For the prequel to project Escape, we want to focus on more visual novel and investigative aspects of the game.
In light of this we have been asking ourselves about the player character - who should the player character be?
My first instinct was to give the player as many options as possible, and when you factor in body type, face shapes, skin colour, hair colour you soon come the idea of trying a system where the player’s avatar can be build with a modular system. They pick the eyes, mouth, nose they like etc.
So we tried this for the Escape Prequel. First we assembled our parts:
And then we compiled them together and had the engine randomly generate a face for the player at runtime (which it then saved, so the player’s face didn’t constantly change (which might be a cool idea for some other project)).
Here are some examples of the results with the above programmer art:
While it is fun, we felt that it was very difficult to balance random features with higher quality artwork that has shading and so on. Different facial features have different contours and so affect light and shadow. Of course in a 3D environment, you don’t even need to think about that - it renders it out for you. In a 2D environment, I would say that it would work for extremely simple or cartoony styles, but not in all circumstances. It could possible be a great solution for characters that are robotic or have modular construction.
Another reason why this works in 3D and not 2D is that in 3D it is a lot easier to change the shape, size and other parameters of 3D models. With 2D artwork - especially pixel, this is not the case. Perhaps it would work with vector art. The other thing is that you would need the artist to create hundreds of facial parts in order for the player to be able to represent themselves with any accuracy in the game. In a fantasy where you have infinite budget, that does sound very cool, but in reality: it is impractical.
The other problem is that, in a visual novel it’s commonplace to have multiple variations of a character’s portrait - for different emotions and so on. With a randomly generated face, this is very difficult (if not impossible) and would rely on other additions rather than facial changes.
Perhaps this system would be possible with a more talented artist - but for us there were too many pitfalls to pursue this system any further.
I think that players would prefer to play a single character and have that character represented through high-quality portraits.