Just a question of opinion. Do you like having character descriptions for the NPC and the MC (the playable character)? For the NPC I mean a pre-written, pre-established look for the character. For the MC I mean you get to choose how you look from a set of descriptors (a la Orpheus Ruse or It’s Killing Time, as examples)
I personally like both but I’ve seen some authors purposely omit one or both of them, so I’m guessing there are some people who don’t. I’ve heard that for NPCs, people like imagining them in a certain way, but I think having something to go by (or at least an idea of the author’s idea) is kind of nice.
I love descriptions about NPCs, personally, and generally dislike discriprions for the MC. The exception to the latter rule is if the story is not written as though the viewer is the MC, a good example being Samurai of Hyuga.
Personal taste I prefer having a constant depiction for the NPCs while allowing the PC to be fluid and up to interpretation with key information being a choice.
Reason for NPC: They are characters which have been made for the MC to interact with and I believe it is easier to establish a defined character for them if their appearance is defined.
And coding for cosmetic things (such as hair color, hair style, skin tone, and body type) seem unnecessary if the player wants to define the characters appearance for themselves. Either have a predefined depiction of the NPC or a blank slate in my opinion. Although I prefer the defined characters. (Like in Tin Star or Zombie Exodus)
Reason for PC: The MC should be customizable to an extent. It is easier for the player to connect with their PC if they created them, at least from my own opinion. But a lot of cosmetic things again are unnecessary and just seem to be fluff since those things don’t really affect the story.
Props to games that actually did this but to me it just seemed like more work for something that wasn’t needed. So with PCs have essential information customizable (name, gender, orientation) while the cosmetics being left to interpretation, unless those choices affect the story.
(I understand we have genderlocked games which I do not mind, I actually enjoy a lot of them. It just takes me a lot more to get into them if they are the opposite gender to me.)
There is something to be said for descriptors being useful.
Though some can be redundant and just cause more work in the end. While others tend not to be used enough.
A well placed MC descriptor can help draw a reader into the experience as well as a pointless one can shove them out to sea.
The biggest issue I’ve seen is the lack of or misuse of build types. I like the idea of using a build or body type to instill a basic natural skill to be used later on.
Things like that I think can make for a deeper meaning to character choices.
I think it really depends on the game. If your talking about people then really you only need minimal discription of appearance (possibly just using personality to discribe them e.g. kind and friendly, scared and weak, brave and strong)
If the MC is human then no discription is needed as people will just project themselves onto it.
However if the MC or NPCS aren’t human then you need descriptions so that people know what your talking about
Re. the main character… what interests me most, by far, is creating your own unique character. That could come down to strict role-playing within the game; certainly, it involves creating a character that can be vastly different from playthrough to playthrough.
So, Heroes Rise is a really great, well-written game - but the character you play isn’t going to be massively different from one game to the next. You’ll always have the same superpowers, and the same motivations. By contrast, Life of a Wizard is a much narrower game, in terms of story description. Places and characters rarely get more than a smidgen of description. But your character, the MC, can be immensely different from game to game. Of the two, I much prefer Life of a Wizard.
So, the main character doesn’t need a lot of description, or backstory, or pre-written personality. That’s for you, the player, to create.
Re. the NPCs in the game… I want description. My own way of thinking is that the player gets to control his or her own actions, but has to accept the rest of the universe as-is. So, you don’t get to choose the names of NPCs, and you have no authorial control over their characteristics. You want them to behave a certain way, manipulate them with your character - just as you’d have to do in the real world.
That said, fiction in general is a simulation of reality; you don’t have to detail every crease, every imperfection. That’s doubly true for interactive fiction, which favours a short descriptive form.
(By the by, I know that Life of a Wizard breaks this rule again and again… I still think it’s a fantastic game…)
I wrote The ORPHEUS Ruse (respect the capitalisation!), and in that case I felt it was important to provide a physical description of the player’s own body, just because they spent 95% of the game out of that body. In all of the player’s body-swapping shenanigans, the difference in appearance was one of the first things remarked upon - because, well, you would. The differences in more internal characteristics - memories, fondness for certain people or things, aptitudes - came more slowly. Because they’re buried more deeply.
In retrospect, I wonder if even this much emphasis on physical appearance was an error. As I recall, early drafts of the game even had a ‘Beauty’ characteristic, which was a big, big ideological mistake. After a while, I came to my senses and realised that notions of beauty are wholly subjective; I deleted the stat entirely.
