I recently read a lot of latter-day reviews of Betrayal at Krondor, which was my first PC RPG.

Nowadays, the big critique seems to go somewhat like this: "There's pregenerated characters! You can't even name them how you want!"

I think I can see a bigger problem underneath: CRPGs can easily be divided to those games that have pre-picked PCs, and those that have player-generated characters. What's the correct answer for game designer to pick? Heck, same as always: whatever works.

I've played a lot of both. And in my opinion, games where players get to generate their own characters seem to be pretty much generic. The player becomes a neutral observer that often fails to make impact on the gameworld. Aside of saving it from impending doom or whatnot. I've played a lot of Neverwinter Nights adventures and I generally seem to be getting this impression: I'm the guy people scream at in horror and beg for my help. I just reassure them that I'm here to put things right. I go around, kick some butt, and these people come to me and say 'oh, thank you, Insert Name Here, for saving us". Not just a problem in NWN, but a lot of RPGs that don't have predefined characters.

The fundamental problem with such design is that the writers never know who is going to play the adventure, so they think they can get around this by making the responses generic. In pen-and-paper RPGs there's a lot of premade adventures, but even then, there's always the DM who can tweak and improvise to make the adventure work for his or her specific player group. CRPG writers don't have this convenience, but they do have the option to give the text some personal flavor based on character's own interaction with the world.

Here's a random idea: Modern games have often the chiched "class quests". (In NWN's official campaign, Rangers and Druids get to save animals from the zoo, for example.) Instead of making the side-quest requirements clear-cut, simple, and smacking of generalism, How about tracking how people feel about you and having people who like you (or hate you) giving advice, equipment, and quests based on that? A grander suggestion would be that a game keeps track of how each NPC feels about the PC, or PC's faction, class, or other things like that.

Betrayal at Krondor is an "interactive novel". It's easier to make an interactive novel, and easier to make it work what comes to character relations. Having pre-made characters makes it easier for writers to get the character relations and story defined. In these games, canned responses aren't that bad. But like with books, it's possible to get attached to a CRPG character, even if the character in question isn't made according to the player's tastes. I definitely take canned characters rather than my own character who might get genericified.

End of tired rambling.