Creating non-human species for games (or other media types) can't be easy. You need to try to create a unique and interesting look, which retains some humanoid features for familiarity, but also has several alien features as well. You need your species to look like something which could plausibly have evolved but at the same time, you need it to be exciting. And for games, you need to make sure that your species works within your technology framework. I have a lot of respect for the great artists of the industry who come up with some truly iconic designs.
One additional consideration is how to deal with sexual dimorphism. Do the males and females of your new species look the same? If not, how are they different?
We all generally know how to distinguish between human men and women (with the caveat, of course, that both sexes are diverse and varied, with substantial crossover in most if not all areas, and that's before you even start to consider various intersex conditions). Identifying the sex of other animals is much more hit and miss, though. Sometimes, they're easy. Male lions have manes, whereas females don't. Male elephant seals are much larger than females. Various birds have males with brightly coloured plumage and females with plain feathers. For other animals, the differences are much less pronounced, and hard for even an expert to spot. How do you tell the difference between a male gibbon and a female one? Or closer to home, what's the difference between the sexes in domesticate cats or dogs?
The point I'm making is that in actual real animals, the differences between the sexes can be extremely pronounced or virtually non-existent, and it can take all sorts of forms. So when you're inventing a new species from scratch, how do you decide what differences to use?
The sad fact is that in the vast majority of cases, the males of the species will be designed first as the default, and then females will be made as a variant. So, with that in mind, how do you take a male species deign and turn it into a design for females of the same species.
I'd like to look at two approaches to this. Firstly, Turians from the Mass Effect
series, and the charr from the Guild Wars series.
First, the Turians. In this video, Mass Effect 3's art director, Derek Watts, talks about how the Turians were created
. The relevant part, as regards female Turians comes at about 1 minute in, when he has this to say:
They're all males in the game. We usually try to avoid the females because what do you do with a female Turian? Do you give her breasts? What do you do? Do you put lipstick on her? There's actually some of the concept artists will draw lipstick on the male one and they'll say "Hey, it's done" and we'll go "No, can you take this serious?"
What I personally take from this is the message that these artists pretty much think of women as being nothing but breasts and lipstick with no other identifying features, that they have very little idea how nature works (hint: birds don't have breasts), and that they decided that making female characters was hard, so they'd give up. After all, it's not as if they're losing anything by not including female Turians, right?
Compare and contrast this with this article in which Kristen Perry talks about designing the female charr for Guild Wars 2
. The entire article is worth reading, but for me, the choice quote is this one:
Well, when I started designing the female charr, I definitely wanted her to feel just as fierce as the male of the race. She had to feel sleek and agile while at the same time have an appearance of strength and power. By thinking in terms of movement, it became clear the answer was in optimizing nuances. Yes, she had to be large and robust like the male, but we could tone down the testosterone by really extending her body lines to gracefully flow from the top of her head to tail tip.
Obviously, it's notable just how different this approach is from that of the Mass Effect 3 designers.
[caption id="attachment_7428" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="A charr male and female. Both are fierce-looking anthropomorphic felines, though the male is slighly stockier, and their teeth, horns, and tails are different."]
When I look at this image, I can see that the two creatures shown are clearly of the same species, but that they are also different. The horns are at different angles, the male is stockier and has more teeth. The female has a bushier tale. I can also see that the female is still a ferocious fighter who could rip me to shreds as easily as she could look at me, and that she is most definitely not just there for the male gaze. I suspect that any man she caught leching at her would quickly find himself with sever abdominal injuries.
This sort of thing demonstrates that designing non-human females can be done brilliantly and effectively without resorting to tired tropes or mindless objectification. Knowing what can be achieved just makes it all the more galling to see things like the Turians of Mass Effect
where the designers seemingly couldn't even be bothered trying.