Mechanics are important to me, if you haven't already seen from my previous posts. I believe they are what separate games from every other form of media. In this post, I want to do some theory crafting and share some ideas I have on mechanics. Since I like to focus on MMOs, let's begin with the mechanic that is one of the most important parts and the first one you use.
Character creators are some of the most important, and yet sometimes overlooked, mechanic you use when starting out in an MMO. They let you create your avatar, the character that will represent you in the game world. A good character creator will root the player into the world, allow them to accept what the game tells them to believe is true. A poor creator will leave a rift between the player and the world because they couldn't connect with their avatar.
Do you take this Avatar to be your lawful representation?
A good character creator starts off with plenty of choices. That's not all though, they give you these choices in waves, start you off with a small selection, followed by another selection based off the last choice. To start off with, what race do I want to play. This can range from types of humans that differ between regions, to the exotic, between humans, orcs or even lizard men. After your race selection, it should provide the obvious choice between genders, if that exists for the race chosen. Beyond that, I should be seeing a top level selection of choices that provide me quick and profound ways to alter their look.
Some may stop me here and go, "But wait, Mr. Tyranny. I like to delve into the minutiae and pick everything down to the pore pattern on my skin". This is where I go, "Stop interrupting me, imagination. It's rude and the reader doesn't have time for me to argue with myself, but you're right!".
People, like myself, like getting into the nitty gritty of micromanaging the character's look like a beauty pageant mother, but I understand others just want to get started and throw the mirror out the window. These people are of course playing how they want, and that is rule #1 for me. That is why I say it should only show the top level choices first.
Secondly, these choices help you get into the ball park of where you'd like to take your character's look. Once you are there, that's when we get into the sliders. This is where the magic happens. Sliders let you get to the lower levels of character creation. They let you tweak your nose a half centimeter to the left and change your finger length to be slightly stubby.
These are the basics that make a good character creator. Something simple that allows a lot of depth. Some games that do this well are Star Trek Online and Champions Online for their sliders, and EverQuest, both 1 and 2, and Guild Wars 2 for their race selection. It's understandable that you wouldn't want to spend a lot of resources in making the character creator, but let me implore you to consider that if the player can't connect with their avatar, it makes it harder for them to want to stick in the world.
My Personal Flair
Now it's easy to copy someone else's idea, but now it's time to add my own little flair to the mix. I think it would be pretty neat to have a character selection where you're looking into a room or even walking around and you see a bunch of randomly generated characters sitting, talking with each other, etc. While you are looking, you can select one of these characters that you like the most, or wait for some to leave and new ones to enter and then make your selection and use that as your starting template in the character creator.
So character creators are important in establishing your connection to the game world. These shouldn't be rushed and have some thought put into it, otherwise you risk the player not really caring and becoming less immersed.