The Crossing

Today, having described the playable races, I’ll talk about how you can specifically and elaborately customise your character.

Let’s start with the standard, facial customisation.

Facial Customisation

Humans (see above) can choose widely from the sort of options we see frequently in other games. Numerous hairstyles and beards. Face paint. Jewelery. Features that can be warped and tweaked. Practically speaking, the humans who enter through the gates are nearly always men, but occasionally a woman will somehow beat the sytem, so to speak. When this happens, it’s usually because she was mistaken for a man by whatever it is that judges these things (there are vague explanations in the local mythology, but nobody really knows how this works).

Gate people are always hairless, but they sometimes wear protective headscarves, and women (and occasionally men) who have been raised as concubines often wear elaborate wigs or headdresses. Creating one of the gate people, you can choose facial markings and colouring, and the proportions of their features. As well, to some extent you can also customise the colour and outline of their ghost – the incorporeal second-self that is the basis of their magic.

Creating a simulacrum, you can choose the natural materials from which they are made – what sort of dried plants or swamp matter they wear as their hair, what sort of animal parts they are formed from, and whether fur, or scales or feathers are sticking out of (and shedding from) their muddy bodies. And of course, you can design their mask. The face under their mask is blank to start with, and how it forms and alters over time up to you. Every simulacrum must also have something alive inside of it, to act as a beating heart to keep it animate. It could be a bird, a frog, a mouse, a turtle, etc – an animal small enough to fit inside its chest – and you can choose this as well.

Body Customisation

In The Crossing there is full body customisation. You can choose how tall or short you are. You can choose how fat or thin you are. You can alter the distribution of weight – whether your character is heavy on the top, in the middle, on the bottom, or any combination of all three. Separately, you can also choose how muscular your character’s body is (though this would not affect your strength in-game), so you could be visibly very muscular under your bulk, or be lanky and soft-limbed. Note, though, that only humans and gate people have a musculature, so Simulacra can choose their size and proportions, but not how brawny they are.

Being able to choose the body size of your character in a videogame seems enormously important to me. Of course, I understand why it is extremely difficult to implement. Resources have limits, and morphing armour meshes around a wide variety of bodies must be a nightmare for developers (and no doubt that’s the tip of the iceberg). Still, we are getting to a point in videogame development where we can begin to think about this as being a future requisite. As videogames evolve – as they become increasingly widespread throughout popular culture, and increasingly naturalistic-looking – this kind of diversity becomes more and more crucial.

When I played Final Fantasy XIV last year, one of the features I was most looking forward to was the promised body customisation. My expectations were realistic, I thought. There might be a height-slider, and a bust-slider, and a hip slider. Still, if I could make a tall, flat-chested, moderately wide-hipped lady, then I was prepared to be well-pleased.

The feature did not end up being in the game, however. If there were differences in the body-types available, they were so minor that they might as well have not been there. In fact, it was impossible to make an unusual-looking, or not-conventionally-attractive character, in that game. All of the noses, eyes and mouths were nearly identical. You may have felt like you were making decisions about your appearance, but they hardly made any difference in the end. Everyone looked the same.

It begins to feel a little creepy, exploring an enormous open world where everyone has exactly the same body. And it comes a little too close to the sort of body perfectionism that we’re preoccupied with as a culture – the notion that all of us should want to have bodies that fit within the narrow (and narrowing) range of what is considered acceptable. This should be worrying and unpleasant even for people who more or less resemble the characters who represent us in videogames, because it effects everybody.

I referenced Mass Effect, yesterday. In future games like this, I hope it’s not just possible to save the universe as a woman wielding the same aggressive and un self-conscious body language as a male character. I hope it can be done as a fat man or woman, too, or any in-between along the way. As any ethnicity or gender identity.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of the play mechanics – the crafting systems, and the weapons and armour. I’ll give you a break from the political stuff. Actually, no… wait, I can already think about how armour models are political… well, nevermind that.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “The Crossing

  1. Wood

    I love those simulacrum masks. I want one so bad.

    • Marian

      I’m thinking I might make one, for reference when I’m drawing the book. Those things are hard to draw from every angle, it turns out.

  2. Would Simulacra have gender or even conglomerate genders?

  3. monique r.

    how could i choose human when the gate people look so badass? I like how they look anonymously human…with the humans, i might feel more guilt acting as shitty as i wanted to which is totally a requisite to rpgs, for me. human for me, would have to be second go round.

    however, simulacrum would be first choice if there was a spar with your friends mini-game mode. lolz

    • Marian

      I was thinking, for people playing humans, that there would have to be an option not to always take advantage of your position. Acting shitty would be to your advantage, though, naturally.

