Alpha Art Woes: Sex-Crazed Elves

[I didn't finish the blog post that was supposed to go up today, so here's some gripes about temporary art problems in the MMO I'm developing.]

A lot of the art in my game needs to be cheap prefabricated stuff. The monsters and animals and houses and so on are getting bought from websites like this one. The quality is usually very good, but no company has enough art to meet all my requirements, so there ends up being a bit of “art style clash” when using prefab art from multiple sources. I don’t like this, but I can’t really do anything about it. I’m trying to minimize it the best I can, and hope it isn’t too noticeable.

I do have a budget for custom 3D art, but it’s almost entirely allocated for the player characters. No prefab art seems even remotely usable for player characters. This is very frustrating. But I’m not buying custom art until after I get feedback from the first alpha version, so I know exactly what I need. In the mean time, I need a placeholder race!

The ideal player-character race meets these requirements:

  • Comes with lots of useful animations (like stabbing and sitting and picking up items)
  • Has both male and female models (and roughly identical animations for both)
  • Has different possible appearances (so I can code & optimize dynamically-streamed appearance skins)
  • Has detachable weapons and armor (so I can code all of that)

I never found anything that met all these requirements. The best I found were these male and female elf warriors. Here they are in my prototype character-generation screen:

Male alpha-version character

Male Hero

Female alpha-version character

Female hero

They meet all the requirements except one: they don’t have detachable armor. Their entire appearance is on one texture, so you pick the skin and clothes at the same time, and you can never change either. A pity.

However, the weapons are detachable. And they meet all my other requirements — I’ve found nothing else that meets more than two of the four requirements above.  So apparently this is what I’m using for my alpha version! (Unless somebody can point me to something better…)

Yes: this means that players who help me pre-test the game will have to be an elf in tacky battle gear, 24/7. That wasn’t precisely the vibe I had in mind for my game. I didn’t even have elves in my game’s back story, actually.

But being an indie means rolling with the punches. And sure… okay, yeah, I can work with this. And maybe they’ll even be a permanent part of the game. If my custom artwork turns out to have a roughly similar style, maybe these elves will stay in the game as an NPC race.

It’s actually pretty fun to work around art limitations — they create barriers to work around. So my back story changed quite dramatically and now includes elves… all because of this temporary artwork.

Sexy Sexy Elves

So all is good, right? Aside from never being able to see any difference when you switch armor, this meets all the expectations of a playable race. They can have different heights, weights, genders, skin tones, different weapons. That’s more than adequate for now.

But I do dislike that every single PC and NPC lives their entire life in armor. And even worse, apparently nobody told the females how to actually dress for combat. They only put armor on their arms. We have to call this what it is: classic old-school video game sexism.

It bugs me a lot. (It bugs me in WoW too, for the record, but I’m not making WoW. I’m making this game, and I want it to not suck.) But I can’t fix it, so I used lampshade hanging. Then I decided that maybe they don’t need armor: they’re elves, so magical jewelry is what protects them. In that case, the males’ armor is really just ceremonial, and probably made of some super lightweight material. There, problem solved. At least for alpha.

I knew I’d have to deal with the oversexed elves before I even bought the models. But when I got them into the game, I noticed something else about the females:

high heels

Oh come on, high heels?

They’re all wearing high heels. Come on! That’s a step too far for me. I can’t imagine a woman sitting down to play my game, creating a female elf character, and then getting in and realizing that she has to live her entire virtual life in high heels. This is why we can’t have nice players.

Argh!

Okay, okay. Sigh. I can’t change the art, and I don’t have better art that meets my requirements, so I have to just deal for now.

But it’s distracting. I’m making a city for the elves to live in, and over time this ridiculous sexualization has seeped into its culture. Whenever I create a female shopkeeper or a quest giver or anybody else, they’re hypersexualized. I know I should have ignored their appearance, but when writing dialog for a woman in a slut suit, it’s really hard not to write them as being really kinky.

