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.

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