At least I think I did. Didn’t I? It’s been a while since I wrote the thing.
Alright, let’s get to a much more specific example. For this game I’m writing, Switch, the MC/PC is an identical twin of an NPC. I currently have a description of the clothing the NPC wears, and options for the PC’s style (for a small stat effect). Do I describe the NPC in this context? It would be influencing the MC’s looks, unless it’s something that can be applied to the NPC alone, like a haircut. But that’s very limiting.
For me, the only time MC descriptions bug me is when they are a little further into the game and mention a feature that directly contradicts the appearance I have already come up with and been actively visualizing in my head, thus breaking immersion. We deliberately tried very hard in So, You’re Possessed! to avoid that pitfall by trying not to describe anything that would pin down specifics, other than mainly growing up in the U.S.
Your question is a really interesting one, with an NPC being a twin. I really like that idea! Granted, even identical twins tend to have some differences in taste and personality, which it sounds like you already acknowledge through the haircut and clothing style descriptions.
This is just off the top of my head and a very rough example, but you could let the MC choose how much they resemble their twin in a roundabout way by offering up a situation such as…
"[Twin name] gets ready to head out to work. They check themselves out in the mirror one last time. Like you, they have (or, if you have any sort of family connection, you could say “they also share your mother’s/father’s/grandmother’s”)…
I think NPC descriptions are an absolut must. I don’t mind the gender being dependant on the MC’s sexuality or anything, but I do want them to have an established look and personality. I want to fall in love with them, faults and all.
As for the MC, I don’t really mind either way. So long as I can play a girl and get to adjust their personality a little bit, I’m completely cool with having some pre-determined qualities. I don’t play myself in these games at all, so I can roll with whatever.
One possible compromise is using less point-and-click physical characteristics without leaving the NPCs as a blank.
eg You can describe the way a character moves or smells or speaks, which makes them distinctive. Probably a teensy bit of physical detail (ideally described through action, eg “She flicked her long hair out of her eyes” rather than “She had long hair”) plus something that shows their personality (Eg they always reach for the sword on their hip when stressed) works well, because the reader “knows” them, but can fill in a lot of the blanks - such as race (which creates diversity without needing to make a big deal about it).
This is very much from my creative writing courses, which are about 90% transferable to IF.
I think NPC descriptions, are a must-have. How detailed they can be may vary depending on the writing style, but I need to know at least some basic things about how an NPC looks like.
As to choosing the MC’s appearance, It is far less important. It is useful if their look plays a role in the game, but if it doesn’t it may become simply distracting. It also depends on what kind of a game it is. The MC’s look could become an important thing in a social game but matter nothing in a combat-heavy action game where they spend the whole game wearing an armor suit.
NPC descriptions make them feel more real, and unfortunately they’re very often (but not always!) lacking in many CoG games. Physical appearance isn’t everything, but it certainly helps to make them more than just a bunch of words on the screen. It helps us paint a picture of the character in our minds.
Beauty isn’t entirely objective, but neither is it entirely subjective. There are physical builds and facial structures that will pull more eyes and attention than others, but no physical build or facial structure will pull everyone’s eyes. Furthermore the interplay of physical and non-physical characteristics in the determination of both sexual and non-sexual attractiveness also varies from viewer to viewer.
I think it best to allow the player to decide for themselves whether or not they find a particular NPC attractive instead of attempting to force them, either with words or some sort of stat number. (Although I will give credit to Heroes’ Rise for presenting a novel and effective way around that issue by allowing the player to compare the character’s lust object to someone the player already finds highly attractive…). I think this is why I had such a strong negative reaction to Breden in the otherwise most excellent Choice of Rebels WiP. I dislike being told how I think or feel about another character whom I’ve just met for the first time, and I found myself taking an immediate and very strong dislike of a character as a result. I don’t enjoy being dictated to in what is supposed to be a CYOA and much prefer to draw my own conclusions based on what I read.
Personally I have less issue with a stat number because I can easily ignore it, but I can readily understand how others might react poorly to such a metric, especially when their character is tagged with one. I’ve always been of the mind that in a fantasy, the player should have the power to pick the MC’s appearance. It is a fantasy after all. lol. Although I don’t personally care about my alter ego’s hair or eye color unless it’s somehow relevant to the story.