Friday, November 17, 2006

Avatar Customization

World of Warcraft took a great many steps forward by including a plethora of popular features from previous MMORPGS and fine tuning them so they would have mass appeal. One area of the game though that always seemed to go against this philosophy was their character creation process. Only having about six different customizable options was a real step back when compared to other games out at the time. Even classic Everquest technically had more options since they had practically double the amount of playable races. Still with WoW's success one has to wonder if Blizzard did their research and found out that money was better spent on game content then more varied hair styles.

Still, the reason I'm revisiting this topic once again is that I finally got a certain Beta program working on my computer late last night and had time to mess around with the character creation process. I must say I am impressed with the amount of choices Vanguard allows for changing the body structure of your characters. Now I am not quite sure how a NDA works cause frankly when I finished college I swore I was never reading anything over 1200 pages again. Still I am pretty sure without giving specifics I can talk about features.

The number one thing that impresses me is they made use of the same sliding bar for customization that you find in City of Heroes. For an example think of a bar named Height which you can slide and watch as your avatar grows or shrinks in size. Now picture about 50 such options from eye slant to head size. It may not have the outrageous costumes of the super hero MMO but it still allows an impressive ability to differentiate yourself from other players. Quite frankly, in World of Warcraft the amount of evil twins I have run across is ridiculous.

Players like to be able to distinguish themselves from others usually in order to prove their superiority. Equipment plays an important part in this since it directly effects your ability to kick ass but image also plays a part. How many low level rogues do you see wearing a full set of defias even though the stats aren't that good? A lot. How many paladins do you see wearing a dress even though raids force them to heal from a distance? None. What good is kicking ass if you look like a bum while doing it?

I'm not sure if good character creation options are the key ingredient in making a successful MMO but I do know its a good start. Most likely half the fans of City of Heroes/Villains simply liked playing because of the amazing costumes you could put together. I wasn't really a fan of the gameplay but it seem like every other day I was creating a new character with a name and history to match his costume. In comparison WoW's character creation looks simplistic to City of Heroes and quaint to Vanguard. However, the decision to cut back on avatar customization in return for more game content might be smart. After all if people just wanted good looking avatars at the cost of gameplay then Second Life would have more concurrent users.


Anonymous said...

I have a hard time beliving that adding more options for how your character looks affects coding for gameplay as much as you let on.

The process for creating your avatar in EVE-Online is by far the most involved I have ever seen in an mmo but in the end its all for a picture (you only controll your ship, you never walk around anywhere.)

Then again yes you are right it takes time away from coding other things but does it matter further down the raod? I dont really think so concidering the only big chunk of readily accessible content Blizzard has managed to release in more than two years is Sithilus.

Wolfgangdoom said...

I think the reason an MMO should focus on Avatar Customization-aside from the evil twin scenario- is because by doing so, they tell their players right off the bat "hey, we understand that you want options, so lets start off with about 100 of them".

MMO's are about questing with other people first and foremost, but just like RL, people want to differentiate themselves from others around them. WOW sucks for that. Even at level 60 your character will look like a hobo unless you are wearing epic gear; even then, you will look identical to another person with the same gear.

I have said it before and I will say it again: developers need to find a way to incorporate a custom crafting option into games so that blacksmiths and armor smiths have some creative freedom to make items that set their customers apart from the ordinary adventurers.

But if I can't have custom weapons and armor, character options are still nice. :)

Anonymous said...

no no no...

from start, WOW _prooved_ people are not so needy for "avatar options". (its success is a story itself)

well, what is truly important ? to _attach_ people to the game. and yeah the character is important but not only

Wow , as all mmorpg, asks you commitment; The contents is the king here. To explore beyond, to gain the new item, to finish that quest line, to go on with friends, and so on.

but yeah, we will all love more choice. I did think blizzard will add more and more choices with time. but no. maybe one day, to "spice up" the game.

about body shape. it would be wonderful to choose his/her height, shape, body features and so on, but it will never be possibile in the WOW we knows.

wow uses huge massively artistic "textures" to give people the cloth/armor colors and shapes.

for _each_ body size/forms it would be necessarily to recreate _each_ armor item, hats, belts and so on. ALL , all combinations.

so, they will never give you a freedom of choice.

you will had to wait a new Wow, using programmes to generate the cloth upon a character body. Freeing the creators of the tedious process of recreating _each_ cloth to each shapes of characters.

Anonymous said...

How about some character maturation going on as well? Like in Fable where you start as a kid and become a man.

Make all the character faces youthful at creation. Keep the variety but make them all young. (Why should Grandpa be level 1?) Then allow each face to age as the character levels up. I suppose when picking your "young" face you should be shown your "old" face at 60.

Up to the 20's have the faces look naive and doe eyed. (That's pretty much the look they should have adventuring into Ashenvale for the first time on a PvP server.)

In the 20's-30's make them cynical and snide faces.

In the 30s-40's make them mature and "working" faces.

In the 50s-60s make them venerable. Strong, yet mature.

Same for body mass. For all but the Forsaken, start them out skinny and thin and as they mature they buff out. Let them be their buffest in 40s-50s, and then make them smaller again afterwards.

For the Forsaken, a special treatment. Less bone showing in the younger levels. In fact, newly created, in the early levels, no bones at all. Just skin tainted by their death. A little haunched over, but not overly so. The peculiar green mold glow. And then as the characters level up, age if you will, they become more and more decrepit. In the 60s-70s have them looking like rivals to the Lich King in how badly decomposed they are.

Beards and such... No beards in the early ages. But as the character ages longer ones. Or make a style that grows longer as they age, or stays the same forever(ala Chuck Norris).

I think Warhammer Online is going to feature maturation of it's character players.

So, for each character creation, show the level 1 character, and then in a small window show that character, in an animated "aging," through to level 60.

guanoboy said...

You would not need to code every single instance of armor and gear for every single instance of character possibilities. As it is, they just stretch the armor, scaling it to different sizes. There is probably some adjustments being made for some extreme cases, but I would guess the majority of it is done just through scaling. Just take a look at how many pieces of gear in game today don't "work" perfectly and how many cheats blizzard has to fix appearance things. The biggest one that comes to mind is hats. I have quite a few characters with long hair who put on a head piece and wammo! they have short hair all of the sudden. And think of all the elves who's ears and eyebrows stick through their hats. and... and...

Relmstein said...

I would just like the ability to dye the different armor slots so I wouldn't have to wear a collection of mismatched gear.