Who Would You Be...
by, 17-08-2010 at 10:11 PM (2732 Views)
A Look at a New Generation Player Characters
Being able to customise the main character has long since been the staple of role playing games where the player picks sex, race, name, hair color etc. This is done to help the players “inhabit” their chosen character, projecting their own or some fantasy personality on to the character and in so doing add to the escapism offered by games. Helping the player “inhabit” the character is also why early first person shooters where often littered with faceless, nameless protagonists, this is also why Gordon Freeman of Half-Life fame never speak and why we are yet to see John-117 a.k.a The Master Chiefs Face.
However from a story point of view giving the player carte blanche with their character customization does tend to wreak havoc with story elements. In the old text only RPG’s its was easy to use the players chosen name, even if it was Tittylicious or something similarly stupid, however as we moved into the era of voiced dialog this became harder and harder. Blizzard worked around this in Diablo 2 by simple referring to the Player Character as “Hero” when ever dialog was spoken. As a result of this slippery slope when it comes to custom player characters in story driven titles we have had a lot of Marcus Fenix, Kratos, Nathan Drake and that guy from Kill Zone 2, Sev, telling us different stories. While there is nothing wrong and all the stories are brilliant Imagine Uncharted where the title character was of your own creation.
Mass Effect gave us the first taste of something along these lines. Bioware gave players the freedom to mold their own galactic bad ass within set parameters, such as the Shepard suffix along with a manageable selection of Pre-Service History and Psychological Backgrounds. This coupled with the different classes and dialog system allowed players to create a surprising variation of Shepards. Mass Effect 2 took this character customisation a little further giving players the ability to mix and match their armor which would appear in cut-scenes. This rather simple change means that even during scripted cut-scenes the player sees their own Shepard on screen adding to the immersion.
Now this is all well and good for an RPG like Mass Effect but First Person Shooters or Action Adventure games are yet to bring any real such character to the player characters. While we all may have our own opinion of Gordon Freeman’s favoured hobby (stamp collecting maybe) few of us imagine ourselves Gordon Freeman, our brains simply wont let us BE something or someone that has a name. Similarly Master Chiefs rich history and subsequent literary outings have given each and every person who read the Halo Novels or done some surfing of the Halowiki a decent idea of the kind of man John-117 is, nobody thinks him a selfish, egotistical, knowitall (Do they?). In Halo 3: ODST Bungie tried something different to John’s rich history, they gave us a nobody, a nameless, faceless and seemingly mute soldier to guide through New Mombasa. In the upcomming Halo Reach Bungie is once again giving players a Nameless, faceless and from all we’ve seen silent hero. Where Noble 6 or SPARTAN B-312 differs from the Rookie is that his/her (yep Noble 6 can be a chick, SPARTAN Babes are Hot ) armor is highly customisable and not just in Multiplayer. Players will be able to customise a large variety of Noble 6’s armor which will feature in all the campaign cut-scenes meaning players will be able to BE Noble 6. As far as “inhabiting” the character goes this is still a far cry from Mass Effects Shepard but for a first person shooter this is a good step in the right direction considering there are no dialog trees to flesh out Six’s, player chosen, personality and is still able to tell a story even with a Bright Pink SPARTAN B-312 kicking the snot out of those Elites.
There will always be a place for the likes of Nathan Drake & Kratos but I’d wager there are a few people out there who wouldn’t mind creating a custom character to dangle precariously over a ledge or extract bloody revenge on the Greek gods. Let us hope that as gaming continues to evolve and mature we will eventually get our chance to be exactly who we want to be... Jedi, Warlock or Space Marine...