Tuesday, 29 September 2015
Super Adventures in Face Editors
The more character creators and appearance editors I come across in games, the more of an urge I have to make them fight each other and see which comes out the winner. Plus I'm curious about how face graphics have evolved over time and I want to compare them. To do that though, I'll need to attempt to recreate the same character in each editor, and after giving it some thought... I couldn't think of anyone better for the job than iconic video game hero Solid Snake, star of the Metal Gear Solid series. No seriously I really tried to think of someone better, even asked a few people for suggestions, and this guy's the best choice we came up with.
My plan here is to pick a few of the games I remember featuring a face editor and try to recreate his face in them. And by 'a few' I mean 'basically all of them'. So if you've ever wanted to see 40 or so screenshots of Solid Snake's face in a row... I have a feeling you're going to be disappointed with my results. But I'll try my best!
(Click the images to view them at a more sensible resolution)
I threw in a picture of his dad there as well just for the hell of it, seeing as they're basically identical. They're so similar in fact that even their strands of hair fall the same way when the bandanna's off.
1991 - MIDWINTER II: FLAMES OF FREEDOM (AMIGA)
I wish I could say that Midwinter II is the first game to ever include a face editor, but somehow it doesn't seem likely. It's the earliest one I remember coming across myself though, even if it's a bit... flat compared to a modern character creator. Pretty dramatic music though: YouTube link.
It's basically a identikit system, letting you flick through different noses, eyes, mouths and hair and then shift them up and down. The game gets bonus points for including a darker skin tone, though it loses points for the female face editor being the exact same screen with the exact same pieces, except it says ‘FEMALE’ at the bottom.
The different skills you can get in this game are amazing by the way.
1996 - THE ELDER SCROLLS: DAGGERFALL (MS-DOS)
Daggerfall's system is actually a step up from the earlier Elder Scrolls: Arena, because that didn't even include the 'previous' button.
FACE EDITORS OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.
2000 - BALDUR'S GATE II (PC)
Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights. You pick your character's face from a selection of pre-painted portraits and then choose the hair and skin tone for your model. And that's it.
To be fair though the portraits provided look fantastic and if none of them match the character in your head you can just import your own one. Photoshop is the most powerful of all face editors.
2002 - THE ELDER SCROLLS III: MORROWIND (PC)
Morrowind takes the basic face cycling of the earlier Elder Scrolls games and re-imagines it in 3D! The trouble is that the game came out in 2002 and 3D faces just weren't that pretty back then.
Hang on, wait a second, the game I took my Solid Snake reference shots from came out in 2001!
2003 - KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC (PC)
I suppose it doesn't matter so much for Knights of the Old Republic though as you spend half the game with goofy looking visors on.
2004 - THE SIMS 2 (PC)
You start by picking a preset for the facial feature you want to alter, then fine tune it with the sliders below. Annoyingly though the shapes you get to pick from are only shown from the one angle, so what they look like from the side is a mystery. Also I’ve got like 15,000 DLCs packs installed and not one of them has given me anime hair colours! Though they did give me this remixed editor music to listen to while I utterly fail to make this guy look like Snake: YouTube link.
2005 - THE MOVIES (PC)
Look at those beautiful images showing what each of the sliders are going to adjust! I often complain when a game gives me icons instead of words, but in this case I can see at a glance what each of them does. Annoyingly though there’s not much I can do to narrow his nose, tweak the eyes or add more definition to the cheeks at this point. And he's constantly moving his damn face while I'm trying to remould it.
It's a nice editor, but maybe not for creating Solid Snake.
2006 - THE ELDER SCROLLS IV: OBLIVION (PC)
Oblivion is the first game in the Elder Scrolls franchise to have a face generator, using clever FaceGen middleware to let you manipulate the mesh with sliders! A million confusing sliders.
The trouble is that certain sliders affect other sliders and every time you change one thing something else moves too, whole sections of head warping and deforming. I mean seriously, changing nose width also changes the eye size, and... hang on, does his eyes even match right now? Holy shit Oblivion, how did you manage to break symmetry? Basically every time I get something I’m happy with (which is never) I move on to the next bit and ruin it, which means I have to go back again and tweak it.
