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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

How Important is Character Customisation?

In WoW when you start a character you get to pick how they will look, loosely. For example you can pick from a predefined range of skin colours, facial expressions, hair and facial hair styles and colours. There are a few other options, depending on your race.

Any further customisation of your character comes from the equipment you wear. Which does lead to some good variety, however once you reach end-game this variety can begin to dimish as everyone pushes for either top tier PvE or PvP gear.

Other MMOs provide further options to customise your character, for example altering height within a range, build (i.e. muscular or athletic), eye colour and a few other options.

As I was running around Stormwind this morning skilling up my leather working from 0 to 125 (which cost about 40 Gold in mats and an hour in time) I let my mind wander and take in the characters around me.

In general I suppose I don't spend a lot of time looking at the players around me, and therefore I wonder why you would want to customise your character in WoW at all. Especially true when you probably only ever see the back of their head :)

But then I also have a compulsion to show my own individuallity in the game I am playing, both in my style of play, relationships with guildmates and how my character looks.

I shant argue that putting in the time on a more robust character customistion system makes any business sense, because I don't really know what would be involved or how a community/customer base as a whole would feel. However, for my own purposes here are a few thoughts on character customisation and how you might implement it (in WoW or any other MMO):

Continuing Customisation

First and foremost allow customisation as the game progresses. I'm not aware of an MMO which allows you to change the character setup you pick at the start of the game, except for your gear of course.

There was a post about this in the offical WoW Suggestions Forum where someone had suggested a 'barber shop' where the player could restyle their hair at least. Another suggestion was to allow gear to be customised by allowing players to decorate it with motifs, the same way you pick a motif for your guild tabard.

More Options Than You Can Shake A Stick At

When you're making your WoW beating MMO include the most feature-full character creation process you can afford to. For example, include deforming bones in your models so that players can contort their characters faces as they please to form unique expressions. Include other tools such as being able to 'draw on' a scar. Include physical changes such as musculature, height, build, limb length/ratio.

Give Characters Attitude

I play a rogue in WoW, and I like to think that rogues are devilish creatures, no matter their race. However, my night elf rogue is quite a happy guy really when you look at him. How about allowing players to set a default 'attitude' for their character, from a small list for each class? This would determine the idle and emote animations for the character. Perhaps a less than trustworthy rogue would not simply stand idley watching the world, but rather polish his blades, practice a few sword swings, or lightly play with a dagger - for example.

Jeez. What Happend to You?

Ok. This isn't customisation in the hands of the player, but would lend to some different looks. Taking WoW as my example, as I always do, lets suppose that the durability of your equipment had some effect on how it looked. For example after you've hacked your way through Molten Core (or perhaps Naxxramas these days) with your guild and wiped for the 3rd time your gear is likely going to be looking pretty shabby, no?

So why not have a few 'states' for the gear in the game? Your sword might have dents in it, your shield missing a chunk from the side, tabard hanging in rags, spaulders mangled and your face covered in wounds/dirt (gotta keep away from that M rating right?!)

In Closing

I'm not saying any of the above would work, or are technically feasible. Nor am I trying to detract from WoW as a great game. This is just my own personal observation and opinion on how a great game, and genre of games, might continue to develop and immerse players that little bit more.

What do you think? Is customising your virtual self important to you? Interesting, but not really necessary? Or, at worst, a process which gets in the way of you starting the game!?


Blogger Brandon said...

Personally, I don't care at all what my character looks like. You asked, though, if any other MMO's allowed you to change the look of your character after the initial creation . Star Wars Galaxies used to (a couple of years ago) with the 'Image Designer' profession. I have no idea if this still exists, though, since I haven't played it for a long time.

8:16 AM  

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