Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Lion's Den - Character Models

I have a confession to make: I find realistic models in MMORPG's to be absolutely ugly. LOTRO and DDO are the worst offenders in my book, but Everquest 2 is a close second. For example, look at this picture. It looks like a mannequin with wood shaped like hair perched on its head. And this is a promotional screenshot for the game. I find actual screenshots to be far worse. Even one of my favorite MMORPG's, City of Heroes, is guilty of making their faces look terrible. You could say that it is due to the age of these games, but APB and SWTOR are making their people look terrible as well.

Most people would reference the uncanny valley when approaching this subject, saying that the closer you try to imitate a human the more flaws you will pick out of it. And this is true. With how technology is progressing, we are able to move closer and closer to imitating a real person in a video game. But on the way we have to handle blank-faced monsters like the ones above.

Personally, I can't actually explain why I hate them. Is it the waxy or plastic skin, the blank (or horribly imitated) expressions, or the stiff movements? I couldn't tell you. And I can't really blame developers for not getting it right: the technology to replicate this more accurately is not feasible for an MMO project. But what I can plead is that they stop trying.

Seriously. Stop it. Maybe in 20 years we can make an MMORPG where the people don't look like Barbie's horribly mutated half of the family, but right now it is best to stick with stylized depictions. Yes, even if its a serious game. The original Batman cartoon with Mark Hamill was a cartoon, and was as serious as a heart attack. Pretty dark too. You can accomplish it to, and it will give your game a much longer life span.

I promised myself to spend a bit of time not mentioning that certain weather pattern named company, so let's go with two games most people would consider old. Super Mario World, and Baldur's Gate. Barring some severe nostalgia for Baldur's Gate, most people would say these days that they would prefer (in terms of graphics at least) to play Super Mario World. Let's give an MMORPG example then. Maple Story and Everquest 2 were released within a year of each other. Which one do you think has aged more gracefully than the other?

I don't mean to bash the graphic designers who put hours and hours of work into these 3D models, or the developers of the game for making this decision. They want their work to look a certain way, and they should be damned proud of what they accomplished. But your game will not age well. The rapid advancement of graphics technology (which admittedly, is slowing down lately) will make great games like Baldur's Gate completely unplayable to later generations. I have fond memories of both Star Fox 64 and Goldeneye 64. Guess which one I can still play these days?


  1. Actually, I am not even certain that a game would be better if the characters looked 100% realistic. If you think about it ..

  2. I dunno. For a game like The Secret World, where there are a good amount of horror aspects in there, realistic characters would be appealing. Not that horror can't be accomplished without it, but it would add to the experience.

  3. Seems like they could (should) have gone with Clone Wars-like stylized graphics here. Stylized graphics have a longer shelf life and often, simply look better. That Uncanny Valley loves to eat up hubris.