Pre-Made vs. Custom Characters

When it comes to the use of pre-made vs custom made characters there is not a set rule in the world of RPGs.
However, it could be said that there are three main trends:

Pre-Made Characters

Traditionally, eastern style games (Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, etc…), often called JRPGS, make the most use of Pre-Made characters. The player is only given the option to change the names or select which of the characters will be in the adventuring party. The advantage of this style is that it allows the characters to have authentic conversations amongst the members of the group. The conversations are sometimes non-interactive for the player, but they can help advance the narrative. On the other hand, the player does not have as much freedom and it can make for a more linear story.

Player Made Characters

More in keeping with old-school games like Might and Magic, Wizardry and a few other more modern games like Icewind Dale, are games that allow the player to have full control in creating all of the characters that make up the adventuring party. The benefits of this option are that it lets the player identify more with their self-made characters and opens up more possibilities for the player to develop their own strategic ways to play the game.

The limitations of this style is that less narrative story can be implemented through meaningful conversations between the different characters in the party. Most conversations are instead driven by NPCs with a limited number of response options given to the player character.

Player made main character with pre-made group

This is the more modern and common option in RPGs today. Beginning with games like Baldur’s Gate it has also been used in Neverwinter Nights 2, Dragon age and many others. In this setup, the player designs the main character in the story and then later adds pre-made characters to the party as the story progresses. Generally the main character is silent for most of the story except when presented with dialog options. The other characters in the party may have more real story-driving conversations than the main character will actually voice.

Characters in Lords of Xulima

Story is a fundamental part of Lords of Xulima, and the story contained in the first game is just a small part of an elaborate mythology. The plot of this mythology is revealed little by little as the player advances in the game.

When originally conceived, all 6 of the characters were completely pre-made and each had its own personality. Conversations were written for the characters and they had dialogs that were at times intense and dramatic and sometimes touching. The characters were written to evolve throughout the story. Personally, I can’t recall another game where this has been carried out to such an extreme. The characters truly came to life and communicated their emotions.

However, I felt this was betraying the spirit of the old school. I think a fundamental aspect of these games is the way they allow the player to create their own characters in a fashion that I think is lost in many modern games. So with this in mind I decided to do away with the original narrative direction for the characters and take out the conversations and feelings that had been included with the pre-made party.

I still wanted to keep some of the dialogs and intense conversations so the decision was made that the main protagonist would be a pre-made character while the other members of the party would be created by the player.

Gaulen the Explorer 

Gaulen is the protagonist and will have numerous, often intense, conversations with the rest of the major characters of the story. He also represents the player because he too will make decisions at key points of the story and dialogs.

We believe that this balance gives us the best of both worlds in the pre-made vs custom made question. On the one hand the player can personalize the party to a great extent while also enjoying a strong character-driven narrative and interactive conversations.

17 Responses so far.

  1. Kordanor says:

    Sounds great. However I hope that you do not use the path NWN2 chose: That some skills and attributes only make sense on the main character and are completely useless on the other characters because they are automatically used by the main character while the other chars don’t havy any option to use them.
    Imho these stats and skills should make equal sense on all characters.

    • Aric Buroker says:

      Hi Kordanor,

      Thanks for your feedback, there are no plans to have skills like you describe. Different classes will be able to level different skills that will make sense to their builds, but the protagonist won’t have exclusive skills.

      Aric
      Numantian Games

  2. forgottenlor says:

    I think both paths are viable, provided that the main character is player generated. I find Balder’s gate 2 & KOTOR good examples using pregenerated companions, while Wizardry 8 is for me the best example of a game where all characters are player generated, but still possess a modicum of personality. If I have a lot of character creation options (say 15 classes for 6 slots) then I prefer generating myself.

  3. Rodolfo says:

    Another approach would be for the player to create the characters when he meets them. Maybe the story is that you meet Joe the warrior, and when you do, you get a screen where you create Joe (stats, abilities, etc), the only fixed thing would be his class/race. That way he can be a warrior for conversations and story, and even have warrior armor in cutscenes, but you still feel like you created him.

