This week in Casual Thursday, Banath talks about the customization aspect that is essential for MMO’s and is very common in almost all regular RPG’s. Cross-references, a bit of gaming history and some other stuff, that well… yeah… we want you to read… so…yeah… read it.
Episode 12: Look at me!
Welcome back to a new round of Casual Thursday. This week I will delve into a new important aspect of any MMO. It is quiet crucial for the *cough* immersion *cough* of a lot of people that this is handled properly. I have less experience than MMO gamers with the issue, but I have encountered it in normal single player RPG’s and in a lot of current shooters. The subject this week will be “customization”.
MMO’s need customization. Wow, Banath is kicking an open door, again… Which is a legitimate remark. But all cynicism aside, let’s get this thing going. You have to distinguish between yourself and the other players. And you go very far with the making yourself unique. But I do think customization could go even more in-depth than it is at the moment. We don’t know how much customization will go on in SWTOR, except for those who have been able to play the beta or were in testing. (NDA is still alive, so DON’T discuss it). But we have reference points. World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer, etc. A lot of customization, in gear and looks. But none of them were the height of character customization. That prize goes to another game. It goes to….. (drum rolls please) The Elder Scrolls Oblivion.
Prior to The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion I had encountered customization. KOTOR had it, Diablo 2 had it a lot in gear, and so on. But when I first booted up TES: Oblivion, a vast range of options was rolled out. I could change eyebrows, nose lengths, ears and almost any other aspect of the face. And that’s beside the ability to choose your species. World of Warcraft also had this, but the different faces that you could put on your character were… limited. This is not meant as a gist to Blizzard’s magnum opus (at this point in time), but sooner than later the game shows its stretch. But in Blizzard’s defense, faces were hard to see in the game anyway, so facial customization was hardly necessary. Oblivion went in deep. For an MMO, it would be great to be able to have this much character diversity, but would be unrealistic for an MMO, at least at this point for resources.
Luckily, Blizzard knows how to “sell” their gear customization. Blizzard learned a lot about how to make gear interesting through Diablo 2 and let people go all out with the look of their geared characters. The amount of random loot that you could gather and put on was incredible. The amounts of Mephisto runs that I have done are insane and the loot was very useful. Not just in specs, but in making your character look different from everyone else’s. It wasn’t yet as diverse as it would become in Blizzard’s big-buck MMO, but did show distinction between most players.
Gear of course has more than one function. Like I said in the previous section, gear helps with the distinction, but what if you hate the look of the gear, though even it is the gear that you need for your class? Lord of the Rings Online had a nice solution for the looks.
I don’t know that Lord of the Rings Online was the first game that introduced the “visual” tab, but it is the only game I have played where I bumped into it. One tab (or more) can be used to give yourself a different look than what your effective gear looked like. With effective gear I mean what armor you have for your actual defense, i.e. statistics, and the visual tab is how people see you when you wander around the world. I don’t know if this going to be used in The Old Republic. But I would be very much in favor of this feature. I would love to walk around in the classical Jedi robes, but without gear underneath those robes, my ass will surely be kicked. That wouldn’t be helpful in playing the game.
What we have seen of the images that have been released so far, it looks to me like it will be a mixture between the two. When I look at a still of, let’s say, the Jedi Consular, we see not only the robe, i.e. the signature look of any Jedi, but under it we see their actual gear. Maybe even a better way to handle the stuff then what I have seen in LOTRO. People also see what kind of armor you wear, without having to “check you out” with the click… thingy… stuff. Ahem, anyways, it still then requires of players to know what different sort of gear looks like, but it is an overall coherent look. But you never walk alone…
What a great segue, sir. Yes, that was sarcasm. Not only you can be customized, your companions can also be changed. When Musco was still on the show, way back in episode 20, he, Samm and Deacon were discussing the problem of Jill the Smuggler. What if you and two friends had the same companion? Or as it was said on the show: “have you met my wife Jill? Have you met my wife Jill? What, your wife is Jill too?” Well, luckily, Bioware has addressed this point. We can be able to change “Jill” at a certain point. We cannot change the class, race or sex. Which makes sense, because that would require a massive amount of work in the character’s storyline and voiceovers. In any other single-player game where you have companions, – MMO’s haven’t done this yet – you can only change the gear of your companions, with the exception of the family of Hawke in Dragon Age 2, not the looks. Those have always been set in stone.
I know this is Star Wars Galaxies, but heck they did do customization as well!
This new dimension that Bioware has introduced will give those that want to feel more unique in this universe even more options. You have more options for creating a character that’s unlike all the other characters running around. On top of that, we have different species that give even more range and variety, since most species are available for all classes. You are not as locked-in as you were in vanilla World of Warcraft.
My concluding notes shouldn’t come as a surprise: Bioware is doing a tremendously good job with the ability to customize, but don’t expect The Elder Scrolls’ level of customization. With all the different bits and pieces of information that they have given us, through play sessions at Gamescom, E3 and PAX, and through normal vids, I at least have gotten the feeling that Bioware has got this stuff down right. Also, since their own lengthy experience with RPG’s, where customization is key, they have used that knowledge, in my eyes, to their benefit and on top of that they threw another 20 tons of options.
So finally, rate and comment, and lets get this discussion going.
Thanks for reading and as always,
May the Force be with you.