Is determining character appearance with story choices a good idea?


So, I’m kicking around an idea to make a game, and have started writing up a quick character creation chapter disguised as a prologue. Now, I’ve toyed around with the idea of players choosing their in game appearance, since that just seems like a nice, indulgent little touch to give players. But then I thought about all the work I’m making for myself just with sheer narrative scope, and I forced myself not to add more work on top of that unless it was relevant.

I.E. everytime I think about making a choice in the game, I ask myself, “Is this going to effect the story in any way?” and if the answer is “Nope” then I don’t make the choice. That said, I also then thought about ways that I could make character appearance relative to the story. Maybe have characters (especially love interests) comment on them, maybe it influences people’s reactions, things like that.

In particular, since the game narrative takes place more or less over a lifetime, it might be interesting to have players do something like change the way they cut/wear their hair, and characters could react to that choice by commenting that the PC seems more grown up, or perhaps less innocent.

Then I the idea came to me. What if, instead of letting the players directly choose some appearance options (hairstyle/scars/clothes/etc), I instead offer them story choices, and the circumstances those story choice offer in turn determined some aspects of the player’s appearance.

For example, there’s a choice in the game that determines where the player spent a few years of their life on their own as a kid, the wilderness, the city, or a crashsite. In this example, if the player chose to live those years in the wilds, their hair would be longer, and a bit unkempt, and most of their scars would have been given by class and teeth. If the player chose the city, their hair might be shorter, and instead of a multitude of claw and bite marks, they’d have a few knife wounds, and wear their hair a lot shorter.

I’m worried though, that it might be jarring to a player to just tell them what they look like, so I’m hesitant to apply this. And, afterall, I could just run with the “player appearance doesn’t matter to the story” approach.



Choosing how you look can add to some people’s immersion. Telling a player how they look can also break that immersion.

I think it depends entirely on the sort of story you’re trying to tell. Personally, I find the options to choose my appearance a little annoying. Part of that’s because the choices don’t seem important, and often I want to just jump into the story and not bother with that minutiae.

So if I choose a character with blue eyes, and the game then tells me I’m given a gift of sapphires to match my eyes, it’s a nice touch, but it’s purely cosmetic.

I like choosing my own character’s hair length. Maybe if they’re in the wilderness they’ve got into hacking it all off with a knife because it’s easier to take care of that way. And maybe I don’t want scars. :slight_smile:

And maybe, just maybe, if someone is giving me the option of choosing what hat to wear, and what title I want to be called, they’ll let me call myself Captain and wear a Tricorne. Because it spoils my fun a little when the option I want isn’t on the list. :spy:


I like this idea. I was actually planning on doing something similar to this (but, I’ll probably never finish).

I think that as long as you explain why the main character looks that way or at least give them an option to change things, it would be good.

So, don’t just say the wilderness MC has long hair and leave it as that.

You should mention the lack of scissors and other modern necessities to properly groom the hair. You could say short hair keeps you from getting noticed in the city or something.

It would also be nice if people got a scar from battle and the NPCs commented on it. Or, a NPC noticed that your short hair has grown out on a long journey and offers to cut it for you.

I would probably avoid " I like your [insert hair length here] hair," because that makes everything generic and not special.


Oh my god do I feel your pain. I finished the part of my story where the player makes most of the decisions about what their character looks like on Saturday. Then again last night, and again this morning…and honestly I’ll probably go back and do more with it tonight. It gets so broad without advancing the story. It’s all coding and repetitive sentences. It’s really no fun at all, but it’s worth the pain.


imho(so humble it’s in lowercase)

What the character needs, for me, is a specific appearance. I like it when I have a hand in choosing that appearance. In choice of romance I had green eyes and my love gave me emeralds because they reminded me of her eyes. That sort of thing really pulls me into a story.

On the other side, “Guenevere,” one of my favorite WIPs gives you no appearance options at all, but the author gives enough description, that I know exactly what Guen looks like.

The one thing I really don’t enjoy is when the MC is just left vague. They feel like a void in the middle of the story. The few stories I’ve read where the author does that I either didn’t finish, or never went back to.

