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Pros and Cons of Character Generation Systems

Posted Wed, Apr 17, 2013 by gunky

Pros and Cons of Character Generation Systems

The character generation process is a player's first taste of how a roleplaying game will work. In some games, it serves as an introduction to the background math that determines the abilities and potency of the character. In other games, it's not much more than putting a custom skin on a generic package. 

There are three types of character generation systems in the MMO world, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. We'll take a look at each one - where it can be found, what are its merits, and what makes the other systems better.

1. Fixed Stats

Character Generation Systems - Fixed stats (SWTOR)

In this system, the player selects from a few standard options such as race, gender and character class. These factors alone determine the character's stats, skills and combat specializations. Actual player input into the functionality of the character is limited - mostly, this system focuses on choosing hilarious mohawk-and-moustache combos and picking awesome facial tattoos.

This is the most commonly-encountered character generation system in "themepark-style" MMOs, where balance and fairness are of paramount importance. Everyone has the exact same opportunities and players don't need to be armed with spreadsheets and scientific calculators to be good at something. 

The numbers that are used for stats can vary pretty widely. Usually, stats increase with level, and the specific increases depend on the character's class.

Where It Can Be Found:

World of Warcraft, RIFT, Tera Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Lord of the Rings Online, Guild Wars 2, many others

Pros:

  • Uniformity - If all characters of the same type start out with all the same stats and abilities, everyone is on the same level playing field. This makes it easier for designers to create content for specific level ranges because relative power can be easily calculated.
  • Ease of Use - This is the least complicated of the character generation systems, at least from the player's point of view. Choices are simple, everything is explained with detailed tooltips and there is little risk of accidentally creating an unplayable character because of poor choices.
Cons:
  • Gear Dependency - Particularly at high levels, standout character performance relies heavily on gear. The guy with the purple-quality +10 Flaming Uber-sword of All-Smiting will always have a big advantage over the same-level guy with the green-quality +9 Meh-sword of Genericus, regardless of relative player skill level.
  • Inflexibility - Players have no choice in how their character is put together. And while players usually have a fair bit of leeway with cosmetic choices, fresh toons have no individuality. At low levels, there is not really any such thing as a "build."
Where It Might Pop Up Next:

It seems very likely that this system will be used by the Elder Scrolls Online. The single-player games all use a point-buy character generation system, but the MMO game will be more heavily-focused on character classes rather than freeform, sandbox-style characters. And while the MMO may keep the single-player gimmick of leading the player through character creation via a prison-exit story as has always been done in Elder Scrolls games, chances are that it will end with simply picking a class and using sliders to make your dude really fat or buff and sporting an hilarious muttonstache.

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