The Lives We Lead

Bioware recently released a character creation tool for their upcoming RPG Dragon Age: Origins. I’ve spent some time messing around with the various settings, knowing full well that crafting the character I want to use can often take me days before I start the game proper, and it’s set me thinking about Dragon Age and about character creation in general.

This is Dragon Age's Maximum Face character, achieved by moving all the sliders to max. Thanks to the PC Gamer guys for divulging that fun little distraction.

As promotional tools go releasing a character creator early is a stroke of genius. I’m amazed that all RPGs don’t do it. Not only does it give the player a glimpse into the technical, mechanical and narrative aspects of the game but manages to do so without ever showing a piece of gameplay footage. It’s also useful for the player, giving them time to weigh up the different options and aspects that they can pursue without having to deal with the moment of “fuck it this’ll do, I actually want to start the bloody game” (while at the same time, I’m sure the developers are hoping, forming an attachment to their character that will increase the chances of them actually buying it.) It feels weird to actually take some time to praise what is, in essence, a marketing move but, frankly, Bioware’s previous attempts to sell the game have been so cringe-worthy that I was almost put off the whole damn thing.

I get into trouble when I start messing with sliders. I was only able to rescue this character from an expression of permanent surprise after much fine tuning.

Above is the character that I was seriously considering using until my cycling of the menus in order to collect some pictures led to all her characteristics being reset. I’m somewhat on the fence about whether to go for a male or female character this time around. I generally play males in RPGs and never really considered the alternative until Mass Effect came along. Mass Effect’s male lead was such a typical Space Marine douchebag that I couldn’t bring myself to spend even a second with him (that Jennifer Hale did the voicework for the female Shepherd didn’t hurt any.) I probably had a lot greater attachment to my Shepherd than I do to many of my RPG characters partially because the fact that she was female made her a more compelling character without the story having to make any changes for that fact.

That said, my favourite character creation is my Baldur’s Gate half-elf Ranger, Lujan (+50 respect points if you can identify where the name comes from.) Or I should say my favourite character creation ‘was’. As I typed that sentence I realised that Lujan died when my old computer’s hard-drive corrupted. This makes me genuinely quite said, an odd response considering the least important, and least flexible, thing about Baldur’s Gate was what your character looked like. This is, of course, the main aspect of creating your character: the attachment you feel toward them is less about what they look like as it is about the actions you have them perform in game.

I’ve never played as a dwarf before and I must say that I’m seriously considering it. Of course I was instantly disappointed by Dragon Age’s lack of beard configuration options. In Keith, the dwarf above (specialisation: twatting things), I chose the optimum beard length to dispersment ratio and I’m still a little disappointed I can’t go further. What’s the point of taking on the role of a dwarf if your beard doesn’t make NPCs fall to their knees?

Beards aren’t the only thing about the character creator that get the short shrift. Elsewhere, and I’m going to keep comparing against the D&D based Baldur’s Gate because the developers have kept crowing about how DA is a spiritual successor to the series, there are much less options defining both race and class. From the sounds of it this is actually a good move, as the choice you make will have dramatic effects on the whole narrative, right from the story that kicks off your adventure. This is nothing but good news, especially as Bioware’s previous attempt to cultivate a meaningful backstory choice for your character, in Mass Effect, was used in only the most superficial way (to paraphrase, it basically manifested as follows: “so it was you that [survived the siege.]”) Another thing that’s missing is the choice of an alignment which I was all set to spend A Lot Of Words talking about until I realised I should probably save it for my next Let’s Improve Gaming thing.

The most interesting removal, from my perspective, you might spot in the second screenshot. Where’s the Charisma stat? I generally move through my RPGs entrancing the NPCs in the glare of my charasmatic avatar. I then rob them blind. The closest stat Dragon Age has to charisma is Cunning, which nevertheless implies something different. This could turn out to be an interesting move, one I’m quietly excited to discover. It would be a special kind of madness to deny the wordy resolution path from players but it could mean that the warmth people will show you is tied more to your in-game deeds. By the same token it could just transpire that Cunning is a cache-all re-skin of charisma designed to distance the game from its ‘spiritual predecessor’. Either way, I’m looking forward to finding out.

If you’ve spent any time with Dragon Age’s character creation tool then link to your chosen character in the comments and tell us a bit about why that character in particular appeals. It should be interesting to find out why we choose the lives we do…


5 Responses to “The Lives We Lead”

  1. 1 Izzi
    30/10/2009 at 23:51

    Damn computer won’t play it. I havent played BC before though (but im looking into it after all you’ve said) so what exactly the stats and stuff all means is probably lost on me anyway.

