REPLY TO ALL: Characters Without Character

There’s a reason not every game allows you to customize your character or even create one from scratch. Video games’ icons may have been made before gamers’ had the option of creating their own versions. However, some games are much more engrossing for those personal touches you can throw on your avatar. So where is the line in making the best character for your next favorite game?


Turns out you're not a ladies man.


I love customizing characters, but it’s neccessity is directly related to the length of time I spend with the game. Obviously an RPG with an open ended structure needs customization because everyone has different play styles and being pigeon holed into just one can make a 40+ hour game tedious. When it comes to multiplayer gaming, the same idea applies, but I also need to stand out from the crowd so the visual component becomes almost as important as the mechanical one (almost).

I find customization annoying when it just prolongs what I like to call the “set up time” of a game. For titles that are played in short bursts, tutorials, cut scenes in addition to customization just adds time that I just don’t really have to screw around with. I also like customization to have a function, so having choices of hair color in a single player game makes no sense unless those hair colors apply different properties to my character (which they seldom do).

Justin L

Oh, the setup time, when I’m both excited to create my character, but really I just want to start the game. Anymore I find myself starting from one of the default options and just tweaking a few things like nose size, eye color, and giving the dude (or lady) a mohawk. Games like Mass Effect can be overwhelming with the details of facial features that they offer, but I’ve also found in those games, I just want to get through the intro and see where the story goes before going back to make my character fit the world.

One game that I require a create-a-character option is a sports game with a career mode. If I’m going to take my time to take a character through an entire season of play, it’s going to be my own character rather than some generic superstar.

Where I struggle with create-a-character is in new franchises. Looking back at Gears of War, until about halfway through the game the characters seemed pretty generic and I thought it would be cool to be able to customize Marcus and my team. However in this upcoming 3rd game, they’ve actually gone out of their way to develop enough of a personality to these guys that I couldn’t imagine them being any different. But at the same time, it’s a 3rd person game and I want to be able to give my own touches to the character like colors, tattoos, give me something without changing their core features.


Tiger Woods

Ok, but what about the Woods part?

I’m thinking instantly of Tiger Woods with this topic. I recently started playing a little bit of the career in Tiger 11 and spent way too much time trying to make my character look like a clone of myself. The level of detail in the character creator is kind of insane, but I still couldn’t get my dude to look quite like me. Nonetheless I’ve always thought that it’s pretty cool… I may go back and use the photo importer to see how close that will get it. I think character creation can add a little something extra to a game like Tiger where you see your character while you’re playing and part of the drive for earning points is improve the stats and equipment and things. I can’t really think of a game that had character creation that I thought really didn’t need it, or that I was annoyed with having it included.

Justin L

The photo importer just freaks me out. No matter what you do it looks creepy. Then again, I have a feeling if I made a character look exactly like me, that would be just as creepy.


There’s also something about having my mugshot stored on EAs servers that makes me a little uneasy.

Justin G

I’ve spent too much time on character creators to feel comfortable admitting, but it’s normally in pursuit of making a character that looks like me and/or looks like a badass. I think the most time I spent was probably on my one-and-only MMO appearance, City of Heroes. Too bad that game was friggin’ boring. I don’t spend as much customization time on games where it doesn’t matter (e.g., Gears of War, Halo: Reach) because, well, I don’t give a crap if my lancer is gold or on fire. On the other hand, you spend a lot of time looking at your character’s face and build on The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion or Mass Effect, so I do spend a fair amount of time there. (Particularly on Oblivion, since there are tactical considerations of light armor/speed/stamina versus heavy armor/slow/exhausted. If you can’t tell, I’m of the water dancer > armored knight school of thought, to put it in Fire & Ice terms).

I guess that means I’m a conflicted personality – I will do a lot of customization sometimes, but other times I don’t give a crap. Stickers for my car in NFS? Nah. Totally sweet carbon-fiber hood that lightens my car and makes it handle better? Youbetcha.

As for the photo importers, is it really worth it unless they do a 3D laser modeling scan of you and then let you modify your musculature and height? I don’t think so.

Justin L

That’ll be quite an accessory. I wonder how close the Kinect is to being able to do that. Kinda scary.

I’ve been trying to figure out where is this customization line – when did Marcus Fenix, Ezio, Master Chief reach the same level as Batman where it would almost blasphemous to have a created character or massive customizations in their place? Actually, I just really want to make myself Batman, but know I’d never get that option.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

That coulda been me.

Justin G

Your hair wouldn’t fit in the cowl.


I’m with you on that point… there are some characters that I personally would just rather leave in tact as they were created by the storytellers. The only thing I changed about Shepard was the suit that he wore as part of the gameplay, and adjusted the colors how I wanted them. Beyond that, I agree that those types of storyline characters should be left alone. In contrast, the first Dragon Age…. your character is pretty generic, so it doesn’t mess with the storyline so much to make them look how you want. To Ethan’s point, too… that type of game really revolves around the customization of your character.

Also, I just learned what a cowl is. Thanks Giff… and wikipedia.