The good news is that you can change the skin and hair tones precisely with sliders, the bad news is that beards are also painted on with a slider, and the worse news is that you can’t tell how any of it’s going to look under proper lighting because the editing takes place in a miserable dank dingy dungeon.
Well that was a massive failure, again. I don't know, maybe I’ll have more luck recreating a PlayStation 2 looking character model if I do it on a PlayStation 2.
2006 - THE GODFATHER (PS2)
Annoyingly there’s no mouth height slider, so that’s staying put where it is, and only 30s mobster haircuts are available, so no action mullet (or spiky purple punk cut for that matter either). Skin colours range from pale to tanned, all characters are male, and I can’t make lizards or cat people with it, so I’m not sure if I can call this a winner. Especially as he WON’T KEEP HIS DAMN HEAD STILL WHEN I’M TRYING TO CHANGE STUFF. Also I'm deducting points for his braces being spray painted on.
It definitely puts out prettier people than Oblivion though.
2006 - NEVERWINTER NIGHTS 2 (PC)
I guess I could always play it at some point though, seeing as it's installed now.
2006 - TIGER WOODS PGA TOUR 07 (PC)
This editor highlights different areas of the face with a grid, which you can distort with the analogue sticks. It’s pretty much just sliders in disguise though, except more awkward to use, and you still don’t get to mess with the mouth height. It does let you inflate the head like a balloon though, which is always handy in face editing.
This gets bonus points for not having the head bobbing around while you're working, though I'm deducting points for it zooming out all the time, and being determined to slowly fade out and load in each new hairstyle and beard in turn as you cycle through them. Not my favourite editor so far.
2007 - MASS EFFECT (PC)
Mass Effect came out only a year after Oblivion? I thought there was more of a gap between them, with all that normal mapped detail on the faces.
This is actually BioWare's first proper face editor I believe, and it's much easier to use than Bethesda's first attempt, with sliders that only affect the part of the face you want them to. The downside is that you can barely affect anything! You can pick preset shapes like in The Sims 2, but you barely get to tweak them afterwards so there’s not a lot of scope for customisation here. In fact it's more like Midwinter II's identikit editor in some ways; I mean it doesn’t even give you a nose width slider!
Plus there’s only 8 hair styles, a handful of colours, and the beards are all painted on. Though on the plus side you can give your character scars, so there's something
2008 - FALLOUT 3 (PC)
Fallout 3 seems to have an upgraded version of the editor used in Oblivion, which still suffers a little from sliders moving on their own and crappy lighting, but now they've added screen glare too!
The faces do come out looking a whole lot better though. Plus it also has a huge amount of hair styles and proper modelled facial hair, which is good, and still lets you choose exactly what skin and hair tones you want. I’m less impressed by the amount you can tweak faces though. I mean look at all the options you've got here to tweak his eyes: height, size and distance, and that's it! This is worse than Mass Effect, because at least that gives you a few pre-modelled shapes to pick from. This doesn’t even give you a mouth height slider!
Well at least the nose is looking good, I'm happy with the nose. I'm trying to model Solid Snake by the way in case you've forgotten.
2008 - SAINTS ROW 2 (PC)
Saints Row 2, and holy shit this character creator is amazing! It’s got a million options to adjust every possible aspect of the face... and yet I STILL can’t get this asshole looking anything like Solid Snake. I have to assume it’s my fault at this point, because I’ve got more than enough sliders here to adjust his eye curves and get his nose perfectly pointy. It’s just a shame that there’s no diagrams on the sliders to show what parts of the face exactly they affect.
It’s got a fair selection of hair and beards, and both genders get to pick from the whole set. And still not an action mullet in the bunch.
