In my last post I went over my general disdain with the (arguably) RP-enhancing Appearance Tab of LotRO (and possibly RIFT). I like my armor. And I like people watching to find more and better and unique combinations of armor. I like knowing what I have waiting for me in the higher tiers of the game.
In this post, I’m going to go over why an appearance tab in RIFT ultimately won’t matter to me.
Some people- I don’t know who or where they are but I know they exist because this is the internet and if a person can complain about something, they will- Some people complained when Team Fortress 2 was in development. They hated the fact that their previously realistic seeming characters were becoming goofy, cartoonish caricatures of the classes they had loved to play. They, much like Diablo III haters that want the entire color scheme of the game to be covered in blackness like the angst of their souls, could not see the purpose of the character re-design: in going the stylized route, every class was made unique, as opposed to the same size character model for each of the classes, distinguished only by their paint jobs. The result of this change became that you could tell, at a glance, the Heavies from the Medics from the Scouts. And as Team Fortress 2 is a game about reflexes, you often only had a chance to be able to prioritize your target based on that brief glance. You could even tell which class was which based solely on their shadows, and such easy character distinction was exactly what the designers had in mind.
We’re going to call this the “Silhouette Principle,” the ability to rapidly and easily distinguish an individual character from a group of characters and/or scenery based on nothing more than their unique character design, and with few or no other cues required.
Now let’s go the other direction. Recently, I played a DS game called Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: a sort of Japanese visual novel. In this game, the stated nine people you encounter all have their own character portraits, and all of them are unique, varying wildly in size, shape and design. Each of them are recognizable based solely on their physical characteristics long before you can remember their names. But there is, in-game, one person that can’t distinguish one person from another. This character has prosopagnosia, a real neurological disease that basically means you can’t tell one person from another. A person with prosopagnosia wouldn’t be able to tell Michael Jordan from Michael Flatley. His mind is unable to retain the context clues we use to differentiate individuals.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this, but it does make you think about why some games have such unrealistic-looking character designs.
WoW, like Team Fortress 2, went the stylized, unrealistic route when it came to designing their character models. And it shows: go to my Youtube channel (or any video on Warcraftmovies.com) and pick a raid video at random. I don’t play with character names on, and almost usually as zoomed out as I can get. I’m also very often the healer, which means that usually all my attention is focused on those little green boxes anyway, but even with all that said you can still tell at a glance the dwarves from the draenei from the humans from the night elves. You can tell what classes they are by the sparkly effects of the skills that they use. While this doesn’t matter so much in a raid setting, where it’s more important for a healer like me to stare at green boxes and be peripherally aware of giant gouts of fire so I can avoid them, it proved invaluable in a Player-vs.-Player setting, such as Battlegrounds, Arenas, or general world combat, where I played my Hunter. Knowing whether to prioritize the night elf that turned into a tree over the human with the giant two-handed axe charging me with a red contrail behind him was important, and could influence whether my team won or not.
This brings us back to RIFT.
RIFT is a graphical powerhouse, one of the first MMOs that was made to take into account some of the newer video cards out there. It has wonderful particle effects, rippling water, dynamic lighting, self-shadowing (horribly aliased, but that’s another story), and yet it somehow manages to turn crowds of people into a large, faceless, blur of sprites, like I’m somehow suffering digital prosopagnosia. If I zoom in close and squint, maybe I can differentiate one person from another, but I have to actually select them to tell what class they are (which does nothing to indicate what role they play; remember that class only indicates what souls they can equip, and many functions overlap). Outside of dwarves, which are naturally shorter than others, I have to select a player to even tell what race they are, as everyone comes across as a human.
When I was in WoW, I was able to spot a friend of mine in the very crowded city of Ironforge (before each city got an Auction House) from pretty much the length of the great hall, because of just how unique her character model was, with nameplates off.
In RIFT, I was literally on top of one of my friends once, and didn’t realize it was him, until I accidentally misclicked him and his name popped up. And this was with nameplates on. I can’t begin to imagine how useless I would be in PVP as I struggled for context clues to prioritize my targets. Everything would boil down to just spamming the crap out of my AoEs and targeting the red nameplates.
Now it could be that I lack the familiarity with RIFT that I had with WoW. In time, I could learn to recognize more subtle context visual cues that would help me to differentiate character classes, character races, and specific individuals, without needing to rely on nameplates and camera zoom.
In the meantime, I suppose RIFT could add an appearance tab if they wanted to do so, because it’s not like their character models are stylized enough for me to actually tell who anyone is, anyway.