Soooo that’s the long version of me saying go for it! I like your idea of making choices that affect your appearance instead of the standard standing in front of the mirror and choosing what you see. (Which btw is exactly what I did. Dammit! Back to the drawing board)


I feel that choosing my character’s appearance immerses me into the story more, but some games allow you to do this but never bring it up again so if you do decide to go that route it’d be better if you added little tidbits here and there.

I don’t mind having set options on the MC’s appearance as long as the choices are unique and creative. Oh, you could limit the choices to the eyes, hair, and skin color, some CoG’s I’ve played only allow the hair and eyes, which doesn’t bother me at all since I don’t really expect this in most games.

I guess, to me, if the story is good and if you do put in appearance choice and keep it limited to your own preferences, I’d like it very much as long as the choice isn’t pointless after character creation.

A little note, you could also link the character creation to abilities/stats.


I really reallly HATE when game obliged me to be physically exactly as the author wants. And even worse when The look doesn’t have any effect in the story at all. Like is the case 99% of time. If I imagine a black character for instance I do in Choice of pirates a Spanish criolla randsom as a child. Why I shouldn’t? If the author described me like pale and sexy and whatever he imagine himself… I just break totally my immersion, and stop reading knowing that when a game started with not allowing me have a mental image would never let me have real choices at all.
Of course I could understand that for plot reasons (like if games is about Black discrimination in southern America you have to be from that race) The only game I like that doing the choice our physical bodies is The psycho one and I could choose from a variety of options and still feeling bad about it. I role-playing in this games if you quit me a mental image you are quitting me half of development and almost all the attachment to it. Like whoever I am currently controlled is not my character at all, is just a generic dude made by the author


Really like the idea of fable-esque changes in appearance. It could lend immersion, and interest in seeing where the changes are leading, without weighing you down too much with extra writing : )

On a personal note I don’t think meaningless choices are such a bad thing. Cog readers are literally spoilt for choice, when realistically I don’t think every choice people make in life matters. Writing butterfly effect choicescript is practically impossible. . .

So long as they feel the story being shaped by their choices I bet most people will forgive some choices that don’t lead to extra text in the character development section.


People tend to mistake flavored choices with fake choices. Flavored choices could add an immense amount of attachment and immersion without make big paragraphs of branches. Imagine in your game I choose the name Orva and green eyes. Well, if I were addressed as Blonde come here or my love interest give me a scarf who mach with my eyes . Or if I have a tatoo some npc insult me that is just few lines… However, they made you contact with your character and gained replay value . For role playing there are priceless and just for that reason there are not fake or useless.


Re: Providing pre-set appearances - @Shawn_Patrick_Reed does what you propose in his WiP . It has been one of the most criticized elements of his writing so far.

Re: Story-Driven changes - Again, I’ve seen reader after reader criticize authors that have a too heavy of a hand here. The exception to this is @Snoe 's WiP where the MC starts out featureless and then gets “made-up” as the story progresses. There are two points that makes @Snoe 's WiP different then most others. Point one is that she has been crafting these story-driven changes with complete collaboration with the community so they are more accepting of the changes and point two is that the MC is first defined by these choices - not defined earlier then changed.

So, in theory the story-driven changes and appearances are nice for the author, in practice, with CoG readers, they feel as if the basic “right” to determine their own MC is being taken away. As in all such theory-craft: if the author is talented enough, they can pull off anything …


This is true - and for the sake of a 2 or three scattered sentences could improve things as @poison_mara suggests.

  • choice - green eyes

later flavour text - “get out of my way you snake-eyed idiot” the traveller snarled

later flavour text - "Orva watched as the rude man’s face finally turned green and he stopped breathing. The shade was pretty and was almost, she thought, the same colour as her eyes. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:


I really don’t think any choices are meaningless. It’s great when I get to choose something about my character, and it affects the story later, but even making a *fakechoice about my character fixes it in my mind, and helps build the bond between me and my character.


The term “Fake-choice” is unfortunate. A scripting term that helps define scripting code but gives the wrong “definition” for a reader making a choice.

The choices provided by an author stands on its own merits regardless of it being used as a scripting command of *choice or *fake_choice.


