Is it worthwhile to include partial customization?

As a reader, I like to be able to visualize characters, especially major characters, in terms of their general physical appearance. As a writer of linear prose, I usually have clear mental images of the major characters in my stories. I will tend to include physical descriptions, although economically. When (trying to) write IF, customizing the PC’s physical appearance is a dilemma I keep coming back to.

Adding lots of physical traits for the reader to choose can make character creation longer and clunkier. It can also seem superfluous if the descriptions rarely appear in the text of the game itself. Maintaining 3-6 variables that I barely use… is work. On the other hand, sometimes parts of character creation serve to help the reader define their PC, rather than to affect gameplay or flavor text. I think that’s legitimate. So having the player pick out their PC’s skin and hair color, height, etc. is one approach.

What about balancing PC and NPC descriptions, especially in cases where a lot of significant characters are family members of the PC? I feel like lots of readers get stronger impressions of the NPCs in these games, partially due to the “blank slate” nature of the PC. Does giving family members of the PC canonical physical descriptions detract from the ability to customize the PC too much?

To wrap up this overly long ramble: supposing the PC’s parents both have canonical appearances, and the character setup allowed you, the player, to choose which of them your PC more resembles. Is it worth trying to write and code this? Or is physical customization only worth the trouble when it’s complete and allows you to make the PC look exactly how you like, e.g. like an idealized version of yourself?

I think my lack of ability to “self insert” on IF protagonists is starting to be a real hindrance to writing.


I find that using the same techniques for IF(CS) writing in NPC development as far linear stories actually strengthens my writing. This may be due to my inexperience compared to many writers but it helps in everything from world development to the consistency of characters down the story as it progresses.

At first, I thought adding more options for customization of the MC, would be better. After testing different games and working with others who have more experience with me, I’ve found this not to be the case. Zombie Exodus and its sequel: Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven have tons of character customization and as you say, keeping track of them can be work, especially if you want to use them within the game.

I now try to add significant customization options - obvious things like gender and orientation that will be impactful within the story. If I do add cosmetic options, I’m up-front during the creation process and say: this is for vanity purposes only. Those that gain a connection by using cosmetic customization or vanity choices can do so but those that don’t can run with the default offering I put forth.

The graphical games benefit from this customization more than the text-orientated games do, in my experience. Again, my goto here is: Are the options relevant to the game you are writing?

An example here might help. In a story, the Father is Sandy-haired, grey-eyed and slim built of average height. The mother is raven haired, green-eyed, voluptuous and short. The MC in this story, the protagonist, is a bastard child, raised as heir to the mother.

In this case, the choices I offer are to take after the mother or the father - and I give sub-choices that are logical in each case to fine tune the customization. So if the custom choices chosen are part and parcel of the father’s subset of traits, I have the court and commoners treat the MC child differently than if they are made like their mother.

It is not perfect in that I don’t allow total customization but I try to add as much flexibility in choices as I can without creating too much work for myself in coding and balancing.

I have a knack of wrapping myself in the protagonist’s shell as I write - my issue is detaching myself enough to keep NPC characters from becoming only viewed through the protagonist. So I think we have the opposite issue here and I don’t have any suggestions or experience here.

I hope this helps.


One way I’ve seen this done cleverly is to simply have the parents look similar to the MC… So, if the MC has dark skin, the parents will also have dark skin, or if the MC has red hair, the parents will also have red hair. It means that it won’t break immersion by, for instance, having a black child with two white parents, and it also guarantees a resemblance between the different family members.


I don’t really get the point of eight to twelve customization choices that affect nothing and will never be mentioned at any point again.

If players want to self insert into the story, then they’d assume the MC looks like them(roughly).

If you’re like me then you’d assume the MC looks however they do in your head unless otherwise stated.

Just my viewpoint. Don’t know if everyone agrees. I do stand by the idea that a lot of choices in character creation that at no point will affect anything even a little does feel like padding.


Personally…as a reader of a lot of I.F. I like a lot of customization options. It’s great if they have some minor impact on the game. (My love interest talking about getting lost in my grey eyes, or running her fingers through my long black hair…or something)


Even if those details are never mentioned again in the game I still want the choices. I find that it helps me set my character in my mind. Especially in games that I like enough to play through multiple times. I might like to play through the first time as a tall blonde-haired blue-eyed charmer with soft, inviting features, and crinkles around her eyes from a life spent smiling. When I come back to it I might want to be a short, pale sneak-thief with dark hair and eyes, and features sharper than her daggers.

I mean…I don’t need all that, but I love it when it’s there. The one thing that kills me is when there’s no choice about the character’s gender. I’ve read a couple stories where the author never puts in a gender choice, and just never has anyone in the story refer to or notice my character’s gender through the whole book. Maybe those stories had other problems too, but I just couldn’t get attached to my character when they were so non-descript.


I am going to pay attention to this thread as this is a topic that confuses me as a newbie to IF writing.

I can write very inclusively, so the only real choice I need to keep track of is the gender the player wants to present and their name. My attempts at putting in choices for demographics looks very clunky and I know I won’t use them.

What my first whip is doing is that when the player gets to the point where they would expect to enter details in IF, I instead have a paragraph that calls out those features (if I say “pumpkin” you instantly see a pumpkin; if I say “your hair color” you suddenly know it).

Am I doing anything wrong with that approach vs traditional methods?

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Just make sure to have an option to skip character customization. I find it extremely boring, having to spend ten minutes reading and selecting PC character traits from a list, and possibly family/background-related choices. Lots of these choices hardly matter, and I find many of them more or less irrelevant.