    As a general rule with choosing characters though, i always prefer magical or trickstery types to characters that just twat things. I just thinks it more interesting. Having said that, i dont like to think too much about the character in advance, discovering how a character works best can be a pleasure in itself for me. E.g. on wow i made several characters consciously, but in the end it was the one i made when i was bored for a laugh (and because i didnt know anything about that class at the time) was the one i ended up loving and playing the most. Couldve been coincidence, or couldve been the lack of expectations and sense of discovery made me warm to her a lot more.

    The whole field of avatars is pretty interesting. I remember doing quite a bit of study on avatars though i dont remember it all off the top of my head. I remember writing about an experiment that was done to see if male/ female players preferred male or female avatars. They found guys had no preference, but girls generally stuck to females if they could. It was suggested that girls feel intimidated by male characters, whereas males don’t find female characters intimidating at all. Theres possibly also a bit of the ‘girl pride’ (cringe) involved, or possibly a responsibility girls feel to look pretty. Btw, i do usually play female, though now i think of it i’m not sure why.. i don’t *think* i’m intimidated by males, but they just don’t look as hot as the girls, y’know?

    Obviously theres a lot more factors in character creation and ‘avatar bonding’ than that.. especially when u consider the type of game being played and players expectations, but thats just a small example of it.

    • 2 octaeder
      01/11/2009 at 10:22

      The guys having no avatar preference thing is a bit surprising although perhaps mainly due to the fact that most of my friends seem to gravitate to what seems to be an idealised version of themselves, even down to unoriginally naming their character after themselves.

      It’s an approach I’ve never really understood: I’m well aware that the last person I’d want in a save the world scenario is myself. That bit in every RPG where you head to the local tavern for some quests; that would be the bit where my interest in stopping the apocalypse ended.

  2. 08/11/2009 at 09:29

    Well, I finally got my character to upload to the Bioware servers correctly, so I can finally show her off:


    I have a habit of playing as female in games, especially in RPGs and MMOs. It’s not my place to analyze this particular piece of information, but there’s probably several reasons for this.
    One, I never really got along with guys much in real life. Guys kinda suck. Girls, on the other hand, are awesome (unless they come in packs. It is my experience that for every four/five females you need a male to balance things out, or they start talking about shoes and stuff).
    A second reason is that, especially in MMOs (but also in some single player RPGs), girls have more fun. It’s amazing how differently people treat you when you’re (pretending to be) a woman. There’s much less annoying banter and competition, for one, but occasionally even those annoying 14-year-olds can’t get enough blood pumped to their heads to manage to spout their usual incoherent nonsense. You also sometimes get stuff, simply for having virtual boobs.
    Thirdly, it’s easier to roleplay when you’re playing as someone entirely different from who you are in real life. I guess that when I’m playing as somone close to “me”, it’s easier to slip and lose the mask altogether.

    So meet Hríve (DON’T pronounce it like “hive” with an extra “r”, for christ’s sake. It’s “hreeveh”), who’s apparently shaping up to be a healer-type mage (she usually does). In my original design, she had red hair, because I have a thing for redheads. However there’s too many redheads in DAO already, and it seems like everyone’s doing redheads nowadays anyway. I find it frustrating that even though I spent a lot of time fine-tuning, she still looks kinda generic and dorky from afar. The silly hat doesn’t help. Good thing the hat goes away during cutscenes, or I’d never wear it, no matter what stat bonuses it grants me.

    Anyway, even though Hríve is a healer, she’s not necessarily the do-gooder type. I haven’t decided what her path will be in DAO’s maze of morality, but I know for sure she’s not going to worship the Maker, and she wasn’t particularly nice to those refugees that wanted that merchant to stop selling his stuff for outrageous prices either… She finds herself agreeing with a lot of what Morrigan has to say about the way the world works…

    So yes, Hríve is a work in progress. She’s actually developing across games. Each game world teaches me new things about her, and some of these elements stick and carry over to my next Hríve character. I’m sure you’ll get to meet her in TSW eventually, too…

  3. 4 Izzi
    08/11/2009 at 12:45

    just have to back up what coren is saying about the playing females. When i first started making these wow characters i asked my already playing friends (a male and female conveniently) if there was any difference. They both played females and said people are much nicer to you if you’re a girl, and it’s true. On my ‘hottest’ character I was given a few gifts and even on a few occassions some enemy players helped me on quests! Weird. Even on my (less hot but still sexy) current character people are really nice to me. The two times i rolled a male though, people kinda expected me to completely fend for myself. I even remember a party leader wanted to add his friend to a group so he chose to kick me, even though i was the highest level in the group! Though he could’ve just been being a dick.
    So yes, playing female is definitely a tactical choice, and i have sympathy for you guys if this is any reflection of real life..

  4. 5 Izzi
    08/11/2009 at 13:00

    hm, i noticed i say ‘current’ character although i havent touched it in well over a year.. interesting, you really do get attached to characters i guess.
    I like the way you’ve carried your character on throughout different games. You must feel some kind of bond to your character, which is geeky but kinda cool!

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