So why can’t I pick a female character?

It was a while ago now, but last year, Ubisoft got in trouble for not having female characters in Assassin’s Creed. The reason? Because it’s double the work. A criticism that was criticised heavily by people who don’t have a clue about the realities of game animation.

So here’s how it is; Male and female animation is different. Here’s an example. Try moving the slider left and right. Clearly even at this absolute minimum level of detail, we’re looking at definite male and female movement. Apply a female skin to a male animation and it looks like a man in drag.

This is a single animation for each sex.

I worked for a games company where we put a lot of effort into our animation. And we only had about 40 animations. Every single character was male. Even the NPCs. Why? Because we only had male characters. Did we want to add female characters? Of course we did! The designers wanted female characters. The managers wanted female characters. The animators wanted female characters. The CEO wanted female characters. But it got put back because there were more pressing concerns.

Ubisoft claims this would require 8000 additional animations. Probably not totally true – there will be some duplication – but looking at this gameplay video, there’s certainly a lot of movement. We have walking running, rolling, several types of jumping, climbing, vaulting, punching, all within the first minute of gameplay. And yes, each one has to be animated separately for a female character. Each needs to have been tested for a female character. We need to tweak and tune it. It takes time.

A former designer claimed that it’s really not that hard. “A couple of days”. It’s idiots like this that lead to the death marches and permacrunch that makes the games industry such a joy to work for. He’s a designer. Not an animator! Yes. Many games do have a female protagonist. A lot don’t allow a male one. Too hard to do? Or perhaps the animation resources were better spent making the female character as good as possible.

Portal would have required essentially no effort for a male player character.Why was there not an option? Because really nobody gave a damn!

Do the critics really think there’s some huge conspiracy amongst the developers to not have female characters? To what end? Why would they be so desperate that women aren’t wanted? Do the critics really imagine that game dev studios are clubs with a “no girlz allowed” sign hanging out the door? Sure, it’s male dominated. So was Core design when they created Tomb Raider. They thought the idea of a female protagonist was cool! So did the team behind Assassins Creed III: Liberation.

So why is playing a female character so damn important? And why only this game? There are hundreds of games where you can’t play a female character and while not as many, certainly no shortage of games with female protagonists. Why single out Assassin’s creed? And if it’s so important, what would you drop to make room for it?

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