Whether it’s the texture of your skin or the size of your, well — “sex appeal”, video games are always looking for new ways to involve us in the creation of our characters. From the dawn of blank canvases to the very apex of in-depth customization — RPGs and the likes have slowly ramped up the attention to detail when it comes to that all-important segment. And now, as of 2021, the majority of games that allow us to shape our own heroes are capable of letting us tweak even the smallest of things that wouldn’t have been needed ten years ago. Like, I don’t know — the length of your fingernails.
While character customization is well past the boundaries of the bare necessities, there is still very much room for further development in future titles. Of course, we don’t exactly know what it is yet — but there is always something that can be evolved. In the meantime, however, we thought we’d venture back to some of the most pioneering moments in character customization history. Whether it be a small detail or a major one — we definitely think that these five made a permanent smudge in the mirror.
5. Face mapping
It may sound like a trivial detail these days, but way back in the early noughties when the PlayStation 2 was finding ground, face mapping was an almost impossible feature to implement in video games. That is until the Eye Toy and other alternative webcams became somewhat fashionable and hooked developers into dabbling with the many features. After that, several games started to make use of the core functions and even went as far as using it to map the players’ faces for character customization segments.
Take Tony Hawk’s: Underground, for example. Sure, it wasn’t the prettiest compared to the usual next-gen visuals that you’d see today — but it was definitely revolutionary for its time. After all, who doesn’t want to see their own face plastered on a heroes body? I mean, even if it was a pixelated monstrosity on a pair of cubed shoulders — it still led us to believe that we were a part of the actual story. And that’s something I don’t think any of us will ever forget, to be honest.
4. Tweakable features
It’s odd to think that many years ago we were restricted to only the basics when it came to character creation. Of course, other than the skin color and template t-shirt pattern — there was really nothing else we could alter. We were given a basket of six or seven options and simply left to scratch our heads over which one suited our personality the best. And that was usually it. There was no major in-depth tweaking to the bridge of our noses or the wrinkles on our unibrows. Just a template face — with a template outfit.
However, the time did finally come where video games ramped up the attention to detail when it came to customization. Shortly after that, players could immerse like never before by toying with every aspect of the face. And yes — it was normal to spend two or more hours tweaking the settings until the character could pass for a cheap clone of our physical selves. But that’s just become the norm these days, to be fair.
3. Sex appeal
It’s all well and good being able to blow our faces well and truly out of proportion, but it’s another thing being able to, well — adjust our private areas as well. Somewhere along the line, that was deemed appropriate for the future of character customization. And while it provides nothing to the actual gameplay itself (other than a larger pixel to swing), it is a rich little detail that has often made us chuckle over the years. I mean, it’s ridiculous — but at least having it included means no stone is left unturned.
Whether you skim right past it or ramp it up to 110% — having the option to alter said key areas is a fun little feature that not only takes us by surprise every once in a while, but also gives us something else to blow well out of proportion, too. And we’re perfectly fine with that. I mean, they are video games, and they do aim to employ fantasy into their structure — so why not exaggerate every little customizable quirk? It seems only natural, after all.
It’s one thing creating the perfect digital replica of ourselves in video game form — but also bolting on our life goals and aspirations too? Seem like something only The Sims could swing, right? Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done over their long and healthy reign in the life simulation genre. Ever since character development spiralled from template residents to fully customizable people, The Sims has only continued to evolve its ambitious checklist of lifelike features.
While morphing our family and household into a picture-perfect replica is a joy in itself, actually being able to embed our own personalities into the characters is a truly outstanding addition to the authenticity of the overall experience. Whether you’re a wannabe novelist or a renowned musician by trade, The Sims has always been able to establish a genuine level of lifelike accuracy. It’s scary, even — knowing how easy it can be to create ourselves and our beliefs at the touch of a few buttons. Unfortunately for us, it’s much harder to acquire eternal glory and wealth in reality than it is in Sim City. Sad times.
Between the morphable bodies and the endless spool of tweakable features lies the real focal point of character customization — and that’s the persona itself. Of course, it’s all well and good being able to turn ourselves into an almighty lord or what have you, but the true key to successful character creation is through the realm of fantasy and nothing more. By that, I mean adopting unique classes, races and professions to your hero. These are things that we don’t usually see outside of video games — and are therefore a major factor in creating a smokescreen between gamers and reality.
While any John or Jane can learn a profession — not everybody can master the art of enchantment — or spells. And the same goes for race, too. I mean, you might think you’re an orc or a troll with a goblin heritage, but, I mean — you’re not. Again, thanks to video games and their immersive roles that beckon to be explored, we, as players, are able to enter worlds that even our wildest imagination couldn’t conjure. And it’s because of that, that we have to celebrate the diversity and the imagination of both developers and players all around the world.