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Friday, March 24, 2006

Is Character Customization Worth the Overhead?

I’m noticing more and more that people have different words for things in MMO’s.  For example, people call client side low frame rates “lag,” even thought that is not what it is.  Lag does occur in MMO, and if you played WoW during the first months that is was out, you know very well what that is.  Another thing that I hear a lot of people talking about is character customization.

Now, before I go into a Genda-tangent, let me give you a little background.  When I was playing EQ, Genda’s nickname was “GQ,” because he always had to look cool in his gear.  If I got a piece of gear that wasn’t as good but looked great I would definitely wear it.  I killed to get my epic so I wouldn’t have to carry around a blunt weapon any more.  If you knew me in real life you would know that I’m anything but GQ.  Picture a 6’7” offensive tackle from a football team, but without the difficult-to-obtain body and muscle tone.  I used to care a lot about how I dressed, but I’ve developed what I like to call a casual style.  At work, I don’t have to wear a coat or tie, so I’m usually in loafers, khakis, and a white company oxford.  Classic, if not fashion-conscious. When I’m not working you can usually find me in a t-shirt or polo and jeans or shorts. Basic.

I’ve thought about what made me so particular about the character’s appearance in MMO. What I’ve come to realize is that there is nothing that drives me more toward accomplishment in a game than how cool my character will look once I get there.  I’ve rarely played pure casters in the games, and I think I have just realized why.  I don’t like how casters look in robes.  They just aren’t as cool as armor.

OK, back on track.  One thing that I’ve noticed is that once you have started playing a game for a while, you don’t notice the finer differences in a character’s appearance.  In SWG, you would notice if someone was a blue Twi’lek or a red one.  You would notice the fur pattern or color on a Wookie, but you don’t notice if their nose is narrower or wider.  All of those little details are taking proc cycles, though.  

One of the more visually stunning games I’ve seen to date is Lineage ][.  All the characters look pretty much the same.  Depending on your aesthetic, you could argue that all of them are beautiful.  You cold tell people apart by their armor and weapons.  And it ran a lot better than most of the current MMO at the time.  Getting back to the SWG example, that game STILL doesn’t run well on my system.  I’ve got a system that is way beyond what was available at the time that the game shipped.  If I turn on most of the options, it’s an effing slide show.  Wow didn’t allow major customizations and it runs like a champ.  

What I’m getting at is this.  Where is the line for trade-off worth it?  At what point is that extra detail on your character’s face worth 4-5 FPS (Frames Per Second?)  I’m getting to the point where I say that you should make your models look as good as they can, make them scalable for size, and let the character get his “GQ” from how he is dressed.  I LOVE how smooth WoW scrolls on my box, even with all the options on.

I’ll take that.