Of Mice and Menus

By: Joe Martin

Published: July 18, 2012 Posted in: PC Gaming Nonsense

I love RPGs for all sorts of reasons, from the deep storylines to the option to recruit hamster-wielding barbarians into my party. I love the spellcasting, the sorting of inventories and the skill trees.

Most of all though, I love the character creators – the menus which, through their intricately linked statistics, let me create life. When you’re making a new character in a game like Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura then every decision is important, but there’s no rush to make your mind up; you can savour every moment as you lay out their personal history…

Why am I telling you this? Because there’s someone I want to introduce you to, over there. His name is Jacob Delsywth – and if that name sounds familiar then it’s because you’ve probably heard of his father. Jacob prefers not to talk about it much himself, as it feels like he’s trading in on his family legacy, but Delswyth Sr. was a legendary swordsman. His heroic deeds are known from one end of Arcanum to the other, though the caveat of all that travelling is that he never had time to pass his skills on to his only son.

arcanum - Jacob

Instead, Jacob learned his trade by sweet-talking the crazy cat ladies and babysitters his Dad would dump him with when he went off stabbing giants in the gonads. Every day he’d cajole or charm them into giving him sweets or letting him do what he wanted – and he’s never grown up from that either. His prim, moustachioed style is just a mask for the same old childish roguishness. He still only cares about getting what he wants and he still can talk his way into anything and charm his way–

No, no, no. That doesn’t feel right at all and, worse, it’s too risky to prioritise passive skills on a first playthrough. Let me try again…

I want you to meet Jake Delswyth – but before I introduce you promise me you won’t scream, because he’s not as scary as he looks. Not so long as you stay on his good side, anyway. Just remember not to say anything about his mother, because that tends to be a sore point for half-ogres like him, OK? Literally, in some cases, hah.

Anyway, he’s not a nasty guy at heart – though he’s definitely a simple, huge one. A mountain of a…man, I guess. Size 14 feet at one extreme, ending in a monobrow and a shaved head at the other. He was born during a meteor shower too, you know, so they say violence will follow him wherever he goes and that —

Shit. That’s no good either. It’s downright boring, in fact. I want my character to be able to hold a decent conversation, at least – being stupid is no fun at all. Hmm. OK.

That girl over there? That’s Jackie Delswyth. She basically grew up in the library. As a kid she’d clamber over shelves and hook on with gangly limbs, reading whatever caught her eye at the time. The other librarians used to call her the Monkey Elf, said she must have read every book we had by the time she was ten. It never mattered what she was reading, just that she was. Even the few times she fell from the top shelf and got stuck in the hospital she’d send her parents to pick up books for her. I guess what didn’t kill her…

arcanum - jackie

Not much has changed since then, as you can see – she still climbs everywhere in a body made of nothing but odd angles and curiosity. And…

Wait, no, I don’t want to be a girl! There’s nothing wrong with FemShep and alternative perspectives on the second or third playthrough, but the first game is supposed to be about me and I’m a boy. A man, I mean. Ahem.

That guy over there? That’s Jay Delswyth. He basically grew up in the library. As a kid he’d —

CRAP! That just sounds boring and old-hat now, and not nearly as attractive on a bloke as on a girl. If I’m going to say play as an unattractive man, I want to at least be an unusual one…

Folk used to say that Dr. Delswyth was evil, but you can be sure nobody’d dare tell him to his face – they’d just bow and step aside and beg pardons. It’s not that he had a foul temper or anything like that, you understand? He always seemed like a pleasant chap, always smiling to himself or watching the kids on the playground. It was just… rumours. People was scared. My ma always said not to pay attention, but… I dunno. Some of the stuff I heard about him? Nine hells, if even half is true then he sure ain’t got a soul left to sell.

Like, I heard he isn’t really a surgeon at all and how he got thrown out of the university for his experiments? Had to change his name and everything.

The worst was when Tom’s wife died – and that was surely no rumour neither, ‘cos Bill heard the whole thing. You not heard what happened? Well, after she died Delswyth goes to the mayor and demands that he get given the body. Wouldn’t say why to anyone, but folk hardly need ask, did they? We all remembered the way he used to look at her and lick his lips… Anyway, the mayor said no, but then the body went missing anyway and…

So, no, I don’t know where he is now. I saw him get on that airship with his bottles of goop all packed up and his weird little smile and I bowed and hoped he weren’t coming back. It ain’t easy to bow to a gnome, you know, but I’d always near crack my skull trying to do it to him.

Wait a minute. A gnome? Who wants to play as a bloody gnome?! Gnomes are short and have those ugly big noses, not like me. I’m tall.

Right. Sir, meet James Delswyth, our newest pupil. James is our best forest mage, aren’t you lad? He grew up in the reserve before it burned down, you see – got a good education from the school there before he came to us. What was it you said they taught you, James? Ah, yes – how to carry the spirit of the trees with you and harness it to make your spells stronger. No, sir, I’d never heard of that either, but there’s no doubt that James is our best–

NO. That’s terrible. And did I use the phrase ‘Spirit of the trees’? I’ll never live that down, will I?

arcanum - some stats

Bloody hell, it’s getting late. How have I been playing this for three hours already and I’m not even past the first screens? These bloody menus are terrible. There’s no way to see which histories are available to which races, or how they affect the skills on the next page. Still, it’s not the worst character creator I’ve ever seen – though I can’t say I’ve ever seen a good one either…

Anyway, I need to hurry this up. Name: Joe Delswyth. Race: Human. History: No significant background. Joe never ran away with the circus or disturbed sleeping gods; he wasn’t born under a bad sign or kicked out of the city for cruel experiments. He doesn’t favour magic or technology or people or shadows or guns or blades. He’s just a guy. A boring guy.

Oh, that’s not going to do either. I bloody hate character creators…

Joe Martin