  4. JimGagne says:

    Some players are very combat-oriented and like to fine-tune their player characters (PCs) and companion party members for maximum effect or most interesting gameplay. I’m MUCH more character and story oriented. That’s hard to do if everyone in the party is a roll-your-own choice. So I’d be in favor of having all or most companions pre-made. Rudolfo’s suggestion is pretty interesting and should work too, although you’d also have to lock down the companion’s gender as well.

  5. Michaela says:

    I’m firmly with Rodolfo in this. I *love* the way this combines rich plots and characterization with a sense of having done it all your way. You might even lock some attributes (like high strength vs. low wisdom for a hot-headed fighter), but the details of the party’s development, choice of skills, weapons and combat style are still up to the player.

    Also, I would rather define my own main character and take pre-built sidekicks (I understand there will be a sufficient number of them to choose from so you can always pick the archer over the javelineer, if you prefer) than the other way round, as planned. After all, the main character is the one I am to identify with, whereas the companions are, in a way, simply what fate has dealt him.

    Which brings me to another point I would like to make:
    The main character is locked, and of course it’s… a guy.
    Hooray.
    Without even starting on the gender ratio of RPG main characters – if I am to identify with the protagonist in an epic, all-encompassing and creation-saving storyline that is to touch my heart, how about giving the girls in your audience a break and a choice to play a woman? (Sensibly clad, experience sadly requires me to add!)
    You’re a guy; if the main character in your favorite RPG was a woman (and I do mean a woman, not a fashion model for chain mail bikinis), wouldn’t you feel likewise?

    So, unless the larger story arc really requires the main character to have testes and a penis – how about putting that one up to your players?
    Pretty please? ;)

    • Mathieu Slm says:

      That was a very passionate post, Missy. Despite being a guy, I do understand where you’re coming from. Some would’ve preferred a choice of appearance for Gaulen… others (like me) a choice of class… and of course, a choice of gender (Gaulenette?).

      Personally, I like to play female protagonists; and I know I’m not the only one. So I’m not convinced it’s a favoritism thing, more a question of inspiration IMO.

      That said, and this is the most important, when crucial aspects of the protagonist are left up to the reader (player, in this case), the story loses a lot of “personality” or “touch of the author”. The only way to do this “right” is with a silent protagonist, but silent protagonist + silent party = lame. They had to make a choice, and since the story of Gaulen the Explorer was written long before the game, the central “medium” for telling it probably could not be altered. I’m sure they would rather offer a credible experience for a female protagonist, as opposed to something just recycled.

      In light of posts like yours, however, perphaps making the gender interchangeable will be taken in account in future stories :-)

      • Michaela says:

        Why, good sir, thank you for your kind empathy. :)

        I fully understand that telling a story “right” may impose certain limits on the protagonist. Still, unless too many of the central plot twists and dialogues explicitly require him to be male, I would very much like to advocate making this the player’s choice.

        Furthermore, most of the “gendered” situations may be adapted all too easily. If there are any potential love interests planned, those may be replaced by alternative characters of the opposite gender (or even remain as they are, if the player swings that way; I have seen this done amazingly well in several Choose-Your-Own-Adventure games).
        I do realise that will add to the load of artists and writers, but if the changes are restricted to those things crucial to the storyline, they will be very limited indeed.

        Please understand that I will play (and most probably love) this game either way, but there’s a dire dearth of women (again: NOT the scantily clad type for teenagers to gawk at) in leading roles (or even more-than-walking-scenery roles) already, as succinctly stated by the wonderful Anita Sarkeesian in
        http://www.feministfrequency.com/2009/12/the-bechdel-test-for-women-in-movies/
        (Go on, do take the two minutes to watch her make her point. I’ll be waiting here. :) )
        I cannot do much about Hollywood, but I would hate to not have raised this point in a video game project I firmly believe in.

