My lizard is the Lizard of Hair
Who is the lizard rider? This question is implicitly asked by putting the character on the screen, and ultimately I have to answer it with pixels and code.
I made a decision early on that the lizard rider should be anybody and everybody, if possible. My first idea was to put in a little bit of code to randomize its palette when the game begins. I was happy with this, and I liked the implication that it's a different person each time you play the game.
I was a little disappointed, however, by the bald human figure. The limited amount of colour available to the NES is a prevailing constraint, and it's had a rather strong effect on my design decisions while making the game. I simply couldn't find a space in the palette for hair, so the lizard rider was always bald.
I wrote it off as a consequence of the limitations I had, but it bothered me. It was nagging me for months, but a few days ago I realized that I could steal the lizard's white eye colour when it had its eyes closed. This gave me a brief window of opportunity to put in some hair!
So, I've now added a few different hairstyles and a selection of hair colours. There are 227 distinct appearances for the lizard rider. I'm still straining against various limitations, but I think this brings me a lot closer to the "anybody and everybody" ideal that I was looking for.
Maybe this will seem insignificant... obviously it doesn't affect the physical gameplay, but as a visual part of the theme and implied story it's been an important goal to me.
Just for my own curiosity, I'm trying to think of other games that used a randomized character appearance. Both X-COM and Cannon Fodder used this technique in a way that strengthened the actual gameplay. In these games it let you tell your soldiers apart at a glance on the battlefield, and when managing your squad I'm sure the extra visual variation helped you remember their strengths and weaknesses. Can you think of other games that did this?