Crash To Desktop – 8/18/2009

Posted by | August 19, 2009

Welcome to Crash To Desktop, the daily series where I explore my feminine side. Thank you for visiting. While you’re here, best sign up to our Twitter feed. Otherwise, something unfortunate might happen.

In my days, I’ve played an awful lot of games, and built a dozen times as many characters. Character creation is a vital part of gaming, especially in this era of MMORPGs and 100-hour storyfests like those that keep Square-Enix and Bethesda in business.

What many games still don’t realize is that character creation can and should be a game in itself.

Some games caught on to this early. The NES game 1943, a standard shooter, opened up with a grid where you could allocate points between firepower, protection, speed, special weapon time, and such. Primitive, but effective, as the choices you made on that grid would change how the game played.

Others, well… Even in the typical Role-Playing Game today, your character choices are limited. Or just as bad, you’ll end up grabbing every ability on the list, and all characters will play the same before the endgame.

You can find another character creation method in the likes of Diablo 2 and its big brother, World of Warcraft. This is creation by advancement, and it’s not quite the sort of game that it should be. You see, in this method, all characters of a certain race and class start off with the same abilities, and then, as you gain levels or discover new gear, choices are made and characters become unique. The problem is, you’re already playing. There’s no connection or craft to your character to get you started on the right foot. You’re just powering a clone around long enough to transform him into your own.

Good character creation is a game, like any other part of the larger game, and it should entice you to create new avatars again and again, just to see how the game changes with your choices. The Fallout games know this.

Fallout 3 Bikini GirlsFallout was originally based on pen and paper role-playing games, but could get a license for any specific one. The developers built their own RPG system instead, and left it to the player to choose their character’s stats, skills, and special advantages. These choices were very meaningful. A hammer-wielding melee brawler, a diplomatic sniper in the best spy tradition, and a quick-draw gunslinger could all tumble out of the system, and all trod a unique path through the game. People replayed Fallout again and again, not for the content, but the changing experience of a new character.

City of Heroes, Champions Online, and Aion also get it. Their game isn’t necessarily in stats, but in looks. A vast array of character bodies and looks, combined with an endless closet of outfits and accessories let the player create a character to match a story, a name, an uncouth joke. It’s possible to spend just as much time in the character creator as the game itself, going through the options and matching, ever more perfectly, to the images in your mind. Or maybe throwing something together and weaving a backstory for the giant mechanical Nazi punchbot you just named Hit-You-Ler.

Character creation is as much a necessary, and potentially involving, part of a game as the combat and storyline. Games that just throw you into the action with a meaningless clone are wasting the opportunity. Games that embrace character creation as a place to play will see people come back again and again for just one more try.

Character creation is all about making it personal.

In The News…

Blizzcon 2009 will happen this week, and yes, the tickets are already sold out. But you can pick up your own virtual tickets that’ll buy you a Murloc Marine pet and some live webcast footage or something. Ozzy Osbourne will be performing, panels will tease and taunt, and probably some solid info on Starcraft 2 and the next World of Warcraft patch will leak out. Details here.

Gaming may help with mental health issues, especially depression. In a study, researchers discovered that playing certain video games, such as the Popcap game Bejeweled, could have a notable effect on thought patterns and body systems. In my own experience, video games are a great way to distract yourself from physical pain, but the research shows that can also break up the unhealthy, repeating thought patterns that hit depression sufferers so heavily. The Washington Post has the story.

Art imitates virtual life. German photographer Patrick Runte has gone back to the old school with a series of photographs depicting game characters as they would appear in real life. Pac-Man, Tetris, Space Invaders, all done in blocky costumes and bright colours. If only your Halloween costume was this good. Take a look over on CNet.

The Last Word…

That’s the column for tonight. Again, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, because you never know when we’ll reveal that City of Heroes nude bug. In the meantime, have fun with the Champions Online character creator. And remember, save early, save often.

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