  4. What would be cool is if the choices you made while customizing your character would affect the appearance of items like weapons and armour.

    One thing that got on my nerves during my on/off abusive relationship with *whisper* World of Warcraft was that they’d crafted this hugely detailed culture and lore for each race, but the armour you got looked the same. Running around trying to roleplay a vicious tribal Orc while wearing spangly gold armour with lions on it got old, fast.

    It would be really nice if there was an option you could toggle that made the armour model change based on, for example, your character’s sex or ethnicity. So the same piece of armour, appearing knightly, shiny and heroic on a character of European descent, would appear reminiscent of a powerful, skilled samurai if equipped on an Asian chap.

    But if you wanted your female character to be a hard-nosed female warrior who doesn’t have an exposed midriff and wears the same damn armour as her male cohorts, or you want your asian gentleman to look like he spent his adventuring days in Europe, toggle the option off and the armour appears in its default state.

  5. Kirk

    Someone–ANYONE–from SquareEnix needs to be reading this blog. Seriously, if they want to stay on top of this RPG biz, these are ideas they need to adopt into their programming.

    • Marian

      Well, it’s easy for me to be prescribing all this stuff. Actually putting it into a game, I’m aware, would be a different thing altogether.

  6. John Bridges

    I’ve been loving these game design posts. Its very inventive stuff! I’d love to see the Simulacra moving around and evolving in game.
    As far as character creation goes, I feel I have to shout out some love for my co-worker’s latest efforts for EVE Online. I work on a different project at CCP Games, but the guys on the EVE side of things have really accomplished something with the lastest update. You can check out some of the results on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=eve+online+character+creation&aq=0. Its just the beginning too, and will feed into more badass stuff yet.

    • Marian

      Cool, I’ll check out the link when I’m back home (using Pub wifi right now).

      It would be exciting to work on a continuously evolving game like that.

  7. Victoria

    What you’re doing, for me, in fascinating, inspiring, and most of all, thought-provoking. I’ve toyed around with the idea of creating something of an Ideal RPG (which is admittedly, really quite different from yours) — but the basis behind it was the same, and now I’m working to realize it, though not as an RPG, but as some kind of website thing I can’t even describe. So seeing you doing this, it’s incredible, and it really gives me the power to see whatever the hell I’m doing through to the end.

    Moreover, though, I also totally totally agree with what you’re saying about character customization in RPGs. I recently got Dragon Quest IX, which is pretty great and all in terms of character customization (and still really, really different in terms of quality than Mass Effect) — but what you’re saying about the ideal body / ideal human is still painfully evident and probably does a lot to our personal ideas of representation than we realize, particularly when there is no way, usually, to select any non-white race in games. A little tan, maybe, but never darker than white.

    Sorry if this comment is ridiculously long, but this idea! I have no idea what you’re planning on doing with it, other than fleshing it out entirely, but I think you should go as far as you possibly can with it. This is an amazing.

    A question — I assume, considering the fact that there’s no real rendering that actually has to be done to see this, that women & men would have different ways of standing & walking? Would this vary also with the weights of the characters, and where their weights are located? Perhaps even the gate people and simulacrum would have different ways of walking and standing altogether? (say, the simulacrum are a bit more loose and jagged in movement, and the gate people float more?)

    • Marian

      Oh, this is an interesting question.

      Outside of realistic animation constraints, I would definitely want weight and proportion of weight to have an effect to some extent. And my ideal scenario would involve being able to choose (or toggle) your character’s general animation style, so that people wouldn’t feel hemmed in by their gender in that regard.

      Within realistic constraints, I’d at least want the different races to be animated differently – simulacra would be more hunched and scurrying. Humans would be all confident, shoulders-back, etc. (women too, since that fits in the “lore”). Gate people would be more neutral, with a little variation between genders – noticeable, but nothing remarkable.

      And yeah, I totally agree about the race and skintone customisation in many games, too. The options are so frequently horrible, or just nonexistent – would it really be so hard to extend the tone range farther? I mean, come on.

      I hope your project works out. I’d love to see it, when it’s done.

  8. nout

    This is such cool stuff.
    I’ve not been able to play much games these days, but RPGs are always my favorites, so i’d buy it in a heartbeat!

  9. ross

    hey Marian! Ross here. just found this via Brandon’s blog.

    this is all really amazing!!! i’ve thought about creating a game myself a few times, there are game creator engines and stuff but it’s all flash-based and 2D-NES-style stuff which could still be fun but so time-consuming and probably not suitable for what you’d want to do with this.

    in terms of full representation, what about disabled characters?

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