Vanguard, unibodies, unianimations and the Philosophical Stone that turns digitalized stones into real gold! All true!

I’m not at the AGC but this is my rant.

One of the most popular discussions at the moment about Vanguard is the choice of using “unibodies”. It sounds as the most irrelevant detail you could discuss about a game, instead it’s the one between those that will matter more and that will be brought up more often.

What’s a “unibody”? Well, it’s just a fancy term to define the design choice to share the same “body” for each character’s race while only changing the scaling (which is as simple as setting a variable) and the head plugged on that body.

This means that all the playable races in the game will look alike, but it also means that it is much easier to create armors and clothes as they don’t need to be race-specific or tweaked to fit the different models and silhouettes.

Imho the compromise is completely unacceptable and the real, deeper reason is similar to the old debate about the balance between handcrafted and generated content. The reason is only one: not using “unibodies” and “unianimations” would actually force the developers to, you know, DO SOMETHING.

Since there’s nothing new under the sun, I can draw from very old forum posts that I happned to reread recently:

SirBruce: The first panel I went to was “The Right Content Mix” with Starr Long, Rich Vogel, and Jason Durrell. The panel debated what was the right mix of static vs. dynamic content in MMOs

HRose: Oh my god. These guys are able to repeat the same theme for every conference?

They aren’t intelligent enough to realize that “the right mix of static vs. dynamic content” is ALREADY a wrong premise that won’t bring anywhere?

Yeah, like if there’s a “right mix” of doing and not doing your work. Or the right mix between good and bad art. Or the right mix of content and lack of it.

“How can we do the less possible and make money?”

If you START from that premise, you’ll never go anywhere. This is very close to what Rob Pardo wrote and that I quoted. You don’t polish later. You polish from the beginning. It’s a mindset. The “culture of polish” he speaks about and that is the MAIN DIFFERENCE between Blizzard and EVERY OTHER MMORPG STUDIO OUT THERE. Every single one.

Create art and style that is specific to a race. You know, *content*. You know, what the players are supposed to pay for, instead of just a hole with nothing into it if not an excuse to ask for money.

Even Valve with Team Fortress 2 has understood how important is the “typization” of the characters, how important is to have recognizeable silhouettes.

We pay to have lore, to see beautiful locations, the consistence of a fantasy world. Giving each race unique-looking models and animations is part of the same creation process. It is *what we pay for*. It is part of the “value” that the developers are going to sell.

So yes, if each race, and even sex, needs unique models and animations it means that the devs will have to work on that. But, hey. That’s what they are paid for.

If now WoW raised the bar and player’s expectations for every other mmorpgs out there, then I’m HAPPY. Because others developers won’t get away with their horrible design choices. And all those attempts at creating “fun” random generated content will fail horribly.

It’s not so far away from what Lum ranted about:

The primary task of an MMO provider is, again, to provide the MMO.

Yeah. And the secondary task is to provide the content. You CANNOT get away without doing that. You cannot find “shortcuts” because there are no goddamn shortcuts. There is no game that builds itself if not as a stupid, ingenuous dream that many in the industry share.

The better is the content, the more work goes into it, the more the game will be successful. Well deserved success.

As I wrote in a comment there isn’t a single mmorpg out there that I think deserved more than what it got. Nor a mmorpg that deserved less than what it got. WoW is up there, far away, because that gap is a gap of QUALITY. Concrete quality. No PR stuff or brand or whatever. It’s *quality*. Quality, hard work and dedication that paid back.

If mmorpg developers decide to take the shortcuts then the players will see. If you flip the pages of a book and there’s a blank one, you will notice. YOU WON’T GET AWAY WITH THAT.

As in the “emperor’s new clothes” story, the king is naked.

Continue that way. Right along with the generated and player created content. All stupid excuses to find ways to sell a VOID. Tho sell the LACK of something. The “Philosophical Stone” that turns digital rocks into real gold.

About the unibodies and unianimations, this is another very old discussion. So interesting to reread nowadays (and at least acknowledge how what I write long ago stands the test of time):

Raph: The tradeoff is that SWG permits greater animated expressiveness for every race. This is, again, mostly a matter of taste. There are technical challenges both ways as well, of course. In WoW, tying each animation set to each character type means that you have to assume a budget for animations equal to having every animation set on screen. That almost certainly means less animations total in the game. It eats into your skeleton budget, and requires greater animation time, of course, which could have been spent somewhere else. In SWG, you lose distinctiveness per species. This gets spent instead on character customization…

HRose: I like way better WoW approach. I don’t need “fluff”. I feel more important an unique feel of my character than setting the pattern of my beard. The only thing I’d change in WoW is the possibility to set an height. That’s it. Specific animations really give you a different “feel” of the character, imho. More than the control of details that create lag, problems to the netcode and are barely noticeable by anyone aside you.

Raph: Yeah, to me the Tauren walk is the fluff, and the beard matters to me. *shrug*

I’m sure out there you can find someone who believes that WoW’s success is only due to the race-specific /dance emotes. Of course it’s an exaggeration, but even today part of what people are interested about the expansion is the new dance emotes for the two new races. Go again to read what Rob Pardo writes about “polished features”.

SWG didn’t have the unibodies, but it did have the unianimations. And it sucked. Vanguard will have both unibodies and unianimations.

Brad McQuaid: “Given the fact that we’re likely the only other AAA MMOG for the year 2007 means that we can do no less.”

Eheh, come back in a year and tell me I was wrong: “Warhammer will be more successful than Vanguard”.

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