        Thanks for reading and considering my point,
        cheers,

        Michaela :)

      • Michaela says:

        Oh, PS:
        I do realise that merely changing the looks and pronouns will merely cater to another trope, the “Ms. Male” main character – see
        http://www.feministfrequency.com/2013/11/ms-male-character-tropes-vs-women/
        (especially the part about gendering the protagonist in Mass Effect 3, starting at 19:45).

        A main character who is more than the male version with female body and voice actress, however, is step two.
        Step one is having even that much. <:7

        • ericfromabeno says:

          Michaela, yeah, after watching that video, it seems rather problematic, designing a female character with depth and originality and not stuck in some kind of be-ribboned, giggling, vapid one-dimensional mold… our entertainment media sometimes tries to get it right but even in shows where women are shown as level-headed, commanding and unique individuals you still occasionally get situations where they beat you over the head with “remember, she’s a woman” shopping scenes or such… -_-

          Reading the name “Gaulen” does not immediately say “male character” to me, by the way… If I met a woman whose name was Gaulen, I don’t think i’d find it jarring except in the sense that it’s an unusual name. I’m all for designing the character to be alterable by the player, gender, skin color, hairstyle, starting outfit… I don’t think this game will be heavy on cut-scenes that advance the plot…. I suppose they could have them, but probably not in such a way that changing the main character’s gender would make the game unrealistically hard to design…

          Michaela, I saw what you meant in that video, about the Mass Effect character… I honestly don’t know how this designer could combat that tendency in their games or in the gaming community at large, though, that habit of assigning the male version as the “norm”… it seems a societal issue beyond my ability to alter… lots of thought provoking information in that video. Kinda depressing, honestly… only in the very last minute of the video do i get a glimmer of hope that someone out there knows how to represent female characters in a less stereotyped, more personally identifiable way….

          in the case of this game, I’m guessing that a “Mass Effect” treatment is the best that we can hope for… The storyline was designed around the male protagonist, so probably the most they can provide is an exchangeable female version. Hmm… :(

          • Michaela says:

            Dear Eric,

            thank you so much! :D
            For reading my posts, watching the video, actually getting its point and, above all, understanding and caring.

            I do not insist on a female main character, I merely would like to point out the stereotypes and the problems with them. And my goal here is to influence perception of the problem, and a tiny change in mindset. I believe to achieve that is a nice success already, so after your post, I stand happy and relieved. :)

            I will still fully enjoy the game – it’s only that I believe the designers could do even more, if only in their next game.

            Thank you all for reading and caring,

            Michaela :D

  6. manuelotero says:

    “Gaulen el Explorador, es el protagonista, y tendrá emocionantes conversaciones con el resto de protagonistas de la historia, y así mismo, representa al jugador, porque el también tomará decisiones en determinadas partes de la trama y en los diálogos.

    Con esta decisión, esperamos tener lo mejor de los dos mundos, por un lado el jugador podrá personalizar su grupo en casi un 90% mientras que a la vez disfrutará de intensas narrativas y conversaciones.”

    Si llego a saber eso no hubiera comprado el juego.
    Me habéis engañado, yo pensé que el juego me permitiría
    crear al personaje principal.

    la excusa que pones es ridícula se puede crear un personaje y
    que tenga sus diálogos específicos dependiendo de su alineación
    profesión,genero etc. Escusas baratas para hacer lo que os de la gana.
    La próxima vez esto lo decís al pedir dinero para el juego.
    otros que hicieron eso fueron los de Banner Saga y te puedo asegurar que si llego a saber que mas que un juego de estrategia lo que estaba comprando era una aventura grafica no lo hubiera comprado.
    y no pienso volver a poner mi dinero ni en Banner Saga, ni en vuestra empresa por no contarlo todo o cambiar de opinión.
    Si se promete algo, se mantiene. no se cambia de opinión.
    Si es un rpg la creación del personaje principal es VITAL para poder integrarse en el juego.
    Habéis destrozado el juego antes de empezar. buen trabajo.
    y pensar que parecíais gente de fiar.

    por cierto odio los puñeteros juegos de rol japoneses son unas
    aventuras graficas y nada mas.
    si no tienes control sobre el personaje principal ¿que clase de juego de rol es? un puñetero juego de rol japonés? o una mezcla
    ridícula?
    y una vez con el personaje pre creado puedes elegir la profesión
    clase atributos skills etc? o simplemente he comprado un puñetero
    jrpg. y no me digas bueeno tienes a los demás del grupo.

