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Posted December 21, 2012 by Ryan Barth in Editorials
 
 

I’ve gotta be me!

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It’s one of the first impressions a MMO makes. You choose your faction, and then enter the character creation screen. I know I am not alone, and others like me have spent 45 minutes or more tweaking every possible slider bar at the character creation screen. I am not into role playing, though I do have a specific idea of what I want my character(s) to look like. It’s not uncommon for me to roll a toon, level it for a week or so, and then think to myself “I just don’t like the way he/she looks. It doesn’t fit what I’m trying to do”. It is completely superfluous to gameplay. With most of us frothing at the mouth for the release of Zenimax Online’s Elder Scrolls Online; we’re all undoubtedly day dreaming about our own heroes of Tamriel. “Where do I hope to focus my skills? What type of armor do I want to wear?” Waiting that faithful moment, when we get to make some short looking weird Wood Elf, or an overweight Kajiit with a moe hawk. “What am I going to look like?” Expressing your imaginary individuality is essential when you’re surrounded by hundreds of other players. No one wants to look the same as everyone else, even if they are only fake digital warriors and mages. I mean, could you imagine the Sex Pistols in their hay day wearing tuxedos? Image even plays a part within a game. Unless you’re one of those people that likes to create ugly toons just because you think it’s funny. I respect that, and laugh at them when I see them. I’m not one of those players though.

The Sex Pistols

Looking back to previous Elder Scrolls games, character creation has never disappointed. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim not only provided a beautiful and rich artistic world to play in that captured our imaginations; they let use pick nearly every single detail about our hero’s physical appearance. I spent an hour tweaking the appearance of my sneaky back stabbing archer. I’m not kidding you – an hour. After a while, I’m not sure if it was because I was unhappy with the way he looked or just because I had so many options. Options are what we need. TESO has some very big shoes to fill.
Thankfully and awesomely we’re getting every race. Now, just how much will Zenimax Online put into TESO character creation screen? It is of my opinion, as I’ve previously stated, that Zenimax Online has earned the “innovative” label. Zenimax Online is not only (so far) seemingly successfully merging the Elder Scroll series with an MMO, but taking the BEST parts from past MMOs and expounding on them. Obviously, I know just as much as you do about the game currently. Not a lot. However, from what we all know from the combat, to three factions, to Open-world PvP, to instanced areas, to dungeons, it’s obvious that Zenimax Online is trying to raise the bar. With that in mind, I’d like to mention the Guild Wars 2 character creation as a reference for a recent MMO “winning” with this feature. Please be mindful – I am ONLY talking about character creation.

ArenaNet really hit this out of the park. If nothing else they did this right. I played with it for an hour. Not only that, it provoked me to roll more toons just so I could make my little unique snowflakes and see how they looked. Pretty much digital paper dolls, but it got me to play the game more and feel more connected to my stories and my characters. Slider bars for height, and girth. Slider bars for each separate facial feature. The possibilities were truly endless. You could make a troll hag elderly woman, or a soft faced hunky human man. Whatever you did create, it felt unique and like it just belonged to you. It was not as involved as Skyrim’s, but it was definitely more than acceptable.

This is a brief glimpse of the Guild Wars II Character Creation System

We as gamers have varying standards to genres. From FPS, to RPGs, to MMOs. Like preexisting medical conditions treated by a doctor, there are certain “symptoms” we expect. The MMOs character creation must at LEAST be to our par standard from our previous experiences. For those coming straight from other Elder Scrolls games, their standards will be set even higher. Where is the middle ground though? My rule; don’t settle.

A great deal of us has been waiting for this to happen for years. Some of us have been dreading it for years. Like it or not, it’s coming, and we need to know where we’re setting our internalized gamer bar for TESO. If Zenimax Online openly and continually says they want to please both the MMO fan and the Elder Scrolls fan – let them. Character creation should be no exception. Do I realistically believe that Zenimax Online will have the detailed options we’ve come to expect from Bethesda’s single player games? Of course I don’t. I do think it’s perfectly normal to hold Zenimax Online to a higher standard in that regard because they have the mother of all IPs attached to their name.

There must many options for facial details. If I want a bulbous schnoz, I expect to have that option. If I want a big booty, I expect to have that option. If I want to roll a dark elf, but want to be the best looking Dark Elf lady in the Ebonheart pact, I except to be satisfied. We will all be spending 100s, upon 100s of hours in this world. We should be granted the right to feel comfortable in our own digital skins. Let’s not cut slack and say “well, it’s not that bad”. Other MMOs have done it. Those other MMOs may have lacked in some other major areas, but that’s not the point.

MMOs are all about immersion. No matter what your play style is. You’re being immersed. Even if you don’t RP, I’m sure we’ve all sat around and turned the camera angle around and thought; “yeah.. I’m totally a bad ass”. The Elder Scrolls Online alludes to a powerful story. To take it a step further, it’s easier to care about your story if you feel invested in every part of your character. There can be nothing more demoralizing than seeing someone stroll by on your screen with the exact same face you have. Games are different than other fiction. They don’t just have to tell good stories; they need to make us feel that we are a part of the story. That everything we’re doing influences the world around us, whether it does or does not. I want to feel connected to my character. Not just care about what happens, but feel like it is MY character. It may be something small to gripe about, but sometimes the smallest details can be game changers.

[box] What’s your opinion? Do you find character customization to have a vital impact on the player’s immersion in MMOs?[/box]

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Ryan Barth

 
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