Character editors, which allow players to customise their avatar before and/or during the game, are more and more common in occidentals RPG, and also in other games. From simply choosing clothes to defining the very curve of an eyebrow, this is one of the gimmicks that a lot of players enjoy.
With Skyrim's release, Bethesda, as usual, gave player another character editor, more sophisticated than Oblivion's or Fallout New Vegas'. But it is legitimate to wonder : in a first person game, is it really useful ?
Character editors are one of those things with which the player wants to put a lot of himself in his game. For those who don't like it, they just have to select « random » and play the game.
For the others, they can easily spend half an hour before actually playing the game, even if it cost a little frustration to not play immediately. Because a created character, whether he looks like you or not, has something that comes from within you. Automatically, you get attached to him and you are happy to see him along the game.
The very best editor today is probably the one from Mass Effect. In this game not only you choose the gender, face and voice of your character, but you also pick up his background ; and with the dialog system based on emotion more than content of text, it's like you create/control his personnality during the game.
In Skyrim, the creation is only physical. Choosing a race and a sex is different, it's not part of the gimmick because special attributes and PNJ reactions will follow that choice. The creation contains shape of the face, scars, war paintings... There is a lot of things to please aficionados. But Skyrim is a first person game, which means you don't actually see your avatar during the game. Skyrim lacks everything that make a character editor relevent for the player in first person games:
- Third person cutscenes. The introduction is in subjective perspective. I haven't finished the game yet but I am pretty sure the ending will be the sam. And scripted event such as dialog between PNJ are also visible in first person.
Mirrors. Although it may sounds insignificant, without cutscene that's all you need in a FPS to see the face of your character. Is this really hard to implement ?
Multiplayer options, local or online. This one is just to prevent spreading the problem to every first person games. I'll quickly name BRINK, a multiplayer FPS with a character editor, edited by... Bethesda, precisely. If you don't get to see your character, other players will. And that become more important to have a very unique avatar.
Before someone tells me, I will say it : yes, there is one way to see the face of your character in Skyrim : you have to use the third person view (which, although a little opitmized from Oblivion, is still not very practical), and hold still while moving the camera. Then you can see your avatar's face, completely on the left of the screen, and if you are lucky with the camera it won't be cut.
So in order to see the face of your character, you have to... well not make a move at all. That's not really interesting. But don't worry, you can still keep the camera set on third person and enjoy the current armor of the character, and his haircut. All of this while having problems to fight properly.
My question is simple : is it relevant to implement a character editor in that case ? Not only it's a source of frustration for the player who would have lost half an hour or more to create a character he won't really see during the game, it is also a waste of time for developers who implement it.
So, designers of today and designers of tomorrow, before creating a character editor, ask yourselves if it is going to be really usefull. It is only a gimmick of course, so useful might not be the correct term, but think about if it will really bring something to your game or not.
Take a game like Saints Row, where you choose appearence, clothes and voice of your character, so that players enjoy seeing it in every cutscene, and think about Skyrim, where the best view on your character is actually given by the character editor. Ask yourself if it's worth for the player to use it, and for programmers to implement it.
P.S. : I have to say that I love Skyrim, I am having a huge fun playing it, but it is the most recent example I had for this article.
P.S. 2: I also apologize once again for every grammatical/spelling mistake there might be, due to my lack of English as a native language. I'll keep re-reading this article in search for any. Negative feedback on it could be constructive with help instead of empty criticism.