    Que le den al grupo. lo que interesa es el personaje principal y su creación. El resto es apoyo para el líder. peones sin ningún valor, nada mas.
    que mal mal rollo me da este juego.
    Despedir al “genio” que se le ocurrió esa ideíta de como dirían en mi tierra “de merda”.

    P.D. ya me habéis quitado las ganas de jugar a la beta…. para que un personaje tipo jrpg, dios me dan ganas de vomitar.
    Para eso esta el Witcher 3 y no creo que le lleguéis a su altura… por cierto, en el si se puede gastar los puntos de exp donde quieras.
    y tiene su razón de ser para ser un personaje pre-hecho es un brujo (basado en unos libros) pero como quieras jugar tus habilidades es cosa tuya puedes darle mas
    importancia a la magia o mas importancia a las pócimas o mas importancia a las armas.

    P.D.2 la historia es importante, los diálogos no tanto, es la ambientación y la historia la que hacen un rpg junto con la empatía hacia tu personaje principal.
    vives lo que el/ella vive, luchas, ganas, pierdes junto al personaje que has creado. por ejemplo el señor de los anillos ¿cuantos diálogos transcendentales va a tener el
    personaje principal en la historia 3 o 4 max? y no se pueden adaptar para el/ella creado por el jugador? el resto de diálogos son casi estándar y neutros.
    y a quien le interesa crear un personaje secundario… lo bueno es el protagonista…. para eso se llaman juegos de rol, interpretas el personaje que quieres como quieres.

    • @manuelotero:

      Si no te gusta la idea de que el personaje principal esté precreado, perfecto, cada uno tiene sus preferencias.

      Pero no digas que lo hemos ocultado o que no hemos dicho la verdad. En el blog estaba escrito desde el principio, en ambas campañas (Kickstarter e IndieGoGo) está escrito una y otra vez “Crea al grupo de 5 personajes que acompañarán a Gaulen en su aventura”. Además se publicó como Updates el propio contenido del blog. Puedes comprobarlo tu mismo:
      https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1446315704/lords-of-xulima-an-epic-story-of-gods-and-humans/posts?page=3

      En cuanto a The Witcher, es exactamente lo mismo, en ese juego juegas el rol del brujo Witcher, y en Lords of Xulima el de Gaulen el Explorador. En LoX además puedes crear a tus otros cinco personajes para hacer de tu grupo algo único.

      Como hemos comentado en el blog, cada opción tiene sus ventajas y desventajas, en LoX hemos intentado llegar a un equilibrio razonable entre las dos opciones principales y mantener lo mejor de ambas.

  7. manuelotero says:

    ojo yo no inverti en kickstarter inverti antes en indiegogo
    confie y por eso ya no se invierte en juegos por que los creadores
    ponen un expectativas y despues no cumplen en los tiempos o en
    lo que va a ser realmente el juego.

    yo al verlo en indiegogo me parecio que era un juego tipo wizardry en donde creas o no todos tus personajes.
    no recuerdo que dijeras otra cosa.
    No medio esa impresion.

    Estoy mirando la pagina en indiegogo y donde esta lo que dices?
    en toda la pagina inicial no hay ni una sola referencia a eso.
    Asi que no me vengas con excusas.
    Que habeis cambiado de opinion…. vaale pero eso tiene consecuencias…. que son que si volveis a pedir dinero….
    no os financiare…. hasta ver el producto terminado.
    Esa es la consecuencia de cambiar de opinion.

