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JasRonq

Separation of Aesthetics and Function

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I'm thinking in terms of a single player, action-RPG though this generalizes to any game in which the player picks up items that have function and affect the characters look (where it is assumed the player cares about both). I hate to find items that look great but are either good, but not for my character, or outright crap. I also don't like looking like a clown too much because I'm wearing the best I have found. Not looking like a clown is easy though. Make available sets of items and the player has the opportunity to wear matching items. Unfortunately this only partially fixes the problem. What if the player likes the looks of one set and the functionality of another? This is a conflict that I don't think is a fair one, this seems to me to be a situation where the game and the players happiness with the game will benefit from having the cake and eating it too. So I'm looking for ideas as to how we can stop forcing a player to choose between his characters aesthetics and equipment quality. (NOTE: the MMO solution of allowing the player to change the equipments looks is a misplaced mechanic in most other RPGs, especially action-RPGs and roguelikes)

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I don't think allowing a player to dye their clothing (or hair or skin) different colors by talking to an npc would be out of place in an action RPG. But the obvious other option would be, just don't put stats on clothing. Isn't shopping for and crafting armor with better stats at least as out of place in an action rpg as changing the looks of it would be? Or, make the armor which gives stats invisible, and the clothing which gives appearance visible.

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Consider a game like Diablo2. Lets say the look of the character was a bit more important because we were in 3D and so we had more than 75 pixels to look at. In a game like that the thrust is centered very firmly around killing things and finding loot, getting new skills to go kill bigger things and get better loot. Better loot in this case would mean the stats would win out, but if it were 3d, the player would care more about how they looked.

I'm speaking of more than just dying clothes anyway. Im talking about the armour that makes me look badass when im on the bloodmoor in hell blowing things up. There would need to be something more profound than just redying my green shirt black for this.

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You're right, it's crappy that the "fit better gear" minigame is so often married to the "look cool" minigame in RPGs. It's even lousier in MMO games where your appearance plays a role in your social interactions.

I read about a game that let you wear two sets of gear, one for stats and one for looks. Was it EQ2? You could have all your best rare hodge-podge of crap that boosts your performance, but have a stylish look based on some other set of gear. It allows a diverse group to present a uniform appearance, allows an individual to customize his avatar without sacrificing viability and generally improves the look of the world.

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I believe that in Everquest II (or is it Lord of the Rings Online? Dunno), you're allowed to get the stats from one set of equipment while looking like you have the other set on. It sounds popular from some of the comments about it that I read (one person said that it was the only reason they were playing that game over other MMOs). The game Guild Wars sort-of tackles this by giving you at least three types of armor to choose from that all have exactly the same stats. Since you have to buy your armor, you get to make the voluntary choice of them (as apposed to just taking whatever the random loot system gives you).

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Function is Beauty, Beauty is Function. Its been said by more than a few architects and engineers who styled themselves artists as well and I personally agree with them for the most part.

Now, the real problem in games as far as function and aesthetics goes is how it is often generated. I want my character to be a clean cut, Italian style knight. Smooth rounded edges and clean soft lines. But the designers feel that Gothic style armours are 'cooler' and therefore should be more powerful. Why? Because the spiky edges and harsh lines are 'cooler', so they get the better stats. Same with weapons, the clean, simple sword usually isn't going to be as powerful as the one with random spikes, hooks, and barbs jutting out of it.


Now, how do you solve this? Unlink your loot from a directly usable form. Present the user with an option for different weapons as loot. Simple, mundane things like armour and weapons, along side special magical items, small gem stones engraved with runes of power. Allow these to be popped in and out of your stuff, so you can customized the function of it yourself, while keeping the aesthetics you find pleasing.


You can even get rather exotic with your add in powers. Allow a limited number of upgrades to be used in a single item at a time, all one handed weapons to hold 3 or so, two handed ones to hold 5, armour to hold 4. Then, give your power ups resonance abilities. Let the player have lots of choices. Maybe use a set of 3 'lesser' power ones over another set of 3, because the lesser ones have a better resonance with each other, and together are far more powerful.

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You are actually presenting ideas similar to what i had thought of a few weeks ago and dropped thinking that gem encrusted armour and equipment might be a bit silly. I may well have been over thinking the players reaction since when in a game, the suspension of disbelief can take some pretty hard hits if the game is fun. (why do monsters and demons that are not holding items, or cant even conceivably hold items have them as loot? cus they do, and we chuckle and move on anyway.)

So, very basic stats and then addon modules of some sort to customize the items is one option. Iv also been thinking about the idea of having the loot be materials, or unusable armour that gets deconstructed by a smith and then custom armour can be made. In the process both the look and the stats get chosen by the player.

I may also add in a feature I liked from Baulder's Gate. You could choose your major and minor colors for your avatar and it colored what you were wearing appropriately. I may use such a system as well as any other look customization.

Mainly I am trying to find a way to decouple these two things, the look and the usability, so the player can have the best of both.



What about leaving the equipment very basic, but allowing the player to carry charms that add effects, like the ones from D2?

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I only skimmed over the replies, so forgive me if someone already mentioned this. You could implement a personal armor type skill. Basically, a character would become better and better at using specific armor as they wear it. Similar to the method Oblivion used, but rather than having a "light armor" and "heavy armor" skill, you would have "rough leather armor", "assassin armor", and "steel armor" skill.

So just as a proficient light armor wearer can make better use of a leather helm than a steel helm in Oblivion, a character's favorite armor style would become better and better for their own use as they use it.

I'm sure certain types would start out with higher properties or different traits, but it's not something that couldn't be overcome with enough effort. If nothing else, making good use of flashy armor would be a boast-worthy challenge. You could also add in other features to help, such as Diablo gemstone-like customizations or whatnot.

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I would just completely seperate form from function.

For example if you have a sword that give the character certain bonuses (what they are doesn't matter). However, you then let the player choose what the sword looks like.

As a designer you might have thought that the gothic spikes look cool so you include models of these kinds of weapons. As the designer you might think that the clean rounded edges and that of an Italian style knight was less cool, but you include them anyway as you were going to use them for the weak weapons.

However, what you could do is instead of making this hard coded into the idem designs, you give the player the ability to change them to any of the modles you included for that kind of sword. In essence, the player chosses the style they think is "cooler", you just provide them the means to do so.

Changin the look of an item makes no difference to the function of the item. The player still gets the saem bonuses, whether it looks like something an Italian knight would wear, or something so full of spikes and hooks that it would (in rallity) be completely useless (these are fantasy games after all).

In an mmo you might also inlcude a money sink into this by making it cost a small amount of money to make these changes. The reason being that it then becomes a social play mechanic. styles will change as players seek to make their character stand out from the rest of the crowd. But to do so costs money making anyone who can keep a head of rapidly changing styles someone of social standing (rich), just like we do in the real world.

In a single player game, having a money sink like this is not neccesary (and would probably be just annoying). But in a sinlge player game, giving a player this ability is still important as it helps them connect with the character more. It helps imersion.

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