2009 - DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS (PC)
Dragon Age: Origins editor was just the same as Mass Effect's, except with elves, but it is actually pretty different in places. For one thing you can turn your guy’s head entirely sideways so I can see what I’m doing. Also there’s a few proper beards here, which would be great if they didn’t wipe out your Mouth and Jaw/Cheeks settings when you pick them.
It’s still a pretty limited editor though, especially compared to the incredible Saints Row 2 face creator, and the lighting's so murky it could be out of a Bethesda game. Incidentally I still love Dragon Age’s menus, they’re so damn slick.
2009 - THE SIMS 3 (PC)
The Sims 3 still has the cartoon looking characters of the last one, but it gives you way more control than most of these editors so far. Like in The Sims 2 you pick preset shapes for the different facial features, then fine tune each element of them with sliders. The end result being… someone that looks nothing like Solid Snake. Well at least I was able to give him more of a mullet this time.
This editor also lets you precisely select colours, even down to the root and highlights of the hair, which is cool. I’m not so sure the IN-EDITOR DLC SHOP is a great idea, but at least it’s just for clothes, not for noses, and the game comes with a decent selection of both to start with. There's no massive Samus Aran ponytails though!
2010: A FACE ODYSSEY.
2010 - FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS (PC)
Fallout: New Vegas's editor is much the same as Fallout 3 as best as I can tell, except with a smaller screen. And yet for some reason this guy came out looking nothing like my Snake attempt from the other game. I guess the face preset I chose at the start made a lot more difference to the final result than I expected.
2010 - MASS EFFECT 2 (PC)
Mass Effect 2 does something I really hate in games: it made me play through the entire prologue and sit through a cutscene before I got to use the face editor. Meaning it takes almost as long to reach this character creation screen as it does to load the Sims 2 with 15,000 DLC packs installed.
And after all that it turns out to be basically the Mass Effect editor all over again, with pretty much the same sliders letting you pick from the same selection of features and shift them around by a similarly limited amount. I turned the 'complexion' slider down a step if you're wondering why the face looks so different from the last one.
It's not entirely the same though, as it introduces the magical and wonderful FACE CODES! With this alphanumerical string you can share your creations with others or import faces into the editor. I probably should've just looked for a Solid Snake online and saved myself some effort. Someone else has almost certainly had more luck than I have.
2011 - DARK SOULS (PC)
Dark Souls’ character creator there’s a whole face editor hidden within, with surprisingly baffling complexity. Half these sliders seem to do almost exactly (but not quite) the same thing, and the label is only a clue to what effect they have. Would you like your nose asperity concave or convex?
I'm not complaining though, as this is way more options than I would’ve expected from a game where you play as a decaying zombie with a helmet on. Would've been cool if the camera was a zoomed in on his face a little more though.
2011 - DRAGON AGE II (PC)
Dragon Age II has another pretty limited editor. In fact it’s almost exactly as limited as the first Dragon Age game! Though it’s missing the cool green glow that the first game had. Also elves, as this time you can only create a human hero.
Annoying it took things a step further than Mass Effect 2 and made me take part in a full prologue fight before it'd let me into the editor. I don't actually hate DAII's gameplay like a lot of people do, but I kind of just wanted to play with making a face right now!
2011 - ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM (PC)
Skyrim’s face editor… is kind of crap really. Well, for making Solid Snake anyway. There’s plenty of options for fact dirt, scars, war paint and epic beards, just not so many to adjust the mouth width, tilt the eyebrows or pull the chin forward, and the sliders have barely any range to them. Also this is as clean and unweathered as the male faces seem to get. The Nords, Redguards, Bretons and Imperials all have a different texture for the face, and they look kind of rough whatever you pick.
The thing's still all sliders, but it’s got a different feel from the typical Bethesda editor so far. For one thing the rest of the face stays put when your changing something, so you don't have to keep going back and tweaking things you're already happy with. It’s certainly far less of a pain to use than Oblivion’s editor, but then that's true of almost everything.
