Five of the Best is a weekly series about the parts of games we overlook. We've discussed a diverse bunch: crowds, hubs, potions, mountains, hands... They're the things we take for granted while we play but then, years later, find lodged in our brains. It's only then we begin to appreciate how important they were. So let's celebrate them.
Character creators! How long do you spend in them? Do you pick a premade face and just breeze through? Do you pick a template, tinker a bit and then settle? Or do you adjust absolutely everything, take all evening and it still doesn't look right? I feel your pain.
We've come a long way from picking between a couple of different faces. These days, we push bone structures around, pick multiple tones for our hair colour, and plaster ourselves in all kinds of make-up and body markings. Who do you want to be? It's not an easy question to answer. But I look forward to character creation. It's part of the ritual of the game for me. The warm up, the settling in phase, the getting you ready for the adventure ahead. A role-playing game wouldn't be the same without it.
Don't forget to share your picks below.
Black Desert Online
BDO has the best character creator I know of. I remember it causing a stir when people found out about it. The characters looked so real! And they still do. It's a great marketing tool.
But how much does your painstakingly made face actually matter in the game? Not a lot. I don't remember paying particular attention to how anyone looked. There was so much else going on in the game - the active combat is wonderful.
Or maybe I wasn't looking because I find the idea of beautiful dolls running around a bit unsettling. Who made them? Why? It gives me the shivers.
There's nothing quite like traversing the galaxy as an insignificant civilization, running low on energy, only to finally encounter another empire that's hostile and headed by the very creatures you designed. Sounds almost Biblical, doesn't it?
Despite its complex structure of five stages, the running thread throughout Spore was its creator. It formed the true heart of the campaign, and bundled aesthetics and strategy into one. Do you choose to be a carnivore and take an aggressive approach, herbivore as a friendlier (and perhaps harder) route - or omnivore, the true most efficient way to evolve? Do you want to sacrifice flight for a better pair of horns... or would that ruin the look?
As the creator could be accessed separately to the campaign, it essentially became a minigame for me and my friends, and something of a group activity. Creatures designed by committee, if you will. I think the appeal was both the cartoonish art style, but also how alive the creator felt: painting a creature would cause it to shake like a dog, while popping it into the test drive phase would make it squawk in surprise. If you chose the beak, that is.
Lots of games have funny face glitches, or mods which break faces so they look ridiculous, but the Saints Row series lets you make them as standard. It's a series that, once it realised it was onto something by being over-the-top, really doubled down on it.
The method for madness is simple: slide all face-altering values to 0, or 100, and watch as your monster is shaped before you. Then take them out into the world and wreak havoc with them. Look as ridiculous as the world you're in.
There's a new Saints Row game in development, in case you're wondering, but it doesn't have a release date yet.
I made the Ghostbusters as Miis, but that's pretty standard stuff. I made the Today programme presenters as Miis. I made people from Undercover Boss, in and out of disguise. It's weird: the tools were so simple, basic even, and yet there was something about the whole set-up that not only encouraged you to make stuff, and make lots of stuff, but to look to the real world for inspiration.
And it was wonderful: not just getting a good Justin Webb, but knowing that you'd see him wandering around Mii Plaza, going on that RPG quest for hats, and turning up on your baseball team.
Nintendo's magic is hard to explain, I think, but a big part of it is definitely the way they see games fitting into the real world. Games belong in the real world - that was the Nintendo message of the last twenty years or so, right back to the fact that they put a carry handle on the GameCube. And Miis were perfect for this - Nintendo games in the real world, and the real world in Nintendo games.
Sometimes, when the summer is long, the weed is cheap and there's not much else going on, you can take video games a bit too seriously. So it was for me and a small group of friends who invested whole months into Deptford Wednesday, our PES Master League team propped up with versions of ourselves created in the then fantastically deep edit mode.
Oh sweet Deptford Wednesday, who proved that with a handful of sliders, the ability to create your own kit and a little imagination that video games can create the most compelling stories. We'd play a half of football each, the spectating players then on duty to spin tales of what was going in and around the club; the petty rivalries, the expansion of nearby ground Evelyn Road, the rise and rise of wonder boy Shimizu.
We even had a proud shirt sponsor in Shital, the convenience store we lived above, a deal mumbled in agreement between us and its owner as we brought our typical half-time refreshments of half-a-dozen Oranginas. That's the thing with a good character creator, though - give players enough space to tinker with, and they can occasionally be the springboard for something pretty special.