Some of this customization-stuff, I don’t want to customize myself. I don’t find that it gives much personality to the PC. The personality is far more important than appearance. The PC gets his personality from the choices he makes, and what he says/does in the story. That’s what’s important.

I also often like to change my view on the PC during the game, for example when I am presented an interesting choice. I can’t do this as much if I am expected to create a character before I even begin playing and I don’t know what is going to happen.

If you find it easier to picture a character if you get choices about the appearance, then definitely go for that. I don’t think it is difficult to add customization-options afterwards, so I suggest you go for what makes the process of writing simplest.


I actually have my first game with heavy character customization (and I mean heavy), and it’s all in one block, a single choice that describes the character, and has options the each lead further in, so you can customize, or not, at your leisure (plus I’m making sure to retain the information across playthroughs).


As a reader, I don’t like a lot of customization outside the good ol’ stats and gender and orientation. Especially if it is cosmetic customization. While I don’t have anything against writers and readers who prefer it, it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t think a writer could imagine all the varied ways I imagine my MC, and whenever I have to pick choices that specify types of clothing (something that has alienated me from Psy High for a bit) I can’t help but feel that I am adequating my character to a series of boxes where they might properly fit.


No, see, that’s what I meant by canonical appearance. That I start with the appearance of the parents, and extrapolate a range of possibilities for the MC. Sort of like in the Sims games. Or, y’know, maybe Flight Rising’s dragon breeding is actually a better comparison, because you select two dragons to breed and then you can preview some possible appearances for their offspring. Except more verbose and less visual, of course.

My problem with extrapolating parental appearances from the player’s choices is that the only way I can think of to do that is to have a fixed appearance for the King (MC’s father), and the MC always strongly favors their other parent in appearance. I feel like this adds a level of subtext to the father/child relationship that I don’t necessarily want.

The discussion that evolved around all this is very interesting and I still want to see it unfold. My project is embryonic and I’m still working on other things. I don’t have to dive into character customization right now. I have time to think more on the subject.

So, broadly speaking, you have a fixed father and a modifiable mother? Heh, sorry for the odd word choice.

If that’s the case, you can basically include all possibility of customization, isn’t it? You can always introduce the king later after you let the player pick their own appearance.

No? I wrote that making only the King’s appearance fixed is not what I want to do. I want to make both the King and the royal consort fixed points, and the MC, their child, could be a range of possible appearances based on those two.

I literally want the King and the consort to be the same characters, with the same physical appearance, across all playthroughs of the game, and in any other materials taking place in the same world. That’s what I mean by canonical appearance.

Increasingly, I think I’m probably better off not describing the appearance of any characters. Only describing the minor characters would be too dang weird.

In that case, have you decided the physical descriptions between the two? Maybe I can help what kind of “range” you can have based on the canon appearance of the parent.

Having a blonde baby between 2 indigenous african parent isn’t impossible (oh, think of Mr. Bones), although it’s probably like 0.00001% and albino.

That’s not actually what I meant. What I meant was that, firstly the MC gets to choose their own appearance, then, whatever appearance they choose, the game is coded so that the parents will look similar.

For example, in Wayhaven Chronicles, the main character gets to choose their hair colour, and then, later on in the game, a woman with the same hair colour is introduced, who turns out to be the MC’s mother. :blush:


If you want to give characters a distinctive physical presence while leaving appearance vague you could do that by focusing on aspects other than hair/eye/skin colour. What does their voice sound like? How do they dress, how do they wear their hair? What little quirks of body language do they have?


This is exactly how I like to see it done. Let the player make the choice and then let those variables plug into the family.

@Hazel I don’t see why it couldn’t work the way @Avery_Moore suggested .

By limiting the choice, you can potentially limit the players who will play your game.

edit to add: Could you not do some coding where the player decides which parent they look like and then have that parent match more of the player based off the player’s input? Then set up the other parent to maybe share some of the traits but vary the others?

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That’s an interesting idea… You could even have it set out as so:

When you were born, everyone said you looked just like your father. You certainly inherited his hair.


Yes, you certainly resembled your father in many ways, but your eyes were inherited from your mother.

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Well I’d say that’s a pretty definitive answer of “partial customization = hard no”.

Not really. Just offer a few customizable things like skin, hair, and eye color. I don’t think anyone is expecting you to make an in-depth CC. We’re just offering our take in helping you figure it out. :slightly_smiling_face:

I’m someone who likes the customization. Especially going into a new story, I focus more on trying to figure out what’s going on than characterization, so putting me through a character creation process makes me slow down a bit and think about it. Even something like choosing a tattoo makes me think about an actual personality.

Now, beyond that, I want the traits to matter. Maybe my appearance opens or locks RO options, or maybe a background opens a conversational or logistical opportunity. The ZE series does a good job of referencing a decent number of the many, many customization options. Taking ‘Delusions’ is pretty entertaining. There are times your temper blows up and probably damages character relationships without a choice. So, I’m not into traits that don’t matter, but I like having them in general.

Family members can be tricky. I’ve seen some visual novels that don’t even try to handle picking an avatar that isn’t the same ethnicity as the only sprites for family. I’ve also seen ‘generally tan’ parents and children that would make you assume that the other parent or spouse is whatever works to produce what you can see. I think I can remember only one HG where you have some choice over your parents’ ethnicity and which parent you resemble more. In pure text, I don’t think it should be that complicated if families’ appearances matter. It should be simple enough to store one variable and say “photo of your mom, your [color] eyes like hers”.

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