    La seriedad es fundamental a la hora de pedir dinero… ya sea
    a un banco o a la gente. Si no mantienes lo que dices u ocultas
    parte de la informacion o cambias de opinion eso tiene consecuencias.
    Que estais empezando vaaale pero esto hay que hacerlo bien
    desde el principio aunque nadie te de un euro.
    Si confias en lo que creas dilo todo desde el principio y no
    alteres NUNCA lo que prometes, eso es fundamental para tener la
    confianza del cliente.

    • Pero si este post fue escrito en Mayo de 2013, meses antes de la campaña de IndieGoGo!

      Nunca hemos cambiado de opinión en ningún aspecto del juego, y de hecho, siempre hemos blogueado acerca de todas las decisiones tomadas en el desarrollo de Lords of Xulima. Precisamente la configuración del grupo fue uno de los primeros temas que se trató y es algo que ha sido desde el principio así.

      En IndieGoGo aparece en el Update 2 concretamente:

      UPDATE 2 – MORE DETAILS REGARDING LORDS OF XULIMA

      Greetings!

      For those who would like to know some more in-depth information about Lords of Xulima, we would like to invite you to our blog where we have written our thoughts about some of the more fundamental elements that make up our favorite games. On the blog we explore the various ways these elements have been implemented in the past and how we have decided to approach them in the creation of Lords of Xulima.

      Here are a few of the topics we have written about while developing our game:

      Pre-Made vs. Custom Characters

      This is a very interesting topic for us. When characters are premade it give the writers a chance to make them really well rounded and developed characters that can have interesting conversations with the other members of their party. However, this makes it much more restrictive for the player. On the other hand, if the player can create all of the party members, then that limits the amount of dialog and personality that can be written into the characters…

  8. manuelotero says:

    no miro los blogs solo miro la pagina original de inicio.
    si me convence el resto es curiosidad.

    Espero que en la pagina original e inicial esten los trazos principales del juego no en un update o en un blog.
    ¿No crees que ese detalle deberia estar en la primera pagina del
    juego?
    e invertido en mas de 40 juegos y este es el segundo que hace eso
    el primero fue the banner saga. y fue la ultima vez que invertire en
    ellos.
    Esa infomacion deberia estar desde el principio en la 1ª pagina.
    no en update 2.
    Odio los personajes pre-hechos me ponen de mal humor.
    Es como si estuviera jugando a una aventura grafica.

    Como ya he dicho es mi error, no volvera a pasar.

    Gracias por tomarte el tiempo de contestar en domingo.
    Eso si es algo profesional el tomarte el tiempo de echar una
    ojeada a la pagina en domingo y lo aprecio en lo que vale.
    No aprecio tanto a tu juego… pero es tu decision. Es tu juego.
    buena suerte con el resto de juegos que hagas.

  9. Rya.Reisender says:

    As I’m personally not a big fan of customization (personally coming from JRPGs rather than WRPGs, although I do like the old Might&Magic games anyway), so for me pre-made characters are perfectly fine. With the main character being silent (as in: he talks but you don’t see what he says as letters) and the immersion is already big enough.

    Your approach is pretty unique, basically it would make me feel like I’m the group of 5 adventurers that helps out Gaulen The Explorer. It won’t feel like I’m Gaulen at all. More like Gaulen came around and said he’s looking for 5 adventurers that help him on a quest and that’s where we came into play.

    That’s also why I personally don’t see that there need to be a gender option for Gaulen himself.

    (Also to reply to Michaela: I don’t mind if the main character is female in games at all. It didn’t bother me in Crystal Warriors, I actually liked Lyn in Fire Emblem a lot and even when playing Child of Light, I never thought that it’s bothersome that I can’t choose the main character to be male.

    Plus, isn’t having the same dialogues for male and female main characters a good thing? I mean women complain all the time of clichéd behavior of female characters. That would be solved by that.)