Magical Wasteland is written by Matthew S. Burns.

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Why We Don’t Have Female Characters

[June 2014 note: the following is a satire I wrote out of frustration for technical excuses given for what were clearly matters of priority. As a game developer myself, it was clear to me that explanations about memory, budget, amount of work, etc. for not offering a female character were not applicable to today’s triple-A games, which have budgets that could accomodate the extra work to include female chracters if the developers truly thought it was important to have them. Sadly, this article was written in early 2011, and recent comments from Ubisoft at E3 this year show the situation has not gotten any better. Anyway, thanks for reading.]

I noticed your game has a character editor, but doesn’t include the option to make a female character. Why is that?

Well, it’s hard to make female characters. First of all, in order to accommodate female characters in our pipeline, you’d basically need to re-code the entire engine from the ground up. Because the technology we have today just wasn’t built to be able to handle stuff like that. I’m thinking about it now and I have no idea how you’d even start making those kind of changes in our low-level architecture. The implications to our engine are just all over the place– the threading system, the frame buffer…

Then there’s the art aspect. Can anyone say they really know what a woman looks like? I mean we all have ideas. But we’ve tried them and they don’t work. Women are difficult to model because they have– they’re sort of put together– well, let me put it this way: male bone structure is mostly made up of ninety-degree angles. Right? Maybe a couple forty-fives here and there. But it’s simple, and that makes it easy. I guess I shouldn’t say “easy,” but I mean more straightforward.

Female bone structure, on the other hand, is extremely complicated. There are, like, n-gons and inverted matrices in there and everything. The math involved is just mind-boggling. And it’s not only the mesh: there’s the textures and the lighting, too. The way light bounces off… I mean, all of that is completely different as well. So to really do it right we would have to undo all of the pixels that are in the game right now, and re-do them over again from scratch. It’s just a ton… a ton of work.

So when you look at it– you look at the cost of creating all those assets, the modeling, animation, the voice over, and so on– you take that cost and multiply it by a billion. And then it just comes down to, what should we spend our time and money on? We only have a limited amount of resources, so we need to be very careful about what we choose to do. Right? If we just sort of said, hey, let’s go for it, let’s make that female character model… well, the whole project could collapse and we might go out of business. I mean, I’m not trying to sound negative here. But that’s, you know, that’s the reality we’re facing.

Reader Comments (15)

I like one of Joss Whedon's many responses to the question, "Why do you write strong female characters?":

"Because you're still asking me that question."

Likewise, I'll continue to play female characters in games until it's no longer more unique and interesting than playing a male.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

Woman VO eats up too much disk space. We had to cut her to fit on disc.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJesse

Whilst I understand your point about having to make two entirely different models for the two sexes, it does assume that the male model absolutely has to be in there but a female is an optional extra.

March 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRahul Ricky

Well then there's the business reasons. Sure, we might get a few complaints from players who want to play as women. But most of these complaints come from players who also say they ARE women - which of course completely destroys their credibility, since we all know female game players do not actually exist. And when they are real, they're never hot, so, still zero cred there.

Even these complaints are a pretty small number, at least on the previous games I've worked on ("Eyegouger"; "Mike Ditka's Deer Slaughterfest 3500"; "Bulletgun"; and "Save All Them Pretty Bitches"). The real problem is that, for some incomprehensible reason, females don't actually play games. And until they wake up one morning and realize how wrong they are about these games and how much they'd love to play them, there's clearly no reason to change what we're doing.

Of course, I have heard tell of female players playing those little games you can get on your phones, and a couple of those games on Facebook. I was actually very relieved when I realized that there was a large contingent of female players of those games - until then I was afraid that I might have to start taking those platforms seriously. But like I said, females just don't play games; so clearly these aren't REAL games at all, and I don't have to worry about them.

March 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIQpierce

Clearly, it is all a matter of resources.

March 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGunthera1

The way light bounces off of women is different than men?

March 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn I.G.

Plus, narratively it makes sense not to feature women as they never show up.

March 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeroen D Stout

Okay, I totally took this seriously. I was one captcha away from making a total fool of myself. Well played.

March 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Larson

this is the funniest thing I've read in quite a while. I assume this is a parody of Brink's decision not to have female characters ? they were talking about the IK points are different, and how hard it would be to redo all of the animations.

Long hair IS a problem with most female models (unless its sionead o'connor) , but Shenmue 2 did it, as did Dead Space 2. It CAN be done.

March 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterreginald

Whilst I get the parody and find it quite funny, in all seriousness it does costs quite a lot to do good animated men and women, and in this case, very annoyingly we couldn't afford the resources to do both. We have masses of concept art with women and we all regretted having to can them. We could have done women re-using parts of the mens animation pools but tbh it looked like we were insulting females. If we had, reused male animations, justifiably women would have been able to say we did a half arse job of adding them to the game.

The only real question is why remove women and not men? the male figures were already well underway when it was realized, so it was simply cheaper to choose men only. The other is that TBH games that feature women only tend to make that choice for very different reasons *cough*doa*cough* and that wasn't what we would have wanted people to think.

