Character customization and development in Warhammer

As I recently commented on Lum’s blog, Warhammer may have the best implementation of “age” in a mmorpg, as I agree with Ubiq that it’s one of those bad ideas that just don’t die.

The way this system is implemented in Warhammer is instead interesting because it adds something without leading to other problems. Already in other games like Star Wars Galaxies (and UO too?) the physical appearance of your character wasn’t just defined and then locked as the character was created, but could be modified later on via other professions, like the “image designer”.

In Warhammer the idea is that “age”, “look” and “level” will be tied together in one progression. So not only you gain levels, but you’ll also see your character age and also further specialize his look. So that dwarves will grow longer beards or braids and so on. It’s a good idea on its own because it just adds more customization without really having an active role in the gameplay. It creates a better bond between the player and the character, but without the “age” becoming a negative element that eventually cripples your character and wastes all the time and dedication you put into it.

It also makes the players more recognizeable, as you would be able to identify a new character from one who has seen already many battles.

This is why I started to think that the idea of a “customization-in-progress” of your character would match prefectly the other idea I suggested about the recruit system (the second one). The problem is that with a linear customization, as the one Mythic suggested, all the “uniqueness” of your character is kinda lost. Why? Because the zones are tiered (I think). Every ten levels you move to the next “tier” zone. So you’ll always be surrounded by characters that more or less have the exact same customization choices you had as well.

The surprise and interest about seeing a veteran player passing by and looking much different would be lost, because all the players will be likely instanced around their levels, so that veteran player will never share the same space of lower level players and be admired for his unique look. The kind of awe that you feel looking at something still far away from your own achievement and that adds so much “flavor” and uniqueness to the game won’t be there. The fact that the player can further customize the character as it gains levels is a good idea, but it would be so much better if new and old players could play *together*. Emphasizing that differentiation.

It’s like if you are in a room filled with people that all have the same height. The customization loses its value if you are surrounded by people all alike, even if you know that outside there are rooms with people with different heights. But if in the same room you can have people of all different heights, then the customization becomes much, much more interesting. A value for the players, a way to actively differentiate themselves and even acquire “status”, because a veteran characters would be suddenly recognized.

But if you move linearly from zone to zone, this is lost, because the progessive customization will be staggered with those zone/tiers. As I tried to explain in the example above. Rooms where all players look alike because they are sharing the exact same moment/progress, instead of giving a value to the unuiqueness that would be possible if different kinds of characters shared the same space.

My idea plugs directly here. Instead of moving “forcefully” from one zone to the other as your character gains levels, the idea is to give the player a CHOICE. He would have the choice to move to the new zone or continue playing where he is. In this last case, THE PROGRESS ISN’T LOST. The player continues to earn experience and levels, but what he gains is only “archived” on his character. Then, as the character leaves the zone, the player will be prompted to bump his character up to his “real” level.

This means that instead of moving from one zone to the other without the possibility to visit again the places you left, you would just unblock the zones, progressively, having them ALL available once unlocked. As the character enters a lower level zone, the system would delevel it to respect the level range of that zone. If your character is level 40 this means that you would be able to access all the zones from level 1 to 40.

Now, why a player would decide to play in a lower level zone? In other games if you do this, you gain zero experience. In DAoC you can disable your experience so that you can continue playing in a Battleground you like. But this would mean that you don’t progress anymore. And you also have no way to access a Battleground below your level, so you can only enter one and only one. But not in my idea. In my idea your character continues to earn progress as if he was playing normally. A character could be active in a zone capped at level 10 and that character would continue earning experience that would be counted toward higher levels. That experience and progress is archived by the system. The character won’t break the level cap of the zone, but as he leaves it, he would be prompted to be bumped up to his real, current level. So no progress would be lost.

I explained better this idea and its goals in the post I linked, but in this case I’m looking at it from the perspective of character customization. The point is: the characters would be level capped to be balanced with the players in that zone (like a “mentoring” system applied to a whole zone), but this could still take full advantage of the character customization described above.

While the characters would be delevelled to respect the cap, the progress made on the physical appearance could be preserved without unbalancing the game. See what I mean? New and veteran players could play side by side in this system and the customization would have a whole new value. Veteran players would be easily recognized as their graphical “perks” would be easily noticeable. A longer beard won’t unbalance the game, of course, but it would become itself a valuable “trophy”. A recognized status. And players love these things.

I reproposed this idea recently on Corpnews. The idea is that not only you have the choice of playing in a lower level zone without losing progress. But there would be incentives doing so, with every zone having something unique to offer and to achieve.

Since it’s shaped around PvP, let’s say that to move to the next zone you need to score about 100 kills. Ok, the idea is that you can get those 100 kills and have enough experience to move to the next tier, continuing to level up. Or you can stay in that zone for another 1000 kills. Why? Maybe because there are special armor sets and perks to unlock and “collect”. Every zone would have some of those and the players could decide to just continue levelling up their characters, or instead try to collect all the special sets.

As I explained on Corpnews these would be an “horizontal” type of reward. Not more powerful gear to farm, but just unique *looking* gear to farm. “Trophies”. Something to reward your dedication to that particular Battleground and make your character unique. A symbol of status.

If all these ideas would be implemented the game would have three customization paths:

– Class specializations, levels, skills and spells (linear and progressive)
– Physical features/decorations (linear and progressive)
– Special armor sets, trophies, medals and “status” items (parallel)

But without those ideas the scope of the costomization that Mythic planned would be weakened. Because new and veteran players wouldn’t be able to play side by side, making the “status” and customization earned kind of redundant as you would be always surrounded by players that share your exact same progress.

(some more precisations here)

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