Yesterday, Bethesda Blog posted some impressive numbers to let people know just how deep the character customization will be when Brink comes out this Tuesday. 102,247,681,536,000,000 unique character variations, or a still impressive 27,181,440 when not including minor tint variations. But some of us wonder: if they put so much work into letting you personalize your character, why no option for gender?
Character customization in shooters is still a relatively new concept, especially in first-person shooters. Since you rarely see your character in first-person shooters, it makes sense that this feature wouldn’t be very common. But with the rise in popularity of multiplayer, there comes a desire to personalize your character to in some way reflect yourself. And while there are people (both guys and girls) who enjoy playing characters of the opposite gender, most people tend to prefer their character reflect their own gender.
Some guys might not understand what the big deal is, being that there’s no shortage of shooters featuring characters of their own gender. It can be difficult to comprehend how alienating it can be for a genre to so rarely include you, when you haven’t experience that same level of exclusion. There may be a few shooters, like Perfect Dark, where you’re forced to play the campaign as a female character, but even the multiplayer in that game has males to choose from (more males than females, in fact). Male characters in multiplayer shooters are never considered optional or included as an afterthought; they’re mandatory.
For a company to boast how impressively customizable the characters in their first-person shooter are, only to then exclude half the population from having their character be the same gender as themselves, doesn’t exactly say to female gamers “you are welcome here.”
Granted, there are occasionally completely valid reasons for not including playable female characters in a shooter. For example, it would seem out of place to include female soldiers in a game that takes place during a period in history where women weren’t allowed to serve. But these games are generally outnumbered by shooters that take place in modern times, or some alternate/future world (like Brink).
Also, if a developer is on an extremely tight deadline, it can make sense to include only one gender, since creating playable models for both genders requires additional time and work (though you’ll never see a developer choose to nix the males in their shooter). I admit, when Ruffian Games said they were leaving playable female characters out of Crackdown 2 due to time constraints, I initially didn’t believe them. But later it was revealed that they had only 18 months of production time, and an 8 month crunch for final development, which is why the game ended up seeming to many like more of a $60 expansion pack than a proper sequel.
However, Brink developer Splash Damage didn’t have the time crunch issue. In fact, they were so ahead of schedule, they and Bethesda decided to release it a week early. So, what were the reasons for excluding female characters in Brink? In a thread on the Splash Damage forum entitled “Reconsider Female Characters,” artist Paul Greveson explained:
In fact, we did explore female characters in our early concept art. However, given the realities of development, we had a choice between having a wide range of options for male characters, or a much more limited set of clothing options that allow for both genders. We figured it would be the best use of our time to have a big set of quality customisation options for males instead of less and lower quality for females and males.
This reason sounds pretty silly now, in light of 102,247,681,536,000,000 unique character variations. 27,181,440 variations (minus tints) was more important than including both genders? 13,590,720 variations split between the two just wouldn’t have been enough? I just don’t understand what the problem is. It’s especially frustrating because I’m so looking forward to the game otherwise.
Volition recently announced the “Initiation Station,” a bit of free DLC for Saints Row: The Third to be released before the main game, which will allow players to begin customizing their characters in advance. I’m not sure if it will have 102,247,681,536,000,000 unique character variations, but it will have an option for gender. Maybe Splash Damage should take notes.