Today we are doing a serial cooking experiment. Not a cereal cooking experiment – that sounds more difficult than that 2-D dark souls game recently released by Ska Studios. Imagine you are cooking dinner. What are you cooking? I don’t know yet. You probably don’t know yet. Awesome, let’s begin. Where would you like to cook it? Options include a pan, a pot, a deep fryer, a double broiler, a crock pot, a rice cooker, the oven, the microwave, or a grill. The pan, you say? My aren’t we adventurous. With what will you coat the pan? You have butter, margarine, pam, canola oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, or rendered bacon fat.
I could go on like this for a while, but let’s skip a few steps. Even though this is an extremely inefficient way of making yourself dinner, you could probably successfully make a decent dish using this method. But what happens when it comes time for seasoning? You open the spice drawer and suddenly you have sixty bottles of different flavors staring at you from inside their glass prisons.
You could be safe and just use salt, pepper, and onion powder, but you are going to be eating this dish for weeks. You may be showing it to your friends. And you have so many options that it would be sad to just end up with a generic stir fry.
So what do you do? Well, unless you can tell me the differences in flavor between marjoram and chervil, you’re going to need to try each seasoning one by one. And then once you’ve found a few you like, you need to taste them together to see how well they combine. An expert chef – or decent cook – could probably tell you the best combinations of flavors, but he isn’t here right now. He’s making his own awesome dish at home. Because he is better than you.
I have spent the last few weeks ranting about this problem of too many options and it seems that every time I think I have said all there is to say a few more issues appear in my head. One issue is the way most of us as gamers tackle the character creators – serially. I know when I start a character creator I have no idea what I plan to end up with. I don’t even understand the range of things I can create until I am half way through. Have you ever gone through a character creator playing with the locations of the nose and eyes only to discover that there is an option in the last tab to cover your face is zombie paint? Suddenly all of your prior choices are useless because you didn’t even know zombies were an option. Without an understanding of all the options presented to us, we can’t really plan out a character.
And even if we could plan out the character – a lot of us lack the understanding of the minute differences between options to make our dreams a reality, thereby forcing us to just let our dreams be dreams in full contradiction of what Shia Labeouf wants us to do with our lives. Just like with the seasonings discussed above (see? There was a connection!) a person skilled in character design will be awesome at making a cool character while the rest of us are either going to give up or stare intently at the screen to try to determine what “nose dimple” means as we move the slider back and forth between zero and one hundred.
So how do we fix these problems? Well, let’s go back to our spice rack. Let’s say I want to make a pasta dish but I have no idea what seasonings to use. Let’s also pretend the internet hasn’t been invented, I can’t read, and I have no friends. What do I pull out of my spice cabinet? The bottle that says “Italian Seasoning.” Somewhere, a better chef than I has identified a bunch of seasonings that, when combined, are perfect for the dish I am making. Now let’s apply this to our map editors and our character creators.
Essentially what we are generally given include either raw ingredients or a premade meal. But I don’t want either of those. The lazy character chef can use a premade character (or a randomized one) while the professionals can make wonderfulness out of the ten thousand sliders. But what if those same professionals could create their own seasoning mixes? What if we allowed people to save portions of their character creations (or portions of their premade maps) and upload them to a central server? Then, instead of forcing me to choose between too many options and no options, I have a middle ground. The guy who wants to spend sixteen hours creating the perfect Whoville Dr. Seuss nose can do so and the rest of us can use his perfect nose to create our own Whoville characters.
This concept of intermediate templates would also fix the problem with our understanding of the scope of character creators. If I can see all the noses, mouths, eyes, and breast sizes created by other people, I can better understand what I can create. And then I can finally fulfill my dream of generating the perfect character that completely encompasses the type of hero I want to be. And then I will cover said hero in a suit of armor so he can look like everybody else.