Justin L

The interesting thing about Shepard is that I felt the freedom to modify him in the first game. But I will not alter him further for games 2 and 3. It’s my Shepard, so the default one looks strange to me. I also made my evil Shepard look a lot different than my goody-goody Shepard. Since we all know gingers are evil.


Haha… is this your evil Shepard?

Ginger Shepard

I'm worried about Mass Effect 3


I sometimes just get tired of the lack of bicep size manipulation available in most create a characters, especially when creating myself. In real life, Mass Effect armor would cut off circulation unless I could remove the sleeves.


The amount of detail I go into with character customization really does depend on the game. I will go into the most detail on my customization in a sports game. That is the genre that I truly feel the need to recreate myself. I make sure the height and weight are correct (within reason) and make sure I am accessorized just right. For fantasy games, I really do try to create minions. I don’t want my characters to be just like me. I like to make someone totally different from myself. The bonus of this is that I can be completely diabolical and lose myself within that particular character. Usually this is not the case, but I do like having that option. I think one of the best create a character models is the format used in the new Fallout games. I love how the model is added into the tutorial. I loved picking my stats through a baby book or the antique love testers. I also love the clothing options in fantasy games as well. You could almost call it the video game version of dress up. To be honest I loved cleaning up the Mojave Wasteland dressed up like a young Elvis. I think that the creation model for Mass Effect outside of personality and play style was unnecessary. The default Shepard could have stood up on his own, but I am attached my version and couldn’t go back either. I agree that there are some characters that a created character just wouldn’t work. I think that for create a character to be successful, you need a game and story where you create your own path. Look at it this way, GTA IV wouldn’t have worked as well if you could alter Niko’s appearance at the beginning of the game.


I don’t understand the whole idea of creating someone in a game that is yourself. I don’t have the skills to be Batman, and I certainly never made it to the Major Leagues with my abilities in baseball, so you guys are all liars. None of you (save for possibly Ethan) could ever be successful in a video game unless that game put you in the shoes of website developers. Then your create-a-character would be a more accurate representation of yourself.

MLB 2k11

Seriously, why do all create-a-beards turn out so fake...

That being said, I usually stick to the look they give me in games like Mass Effect. Because no created character is going to look as good as the one the developers actually created. However, give me a sports game or a wrestling game where there are a myriad of crazy options and I go crazy. I love being able to customize the look of characters I use, yet in other games I think it is unnecessary. I realize this aspect of video games makes those games more like books where you can take control of your imagination and be creative with your choices. I would just rather be playing the game then spending a ton of time in the create-a-character portion of the game. God knows I’ve spent more time doing that than playing the actual game before and it just seems silly to do that.


I definitely feel like most of the time it’s unnecessary. I can see the appeal in a sports game where can have a decent payoff if you’re playing through an entire season. It also makes sense for me in Rock Band or possibly an MMO as an option – other than trying to hide the fact that you’re a big fat ugly dude playing as a really hot female character. But generally I just don’t feel like spending the time on it. I’m so lazy as to even keep the name that it auto generates. Most of the time when I get a new game I just want to get into the action instead of wasting the first 3 hours attempting to make a character that in the end doesn’t even look anything like me.

Justin G

Phoenix Wright


Cole’s wrong. I would TOTALLY be successful in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I have nothing of value to add other than that.



And I could be successful in Game Dev Story! Now who could be successful as Super Meat Boy?


I think I could be pretty successful in Boogerman.

Justin L

I’m sensing a photoshop contest brewing. Question if I became Super Meat Boy do I have his infinite lives, and could you manipulate my brain so I found Bandage Girl attractive? Because right now, I’m not all that motivated to save her.




Hahaha Boogerman! Thats great! And no Justin, you would not have infinite lives nor do I believe that any human has the agility to accomplish Super Meat Boy like feats.

Justin L

You would make a terrible parent. I can accomplish anything, Ethan!

Justin G

I’m with Ethan on this one. It’s a benefit of falling somewhere in the realism/pessimism range: you’re either always right or pleasantly surprised (as opposed to soul crushingly depressed or quadriplegic).


I think that the last few ideas prove the true reasoning for create a character models. We all have an inner desire to be something we may not necessarily be. Video games in general provide us a gateway to escape into these characters. The ability to alter your persona in game can sometimes be a nice icing on the cake for the consumer.

Justin L

You say alter your persona, I say, realize your true potential. Give me Bruce Wayne’s money and see what I can, wait, don’t kill my parents though. Shit. I lost my motivation.


If I had Bruce Wayne’s money you would never see me again. And I certainly wouldn’t be fighting criminal types.

Justin L

So Cole is an NPC douchebag. I think I ran you over in GTA. LOL.


I’d be living the jet set life of a rich man. You would never find me in the streets taking a Pete Rose dive out of the way of your erratic driving.

Pete Rose

Brucey Hustle


Some historic video game characters are untouchable. Sure, you won’t be seeing a create-a-character mode to make your own Mario anytime soon, but let’s face it, that plumber has skills you’ll never have including the ability to grow that magnificent mustache. I just can’t help but wonder if they all would have survived our tinkering if they were created today and their games supported customization options from the start.


Giant Bomb (images)