2011 - STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC (PC)
I should've downloaded Star Trek: Online instead, I remember that having an amazing editor with all kinds of alien facial features; perfect for creating a face like Solid Snake's. Anything would be better than this though really. I mean they've put eyebrows and stubble on the same slider and called it 'complexion'! Though the beards are cool at least, even if they look as plastic as the skin does.
2011 - SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD (PC)
Saints Row: The Third is yet another bloody game with a long prologue level before it lets you get to the face editing. But fortunately it lets you get plastic surgery any time you like (a sex change too) so I just loaded up a save and headed to the shop.
The characters are a bit more cartoony looking than in the last Saints Row, but that suits the game. With 52 varieties of hair to pick from I'm finding this hard to see this editor as anything but an upgrade. Shame the game doesn’t have Mass Effect-style face codes, but then with the amount of options it offers you it’d be a bloody long code.
2012 - MASS EFFECT 3 (PC)
It’s hard to go back to the Mass Effect editor after playing around in a Saints Row game again. I can’t even tweak the nostrils! I can’t even turn his bloody head fully to the side so that I can see what I’m doing!
It’s basically the same editor as the last Mass Effect as far as I can tell, except with brighter hair colours. Plus there’s STILL no actual beards, so it's somehow still a step behind The Old Republic in that department.
2013 - SAINTS ROW IV (PC)
Saints Row IV is more of the same (huge shock). It even has a long prologue mission before the character creation but I avoided that by using the separate (and free to download) Inauguration Station editor instead. The main difference I've noticed between this and Saints Row 3's editor is that there's 106 different hairstyles this time, but that's still cool. The only one I care about right now though is this Solid Snake action mullet.
What do you reckon, have I nailed him this time? No? Oh come on I'm really trying here!
2014 - THE SIMS 4 (PC)
This is a similar set up to the other Sims games, where you pick a preset for each facial feature then fine tune it, but this time the sliders are all gone! Instead you drag parts of the face around in 3D, with the cursor changing to indicate what you're doing. You can make big changes on this zoomed out view, then go into detail edit mode to get close and tweak the details.
I still don’t have quite as much control as I want, but it’s awesome to be able to just drag the corners of the eyes to fine tune them instead of… well, instead of doing nothing at all, because most of these other games have next to zero eye editing options.
Still doesn't look anything like Snake, but I bet this editor would be awesome for making Young Ryo Hazuki.
It’s a really fast editor too. The thing definitely has room for improvement, but direct mouse control is way less awkward than dragging sliders back and forth in turn to see what they change.
2014 - THE ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE (PC)
Elder Scrolls Online when I played the beta early last year, but I somehow managed to get this guy in the ballpark by accident so I'm including it in the list. He actually looks closer than most of these other faces I've done, especially the cheeks (and bandanna).
I remember being pretty impressed with this editor as it's got a fair amount of sliders and unlike Skyrim there's enough range in them to create someone who doesn't look like a draugr's ass. Plus you can make samurai tigers with goatees.
There's some other free to play MMOs I could download and try, but I've wasted enough time and hard drive space on this dumb article already. Not that I wasn't tempted.
2014 - SOUTH PARK: THE STICK OF TRUTH (PC)
2015 - METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN (PC)
I give up.
I found that most of the editors were fairly decent at creating all kinds of faces, just as long as you've got nothing specific in mind. The BioWare games in particular are just about cycling through shapes and picking the one you like, while the Saints Row and Sims games give the freedom to actually adjust the shapes yourself. I found myself maxing out the sliders in all of them though as they never quite gave me the power I craved. Plus the normal map texture they stick on top of the mesh defines the look of the face more than you might expect, so even when I got the proportions dead on it usually still looked like a stretched out version of one of the game's default heads.
So I'm blaming the editors for my utter failure. It's not my fault, it's all theirs, and there's nothing you can do to prove otherwise! (Unless you've got screenshots of some successful Snakes.)
Right, I think I've gotten that out of my system now. I don't have to think about face editors any more. Next week: a comparison of hacking mini-games!
Actually I'll be looking at another game, but it's possible I'll end up doing more articles like this in the future so feedback and suggestions are welcome.