Character creators are an incredibly important part of every MMORPG. Sure, you might only spend a half hour working with one compared to the thousands of hours you could spend playing the actual game, but that first half hour could very well set the tone for your whole adventure. Anyone who has gotten a few hours into a game before deciding they hate the way their character looks can attest to this.
But even if they're so crucial, they're often overly simple. The usual expectation is that we might have some presets to work with, some different options for each aspect of your face and body, and if we're lucky, maybe a few sliders to tweak a few characteristics. The better character creators might offer a wide range of sliders for adjusting every part of your face and body, allowing you to a finer degree of control when designing your character. Black Desert Online, however, takes things a bit further and offers one of the most in-depth character creators I've ever seen—borrowing heavily from EVE Online's groundbreaking character designer. But even compared to EVE Online, which can create gorgeous (or hideous) characters, Black Desert Online sets the bar even higher.
That isn't to say it doesn't have its own set of flaws and limitations—some more frustrating than others—but if you value freedom in creating your character, Black Desert Online offers a wonderful suite of tools to work with. And to show you that, I spent a whole day messing around doing my best to showcase just how well-rounded some of these tools are. I'm no artist, so my best attempts to recreate well known characters from movies might fall a little short, but hopefully you still get the idea.
Peeta Mellark - The Hunger Games
My first attempt at crafting a well known character, in this case Peeta Mellark as played by Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games wasn't a great start, but I learned some very important lessons throughout the process.
One big aspect of Black Desert's character creator that you will need to grasp is that while you have a huge degree of freedom in crafting certain parts of the face, like the jaw line, lips, and eyes, other aspects are much harder to deal with. For one, I had a lot of trouble trying to get my version of Peeta's nose as short as Josh Hutcherson's along with the correct depth of eyes. As you can see in my creation, the nose is far too long and the eyes probably just a little too deep. You'll also notice I had a hard time smoothing out the chin line, as Josh's tends to be a straight line whereas mine has a bit of a dip around the jowls.
Still, there's a small bit of likeness in this image that tended to grow and dissipate as I worked and tweaked the face more and more. There was actually one point where I had him close to the uncanny valley, where something looks like the original but is just a bit off, but then as I continued to work at it I started heading in the wrong direction. After over two hours on this face alone, I finally decided to give up and move on.
Even still, looking at this image, you can see how capable the character creator is even though I suck using it. Also, don't let my inability to create realistic celebrities turn you off. Here's an image someone made of Benedict Cucumberpatch.
Geralt of Rivia - The Witcher 3
The Witcher 3 is tearing up a lot of the game of the year lists right now, and because I love that game more than I love most humans, I thought it'd only be fitting to try and recreate its stolid hero as best as I was able. The results weren't great, but unlike Peeta who is a real human, and therefore requires a more subtle recreation, I feel like my version of Geralt gets by largely by aping his basic features like yellow eyes and snowy hair. Still not perfect, but close.
The big thing here is that Black Desert Online's character creator doesn't allow for the placement of scars, which I found strange considering what a tentpole feature it is in most games. I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm a big fan of giving my characters scars in MMORPGs because you're bound to pick up a few as you battle your way across the world. Oh well.
Creating this version of Geralt also taught me about the importance of selecting the right face template for when you start. Each class has a unique look, like the Tamer looking Asian and the Giant looking well...uh...giant. But within each class, you also have five templates to work with in the faces, and it's really important you choose the right one for the look you're going with. In this case I chose the Fighter, but one of his faces looked much more aged than the others, with sunken and wrinkled eyes that I couldn't recreate using the other templates.
The trade off getting those timeworn features that Geralt has (he is over a century old, after all) was being stuck with a face that had really pronounced cheek bones that didn't quite match as he appears in The Witcher 3. His mouth also gave me a bit of trouble. Finally, I had some problems with the hair, particularly longer styles like the one shown. Unlike Geralt's more tightly pulled back hair, the longer hairstyles for the Fighter tend to really puff out, making their heads look a little too big for my taste. At this angle, however, it doesn't look as bad.
Creating Characters of Color
I decided to give up my hopeless quest to recreate the likeness of well known characters and instead create something using just my imagination but with one key caveat: I wanted to create a person of color.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with the result. One thing I wasn't too fond of was the "curly" hair slider you can use on just about any hairy part of a character's body (like head or beard) because I found the results to be a bit too odd compared to frizzy or curly hair that was designed from the ground up to look that way. If you're unfamiliar with how the system works, it basically transforms straight hair into curly hair by zig-zagging it a bunch, but the result wasn't great. At best, it's good for adding a bit more curl to hair.
Another thing I struggled with, though it can be hard to notice on this character, was how the bone structure and features still felt like they were designed for Caucasian characters—at least working with the Sorceress like I was with this character. I found it hard to create more pronounced features because of this.
For the record, though I was mostly going free-form, I was working to try and create a semblance to Vivienne from Dragon Age: Inquisition. However, her being bald presented a big problem, along with capturing her exquisitely pronounced cheekbones and lips.
Finally, I went way into the realm of imagination with the Giant class, wanting to make what I felt like would be an awesome fantasy recreation of the epic Genghis Khan. Though I didn't bother taking the Giant for a spin, I had so much fun designing one that they might be one of my favorite classes to work with. They're barbarous features make shaping them a lot of fun, even if the character creator camera was much more fussy working with a stockier figure.
I don't have much to say about this attempt, I was just having a good time making him. You can see I was able to get creative with the tattoo feature, rotating and scaling one to land over the Khan's eye. Sadly, that tattoo could only be displayed in black, so while it looks effective, it isn't exactly realistic.
With this character, I decided to spend some time working with the pose feature, which allows you to bend your character's limbs and twist them into various poses. Once you start to understand how it works, you'll be surprised how easy it is to shape your character into all manner of poses, and I had a lot of fun working with it. I do wish there was some way to save those poses and display them with the armor on, but after looking around it seems like you're stuck modelling them in their undies.
For this pose, I wanted to try and capture the look of Khan stepping out of a cave that he's been captive in for weeks and seeing the sunlight for the first time. I have no idea how I came up with this idea, something about the way the shadow from his hand covered his face and being partially naked just made it jump into my mind. Either way, you can see how easy it is to capture expressive poses. This one probably took me about a five minutes to set up.
And Finally, My Character
By now, it should be painfully obvious that Black Desert Online excels at creating beautiful characters. Even still, I'm really proud of the way my character, which I played during the beta, turned out. It was the first time I messed around with the creator, but I love her look and will probably try and recreate her come the full launch in 2016.
But What About the Uglies?
Good question. It's rare for an Eastern MMORPG to allow you to make ugly characters. Most are obsessed with sexualizing them in some way, so to create something that makes you want to roll over and die is pretty unique. But honestly, this might be Black Desert's greatest strength, because the potential to make hideous monstrosities is so great that it almost eclipses the potential to make beautiful people.
I had spent so much time working with the character creator that, by this point, I didn't have much time left before the beta shut down for good. So instead I've rounded up a few of my favorites I found on the internet below.
Overall, Black Desert's character creator is great. Both women and men can be created in a variety of looks that, while a little bit glamorized, also doesn't treat them like pieces of eye candy. Easily the best aspect of it though is how easy it is to create characters that have a truly lifelike quality to them, which is fantastic if you've always dreamed of modeling your character from a real life inspiration.
That said, there are some drawbacks. There's no denying that there is a lot of depth, but anyone who spends enough time with the creator will find that there can be frustratingly narrow designs with certain aspects. If you're playing within the bounds of the template you've chosen, you'll have a great time, but trying to steer too far away will probably only disappoint.
And now for the uglies!