I will admit I haven’t yet used *fake_choice

I am sooo going to get marked down for technical expertise in the Comp :expressionless:

“But sir, I use *choice because I might want to come back later and write some more pathways. . .”
“You’re too lazy to look it up - aren’t you.”
“um . . . I object to that slanderous remark.”
“It isn’t slander if it’s true.”
*fake_choice “. . . I hate you.”


In fact I use almost exclusively *fake_choice command because code wise in a phone is tidier code within the necessity of put a goto every time. And that’s basically the only difference between them nowadays.
EDIT Charles darling, with fake choices you could use same commands than choice now. So you could add all paths you could imagine


Ya, speaking of your code… I am still interested in your WiP… so don’t forget to let your fans (like me) know how your doing. :dolphin:

back on topic: I have yet to give my personal opinion so here it goes: I really don’t enjoy my MC being forced into the author’s mental image of what she looks like or having change forced on me if I chose a certain MC’s look.

It is hard, both as an author and as a reader to come up with something acceptable - yet I think the standards have been set by those already published and going anything below that standard will invite criticism.


It’s very important that you don’t base appereance off of random meaningless choices. I hate when a game asks do you wear a dress or pants and uses that to determine gender when plenty of female’s mostly wear pants.

I don’t like to customize the appearance of my MC because I don’t usually picture the appearance of choose your story characters, I already know what humans look like (I would like customization and description for non-humans), and it’s often long and tedious and adds no value to the story.

I do agree with @Charles_Parkes that every choice does not have to change the story. Choices can simply help define who the MC is.

For me, I don’t like to be mainly defined by my skin color or appearance (unless it’s a fantasy race like orc vs. Elf vs. Tree person etc.). I like to mainly focus on defining my personality. I’d rather get a new set of throwing dagars because my combat skill is high or a book of outlawed spells because my rebel and magic skills are both high rather than some tacky piece of jewelry I’ll never wear.

A second thing to note, the more “detailed” the MC is, the more obvious the undetailed parts are to notice. It’s fine saying long hair because long is ambiguous. But, saying waste length hair my break the immersion for someone with curly agro type hair that grows more outward and downward. When I was able to choose a visual impairment, but was forced to wear contacts or made as if I couldn’t see close up, that lessened my immersion even though it was more detailed because it didn’t describe my character.


That’s exactly what I was thinking about doing, in terms of explaining the character appearance, and then in terms of bringing appearance up over the course of the story, I was definitely hoping to avoid the more generic, copy/paste stuff like “I like your [insert hair length here] hair.”

Though I’m still not totally, explicitly sure how I would weave it in yet, because outside of the prologue all I have done is a general plot flowchart. But reading replies in this thread has definitely given me some ideas.


Thanks for the feedback guys! :grinning:

The idea of flavored choices mattering and helping role-play/immersion definitely makes sense, isn’t too much more work, and is totally something I want to do if I can (when/if I get around to it.)



I can’t help reading back over what I wrote and thinking - wow, there you go again scripting a whole dialogue with no choices in it. . .
I’m gonna stop cluttering your nice thread now (one day I will say something that is funny = It is my destiny) :relieved:

But back to some point, any point - good character formation sequences don’t even have to be that detailed. I enjoyed Diabolical’s for instance because the choices were extravagant. But on the face of it it looks pretty streamlined, with choices tailored towards a very small group of core variables (rather than a choice of the vampire type massive list of epically enjoyable, but arguably very authorially annoying character formation decisions)

me too: [quote=“Zolataya, post:15, topic:17666”]
I really don’t enjoy my MC being forced into the author’s mental image of what she looks like or having change forced on me if I chose a certain MC’s look.
[/quote] this may be a bad habit I’m falling into tho (again maybe we’re getting more spoilt)


I actually kinda like the whole ‘if you were born in the wilderness then you’re a bit dirty and unkempt’ character selection idea. You can always help the reader by including that in the choice they will have unkempt hair and what not. But I actually think it’s a great idea.

I love games that let the character choose, but only if it makes a difference. To me, don’t add a hair color choice if it will never show up again you know. Now if we pick our hair color and later on it comes up as some cool side conversation or something, then sure totally add it.