) then you have Facial shape(width height-lower, middle bottom, overall face shape) advanced facial features(25 changers in 5 catagories-forehead, cheekbone, chin, cheek, jaw) , eye brows with 3 overall shapes, 7 refined shapes, and 6 detail sliders. Then you have nose, lip, ear and hair(just preset styles, but many of them… over 60 and different for each class, as well as having flowing hair, hair with highlights or normal) categories each with multiple separate changers, and then colors, which are on a graph-like spectrum rather than having balancers. Body shape is unfortunatly not as changeable. Height and weight cannot be changed. There are 5 modification sliders. Head, Upper Body, Waist, Legs, Arms(+breast for female).

    Equipment is unfortunatly standardized, at least in lower levels–There are sets of armour made for certain lvl groups that all players end up getting(even though some have unique stats and abilities) However, there is a fashion system which is separate from the armor in which you get actual clothes(As its based in chinese mythology, a lot of them are of chinese origin, or based on). The games creators-cubisoft-actually hold in game beauty contests, after which the winners are given prizes(real money?).

    Personally, I felt that at this point in gaming development, there is little else we can do and Perfect World is on that path to creating a game with the customization we gamers truly look for(I don’t even know what Im looking for in a game by way of customizing). If nothing else, you could give Perfect World a try, its free and still in open beta. Even so, the graphics are fairly good and some of the environments are just wonderful. You have to get past some common beta problems with pathing and lag, but other than that, its a fairly solid game.

  19. Tharoven

    I see a possibility where sliders could help~~~ Think about how 90% of people don’t like the way their gear fits them. Some people want huge beastly plate that extends 20ft off their shoulders, while some people like a sleek form fitting plate. I say let people customize their armors at a smith. DAoC had a good idea with the guild emblems and the many different cloak styles and dye… but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’d gladly spend time with a video game company… free of charge, just to code in an “armor tailor” or “weapon brander”. Helmets are also always in need of adjustment. Everyone remember’s the bucket helmets on daoc. Akward? yea, and on EQ2, everyone just opt’s to not show their helmet at all, especially when the platemail already looks like a dirty t’shirt that sags just to show your chest hair.
    Emblems, Colors, Patterens… every game should have it.
    -Tharoven
    lancerevojonny@yahoo.com

  20. Ruike

    I like CoH’s system in that you can make your character look however and it’ll stay like that. Other games particularly WoW are stuck in a mile deep rut that is palatte swap. Its been done ever since the old Mortal Kombat because there wasn’t room for the different characters. The excuse seems to be now that they don’t have enough artist creativity or time to make armor that looks good. EQ2 at least has this half way solved. At level 20 you get an additional equipment screen that is used for appearance. My swashbuckler that is actually using chainmail has a rough cotton robe thrown over it. Haven’t seen anyone who looks like me up in melee. In the end you should be able to modify major things, face, hair, skin color, hair color, and I like big ears, though not as big as night elf ears in WoW oh god, that would lead to so many head neck and back aches.

  21. loltart

    i was with you until u said wow was good for character customization. fail. you ARE stupid.

  22. Connor

    Yeah, I have the same problem.
    Flicking through about three pre sets for a face and about five hair styles (three of which are utter bollocks, so people generally have one or the other) and then about three armor slots (head, torso and legs) is utter crap.

    And then they try to pass it off as something special because you can change the color of their hair. Awful. Pure awful.

    I suppose now there is APB, which I intend on getting soon, which is somewhat based on being unique, I an stop complaining?

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