Graev and I were having a discussion the other day about character creation in MMOs, and we’ve come to the conclusion that it pretty much sucks these days. Yes, there are exceptions, but almost every new MMO released limits the player to just aesthetics (usually swapping faces) and a few basic choices like what class you want to play.
I enjoy character creation that lets me truly customize how I’m going to play. I don’t like to be overwhelmed with meaningless or complicated customization, though.
SWG had a really good customization process where the player could choose their character, fully customize his or her looks, choose a starting skillset, and then allocate their stats to determine their Health, Action, and Mind. You could never truly break your character because stat alteration was easily adjusted with an image designer (or I think you could wait it out via real time) and you could always pickup and drop skills. Other than amazing options to customize the character’s appearance, nothing felt lasting or permanent.
UO had very similar customization in terms of character skills and stats. If you messed them up, or even wanted to change them, it was a matter of pointing arrows up or down then just playing the game. Choosing your skills mattered though because you were given starting items to help you out. Ultimately, UO also falls into the same category as SWG with not a whole lot to care about later on.
A more hardcore approach is the oldschool EverQuest stat allocation. Messing up your stats in EQ was definitely a horrifying experience. I remember dinging 50 on my Necro, and all I could think about was how much I regret not having min-maxed my stats properly. Eventually people figured out the ‘ideal’ way to build a character and it became less about customization and more about checking the right boxes.
I think striking a balance between the SWG and EQ style is ideal. I want to ding level 50 (or max a character out, etc) and be able to still be affected by choices I made when I created my character. I don’t want those choices to be game breaking or something that makes my character perform less than someone else — after all, we have to be friendly to newbs.
Maybe some sort of special traits or abilities (that aren’t worthless once per day novelties). I’m trying to remember which game it was that let me choose a bunch of ancestral/heritage information. Having those types of choices impact where your character can live, or what towns you’re welcome in, or play a part in factions would be cool. Deities in EverQuest were a great idea, and I think the same type of customization should allow for cosmetic abilities and alternative paths of progression later on.
Race choice should also matter a lot. If you choose Dark Elf, you should expect to be evil and have to work hard to be accepted places. Races with a natural affinity to magic should have higher intelligence and ultimately make better casters, but sacrifice in other areas. Overcoming these shortcomings should be possible, but it should require you to sacrifice something else in order to one day achieve that status. For example, if I wanted to be a Halfling Wizard, I may have to progress my character throughout his entire life away from his sneaky heritage just to one day be accepted by the master wizards who will teach me to hone my skills.
I’d love to hear about any ideas you folks have about customization. I still believe you shouldn’t be able to break a character, but living with consequences that are meaningful is part of character progression even if those choices are made at the beginning.