Battletech’s character creator isn’t really about how your character looks; it’s about who they are, where they’re from, and what they believe.

Battletech is a long established property and mainstay of tabletop wargaming. The original game came out in 1984 and there’s been a swath of spin off games like the MechWarrior series, lore sourcebooks, and over 100 novels set in the universe. Battletech’s intricate timeline has been around longer than I have. Leaping into this world as a newcomer is daunting but the character creator helps players connect with the setting with a series of choices that define their past.

Throughout the creation process, the player is asked to determine where they are from, what happened to their family and the life they’ve lead until the start of the game. If an NPC simply monologues to me about the Magistracy of Canopus and its matriarchal society, I might tune it out. Instead, I made the choice to be from there and think about what that meant for me as a character. I looked at each option carefully—the Taurian Concordat, the Federated Suns and others—before deciding I would be from a world known for tacticians and progressivism. I later weighed options between whether I’d lived life as a pirate, gladiator, or merchant guard.

Battletech’s character creator offers plenty of visual customization as well as other personalized touches. You can change hair color, add scars, change your makeup, and even set your pronouns. With some time and tinkering, you’ll end up with a cool looking-pilot. But the character creator’s emphasis on narrative choices means that I was also weaving a story together, and intensely engaging with the setting’s lore before I’d ever taken a single step in my mech. I agonized over my professional background much longer than I did my hair color.

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Depending on the game, narrative choices in character creators can be in-depth or superficial. Obsidian Entertainment’s RPG Tyranny has an extended narrative prologue where players, taking the role of a high ranking soldier in the villain’s army, make strategic decisions throughout a miniature conquest. These choices can affect how certain characters or factions perceive the player. For instance, if they answered a rebel leader’s call for an honorable battle, his disciples will treat you with a grudging respect in main campaign. Mass Effect isn’t as detailed but it does help the player establish their background as well. Commander Shepard can be a military brat or a street scoundrel; they can be the lone survivor of botched mission or a war hero who repelled alien forces attacking a human colony.

Defining a character’s background helps players invest in their future decisions when the game starts and Battletech’s character creator is a great example of how helping players create context leads to even more excitement once the giant robots start punching each other.