Originally published on GameInformer.com February 7, 2012, at 8:00 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 2/16/12.
Selected for Game Informer Newsletter, 2/18/12.
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I'm a fool for character creation tools in video games. Being able to customize your character's appearance is reward enough, but then watching them in action enables gamers to feel like they had a hand in game development. Here I'll chronicle the various tools I've used over the years and the characters I've designed, including the varying degrees of success I've had creating my own virtual doppelganger!
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance by Snowblind Studios (Playstation 2). This is one of my first forays that I can remember into the wonderful world of character creation. I don't recall that the customization options were very deep beyond selecting one's class or basic features such as face or hair, but the ability to personalize it to any degree (including the impressive, fear inducing name "Vahn" LOL) was appreciated.
Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest by Snowblind Studios (PS2). Snowblind continued its successful role playing formula with its next outing of the hack-n-slash, loot grinding variety. Indeed, to judge by the menu system they subscribed to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of video game design. I, on the other hand, upgraded by character's *** quotient with a more fierce class, facepaint and a more appropriate name (Ulvaayn of Tanismor).
Champions of Norrath: Return to Arms by Snowblind Studios (PS2). This sequel represented a "Return" in more than name alone. Indeed, most superficial elements appeared to share the same foundation as its predecessor(s), whether menus, armor or body tats. At least my character, Goeren Azgaard, sported a Road Warrior look with his killer mohawk, though I imagine that style, too, was likely available previously.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion by Bethesda Game Studios (Xbox 360). Bethesda games have a level of detail that impresses and their character creation tools are no exception. Besides selecting a character class, which of course is standard for RPGs, there are a variety of options for facial features (if I remember correctly) and hair. This means fewer cookie cutter avatars, even if my Gaiemedes Alnor resembles a former Buffalo Bills runningback.
Saints Row by Volition, Inc. (Xbox 360). Volition has one of the best character customization kits bar none, but that still didn't prevent me from creating an avatar that looked more like Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-O) then me as I had originally intended. However, between the game's options for adjusting facial features, body shape and wardrobe, the degree of customization provided a great foundation for the developers to build upon in later releases.
Test Drive Unlimited by Eden Games (Xbox 360). One wouldn't expect a driving game to provide superior character creation options but that's just what Eden Games achieved with Test Drive Unlimited. In fact, my avatar was the closest I'd come yet to creating a virtual representation of myself in-game. Granted, I'm not one to suit up in real life, but wearing a virtual one is far less uncomfortable so why not, especially when customization is so rewarding?
Mass Effect by BioWare (Xbox 360). Shooters don't usually afford any degree of customization beyond class or weapons loadout, but of course Mass Effect has been a successful RPG/shooter hybrid and as such includes a relatively beefy customization option. Hence the FemShep. My failure to create Cmdr. Shepard in my image, however, is less a reflection on BioWare's tools then my own ineptitude, something I'll be reminded of in each installment of the trilogy LOL.
Little Big Planet by Media Molecule (Playstation 3). A sackboy is a poor substitute for a fully realized avatar, but there's no denying its appeal or the degree of customization available to those who obtain all the collectibles on every level of this deep platformer. My limited time with the game, though, means mine was decidedly underdeveloped, and in fact resembles Jonathan Lipnicki circa his Jerry Maguire child role more than an in-game substitute for myself.
Saints Row 2 by Volition (PS3). I don't recall whether Volition added any elements to its already impressively deep character creation tool outside of the benefits provided by the sequel's upgraded presentation, but then there's little incentive to improve upon what is arguably the best customization options available on a video game console. Until the third entry, this avatar stood as my favorite random creation.
Dragon Age: Origins by BioWare (PS3). This BioWare game offered a similar degree of customization as that found in the developer's Mass Effect series and the result is just as impressively integrated into scenes including discussions with NPCs. Too bad I had to dump my first attempt as he proved too old to be the younger brother of another character. Despite ill-fitting armor and a perplexed expression, his replacement was more appropriate.
Two Worlds II by Reality Pump (PS3). This open world RPG benefitted from great features like a weapon/tool breakdown/upgrade inventory management system and a class swapping option mapped to the directional keypad. Such user friendly elements likewise were incorporated in the character customization options though, regretably, such creativity was limited in online co-op. It's just as well, as my scruffy avatar would not have instilled confidence in allies.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda Game Studios (PS3). The newest Elder Scrolls game returned with a similarly rewarding character creation tool (though I seem to remember Oblivion having more options then Skyrim's preset features). And while it allows for substantial creativity on the part of gamers, my avatar still ended up looking a lot like the character Waingro in the film Heat. At least he had a better name: Vorhyym Serpensmide!
Saints Row The Third by Volition (PS3). Instead of a typical demo, Volition released a customization tool for creating characters that eventually could be downloaded into the game. And no wonder considering how exceptional their software is in that regard. (The game's pretty good, too. LOL) But don't take my word for it; check out all the myriad characters uploaded to the official site. I tried to model mine on Rihanna, and even if not entirely successful, I still consider it a good attempt.
Xbox Live by Microsoft (Xbox 360). Microsoft's unusual approach to avatars is somewhere between a Mii and, well, a human being. That being said, it's oddly effective at portraying a virtual me. Whether that's more a testament to my being less than human or to the flexibility of its tool, I'll let others make that determination! But the variety of customization options available do allow for quite a bit of latitude when constructing one's avatar and the results can be pretty effective.
Playstation Network by Sony (PS3). Sony's avatar creation feature is so good (more on that later) it encourages experimentation; hence, this female alter ego. I did try to create an Angelina Jolie lookalike but I will spare you that atrocity as it not only looked nothing like her but was in fact pretty disturbing. So instead I tried to create a generic female avatar from scratch that was more ordinary in appearance and, in that regard, more like the regular guy that I am ...
PSN by Sony (PS3). In my personal opinion, the virtual me that I created with Sony's avatar creation tool has an uncanny resemblance to the real me, if I do say so myself. Indeed, the tools at one's disposal to craft practically any avatar seen fit is a great boon to gamers and, as Volition has demonstrated with its superlative feature for the Saints Row series, can be a game in and of itself. Of course, I don't have a Batcave let alone a man cave, but Sony's tool makes it as close to reality as is virtually possible.
Oh, and this is me when the inevitable zombie apocalypse ravages our planet. Hope you enjoyed that tour of character creation tools and my often clumsy attempts at playing game developer. There's a reason we leave such endeavors to the professionals! Thanks to all the developers who have allowed gamers to toy with design tools whether for mods or character creation. Here's hoping it's a continuing -- and increasing -- trend.
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