What did we learn?
Men and women are different ;) Allocate the resources and consider the issue at the start, tbh it just didn't come up until too late, we just assumed we would have both sexes, and you know what they say about assumptions.

Learn from your mistakes, is the best you can say in situations like this :(

March 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeano

Love people are thinking this post is just a parody, when it really raises serious problems with modelling women.

Just to delve deeper into some of the issues raised so far, so that it will become clear to all how big an issue supporting women in games would be.

Light really bounces differently off women than men, or at least the real men we see in games. Since men are all sweaty and grimy, we only need to support one subsurface scattering model, whereas with women there are many things to take into account..
Just go into a beauty store and see how many different brands&types of make-up there are. There would have to be a different subsurface scatting model for each of them. These would again need to be able to combine, depending on in which order they were put on, not to mention whether she exfoliated before putting the make-up on or not.

Then there is also the issue of jewellery adding to the headache. Granted, some men wear jewellery as well, but those tend to be simple where we can get away with just a bit of extra specular. Women often wear intricate jewellery with diamonds, or other expensive stones, which would require the use of ray tracing to get an accurate rendition in the game.

Not to mention the time and effort and mind-boggling physics calculations that would be needed to calculate accurately how much space is inside a lady's handbag. Unlike men, who have broad enough shoulders to carry any weapon conceivable to humans, women have smaller shoulders and would need to carry them in their handbag alongside all the other necessary items they have with them at all times.
(Had there been any female developers in the game industry they would have solved this easily with their innate ability to fill handbags, however as the game industry is only made up of men who only see women on TV, unless they still live in moms basement, this won't happen)

QED it is impossible support female characters in games, unless you are willing to spend all you research money and render budget on them.
(Which I imagine is similar to how I'm told you spend all your time and money on women in the real world, though being a game developer I have no personal experience in the matter:)

March 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeW

I usually opt for female characters if I have a choice. Usually the toughest-looking one a game can offer that's not done in a "women with muscles are DISGUSTING" manner. Even still, the toughest one is often made to be bondage-sexy or incredibly abrasive, neither of which I especially want to play as.

If no such option is available, I usually go with a small male character. Probably because they're idealized versions of me, just shorter and not horrifically clumsy. At least Brink has a small body type playable, instead of all characters being steroid guzzlers.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeamSplashX

I remember that Bioware said something like, "You can get a unique female Hawke (DA's main character) body, or you can get female Qunaaris. We went with Hawke." There's something so condescending about that, like, "Welp we're down to making the GIRL STUFF now, but we're going to have to cut some corners..."

I've been a female gamer since the BG2 days. I know that there are many more guy gamers then girl gamers still, but it's also true that there are more gamers in general. More people who find it socially acceptable/realize it's fun to spend some time in a fake world saving, or screwing up, things.

The way to get more women to play is to offer reasons to do so, like implementing female characters who are there for reasons completely aside from their gender. In my opinion, this shouldn't be optional and something that can/is cut for time and effort's sake, but too often, it obviously is.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRP

I'm so glad I'm not working within console RAM budgets any more. I know this is a parody, but animators suddenly needing 400 extra character animations part way through development would spiral into a massive interdepartmental clusterfuck.

April 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercjt

I know this is a parody, but including women does actually impose a significant content and tech (yes, really, tech) burden on a modern game.

The content burden comes from the hundreds of extra animations needed for a different skeleton. This basically means doubling the animation budget. On a AAA game, this can be an extra million dollars worth of animations to mocap, tune, implement, and test.

The tech burden comes from things like cloth modeling for long hair or skirts, different shaders for skin, cloth, and eyes (yes, really).

Then there's dialog. Depending on how much people talk in the game, and how often people refer to each other as "he" or "she", this can be between nothing to hundreds of thousands of words of extra recordings.

Of course all this creates an implementation burden as well as a performance burden on the target system. Adding ladies means half the dialog variation for all the existing characters, half the animation memory, and fewer cycles after cloth modeling, etc.

So given all this, what is your cost-benefit calculation on adding women to a game? It costs a two million dollars for the tech, models, animations, and VO. It means making performance sacrifices. On some kinds of games, this is worth it. On others, it is absolutely not.

There's nothing nefarious about this, no unspoken anti-feminist creative conspiracy holding down the wimmins. It's a straightforward calculation made in response to business and design concerns.

As for everyone shocked - SHOCKED - that women would be regarded as the first to be cut, once again it is foolish to blame game makers and imply bias or prejudice. The fact is that the games market for most products is still dominated by men (
Note that in products marketed to women and girls, the men are the optionals. Nobody would cut the women from The Sims or Barbie Horse Adventures.) and producers are simply responding to that.

We're not sitting around making the games we feel like making. We're making games for customers according to their wants. If you want to talk prejudice, let's talk about the audience. Of course, that's a much bigger and more complex topic.

May 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTynan Sylvester
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