Character customization seems to be a hot topic here on Lore Hound as of late. In the week before last’s MMO Cast, my fellow Lore Hounds and I were discussing the topic — how important it is to the game, what level of customization should be required, etc (hear the full conversation in Episode 10 of the MMO cast). Then, in the past week we’ve seen some awesome videos showing the customization options for FFXIV and All Points Bulletin.
Well, I have a confession to make. During the podcast, I had a fabulous example of a game that gives a huge amount of freedom when creating a playable character, but I failed to give it.
Partially, this was because I was second-guessing which game it was that I was recalling, but also because it’s an example that highlights the absolute girliest side of my personality — which I don’t mind doing from time to time, but I don’t want that to be my cliche, either. Anyhow, iTZKooPA, in particular, seemed to love my example, so I thought others out there in the Lore Hound nether might, as well.
This particular example comes from beyond the realm of MMOGs, or even RPGs. Two summers ago, Soul Calibur IV (I played the PS3 version) rocked my world with its extraordinary character customization features. The player controlled everything — hair style, body features, height, clothing, weapon (and therefore fighting style). And of course, the colors of each custom feature also could be completely overhauled to your liking.
Read on for more on this delicate balance between customization and gameplay.
There were some limits. For example, you had to earn access to the clothing options by hitting certain in-game benchmarks. But that was good – it kept the gameplay a main focus. Probably, at least, for the core demographic of players.
But let’s be honest. For me, the main draw was creating playable versions of some of my all-time favorite characters. Such as Sailor Moon. To beat the random players I got paired with in online play with a sailor-suited warrior carrying a magic baton — well, that was simply icing on the cake. No huge surprise there – this comes from a girl who used to (ok, still) obsess over the eLouai Candybar Doll maker, dye her RO assassin’s clothes hot pink (incognito, I know), and once created a Gaia account simply for the cute character avatar. I warned you this was going to be a girly post.
And I know for a fact I was not the only one who got a huge kick out of being able to customize to such detail. If you have any doubts about that, just check the galleries full of look-alike characters that players created and posted online for the world to see.
That’s not to say that all games should have such a detailed creation system. And it’s also not to take away from the actual gameplay of SoulCal, which I also found impressive (aside from occasional glitches with live online matches). But it does show that highly personalized character creation options can work — and work damn well — in a game.
Let’s take a look at two of the MMOs I’ve covered here on Lore Hound for comparison. First up, the obvious – World of Warcraft. We’re given a decent amount of options for making our characters suit our tastes based on the race we choose, facial features, jewelry, and hair and skin color. And we can always seek out the gear that we want to wear — within limitations of what each class can equip, of course — while just hanging around. But when real gameplay is involved, we have less options — wear your best armor set for PvP, for raiding, for fishing, or whatever else it is you’re up to. Then again, for me in WoW, the gameplay is much more engaging and I forget about the fact that I can’t change my rogue’s geist-inspired attire while raiding.
Then, there’s Ragnarok Online. It’s outdated, but perhaps that’s perfect for this topic because it represents a whole different extreme. Hair style and color are the only features we get to mess with in the initial creation process. Not even gender — your account limits you to only create a character of your own gender (although this simply led many people to either lie about their gender or adopt 2 accounts so they could play both).
The big customization factor in RO is the headgear. Hats of all kinds — eggshell hats, bunny ears, teddy bear masks, cake hats, mushroom hats, vintage-style bonnets. While headgear are a fun option for many MMOs, RO takes that to another whole level. Then, there are the clothing dyes. As mentioned above, my assassin was wrapped in bright colors, with purple hair (and a cute signature-avatar) to match.
Each system has its benefits and drawbacks, and most MMOs that want to be competitive now seem to have more options. Aion looks to provide a great variety of customization, but the consensus among my friends who played was that the actual gameplay aspects were lacking past a certain level. Both FFXIV and APB look promising — but we won’t know for sure if they pull it off until we play for ourselves. It’s a fine balance.
What model do you prefer for MMOs? More options for character customization or more focus on gameplay? Both? I’d opt for a balance that allows more customization based on in-game progression.