On Character Creators

My girlfriend got me a new video game for Valentine’s Day: Monster Hunter World. I’ve barely started as it seems I have less and less time for games every day. However, I did get through the very first thing in the game — the character creation process. Monster Hunter World has an awesome character creator. You can select from a hefty set of preset facial features and adjust the hell out of them. You can adjust the position of just about every part of the face and can make hair and makeup colors just about any color on the spectrum. It’s not the best I’ve ever seen but it is a very nice character creator. It’s just expansive enough to be fun without boring you with too many options.

But Why?

For a feature that you use only once at the start of each new game… why is it so fleshed out? When you stop and think about how long it took just to create this part of a game that would otherwise be fine if it just had you select from one out of a handful of preset characters, does it make financial sense to spend so much development time (money) on this feature? Maybe it does but if so then only as a way to show off and impress the player. After all, this is the player’s first interaction with the game.

But how weird is that? A game about fighting and killing monsters introduces itself to you with a character creator? I’m making an assumption here when I say that the character creation process is nothing like the rest of the game but I think that’s a pretty safe bet. Obviously the player knows that this won’t be part of the whole game but isn’t it strange that when an excited newcomer pops the game in for the first time (and install updates for half an hour) that their burning desire to ball out on dinosaurs with katana blades is met with a series of menu screens?

After a few minutes on DuckDuckGo I haven’t been able to find when exactly character creation came about but I’d guess they probably started with RPG’s and then worked their way into sports games and other genres. It makes sense to have a character creator in an RPG, where you want players to identify with their character and it fits well with the opening of a traditional role-playing scenario of selecting a class and attributes.

Character Creation as Core Gameplay

I really have two issues with this. Firstly, doesn’t this disrupt the flow of the game at the point where the player is most excited to dive into the game? Second, why is such a fun part of the game only encountered once? I guess it wouldn’t make sense for the game creation process to happen after anything else, but couldn’t we incorporate the process later in the game? I know that some games allow for the character to be re-customized down the road but it’s usually discouraged and costs the player some kind of penalty. This could be made more compelling if players unlock customization features throughout the game.

Proposition: what if there were a game that had the character creator front and center as a core part of the game? One way this could work is if your character’s appearance directly affects their skills and attributes. I’m not a big fan of this though. Character creation is more fun when it’s purely cosmetic so that the player can make their character look however they want without having to make value judgments of style vs practicality. This is an issue in another game I’ve been playing recently: Dead by Daylight. Sometimes players are put in a situation where they have to choose their character’s looks based on visibility (ie. a player might choose to only wear dark colored clothes so as to draw less attention to themselves from the killer). I think a more interesting idea would be a game where the character customization is a core piece of gameplay like a mini-game or the main objective of the game itself. Honestly, I have no idea how that would work and it would probably create the same problem as where the character has to customize for the game rather than customizing for themselves. Also, you would end up with the game judging your character in some weird way.

I think this could work in an online game where other players decide on who has the better character. Again, either a mini game or some part of the gameplay itself. Maybe the character that other players think look the coolest gets some kind of edge? This would also encourage players to spend more time with this feature rather than just getting through it as fast as possible to get to the game. I’d be very interested in playing a game centered on character creation that is more than just subjective customization.

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