So I finally decided to run with it. I decided the elven race as a whole is just really sex-addled. They constantly talk about sex. They have inappropriate conversations about it everywhere. They obsess about it. That’s why they never stop being sexy, even when cooking, even when fighting, even when sleeping.

While it’s instantly clear that females are walking sex symbols, the males might be able to go about their lives without having to feel too oversexed. So I fixed that with NPC dialog. Turns out male elves all have very long penises. Two of them. Oh, you can’t see it in the model because their clothes are on, but everybody talks about it (and about how odd those humans are, with their one-penis anatomy). Tada!

Yes, that’s real content. I made it mostly out of frustration. I kind of doubt it will stay in the game, because of how conservative the US culture is about this sort of thing. Heh… but weirder things have happened.

I guess the point of this pointless post is that it’s actually very hard for indies to not be sexist in a gaming culture that assumes sexism is mandatory. I’ve seen dozens of female models for sale; the number of those with appropriate clothes on can be counted on one hand. This obligatory sexualisation of women is not easy to fight as an indie.

The other point is that if you know of any art that meets the above requirements, I would love to hear about it. Even if it’s just temporary art for the alpha. Please drop me a line.

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11 Responses to Alpha Art Woes: Sex-Crazed Elves

  1. Stark says:

    Tragic to hear this. I don’t know why, but I assumed that Gargoyle was going to be 2D. Maybe for the ease and freedom of art?

    Seeing that this is the art direction you have to take reminds me of any time I get ideas as an amateur board/video/anything game designer. You can have the most amazing ideas, perfect programming, but your art style defines 50% of your customers reaction & success.

    IMO, you should pick something even simpler for temporary art, don’t let the silly clothing seep into the design.

    And btw, really love and prefer hearing regular updates on a real project rather than random punditry. I read your blog for design thoughts, not reaction to what already exists. Loving the Gargoyle series.

  2. Gretchen says:

    Ahhh yes the good ol’ gamer gender dimorphism, supersized with an extra helping or two of dimorphism. Those are exactly the kind of costumes that make me move on when looking for a new game. (I actually evaluated a bunch of F2Ps recently with a playgroup looking for a new home and rejected many on costume choices alone.) It’s not just me; I had trouble talking my husband into playing WoW, which I was already into, because the armor was so absurd, even though it’s tame in comparison to a lot of games. Oddly the cloth armor in WoW has better coverage than the plate, that sturdiest of all armor which mysteriously leaves out midriff protection on women.

    I have to say that the double penises on the male elves turns it around for me, and having BOTH genders be sex-crazed and sexualized, likewise. I’d still demand thongs on the boy elves once it was out of alpha if you were going to keep it sexy; the constant female eye-candy is far less offensive if it’s matched by male eye-candy. And no, I do not mean big swords. For some reason in action games, making a male more action-worthy with better weapons, armor, and muscles is somehow considered equivalent with making a female more sexualized. Those are different meanings of the word ‘action.’ For clarity, if I am playing a physical combat character in an action game, I like to feel like my character’s gear and body type is suited for the ‘hit people with sticks’ kind of action. Having actually run in high heels, I know how hard it is to run in high heels. (My favorite part of that screen shot is that it is high heels on GRASS.)

    Really, you already had me at permanent werewolf curses and mushroom farming, but running with the absurdity of these hideous models is going the extra mile. Not that I wouldn’t prefer races that weren’t hypersexualized elves, but if that’s what you have to work with, somehow adding that extra penis makes it work.

    I really wish I knew of good art for this, and I really wish that sexuality in games wasn’t so slanted for the male gaze. Sexy isn’t automatically bad, and I will happily play sexy characters in environments where I won’t be unceasingly harassed for it, but when it’s so relentlessly only for the consumption of heterosexual males then it becomes sexist. Interestingly, I have also found that in games that are more balanced in their portrayal of sexuality, I am less likely to be harassed for playing a sexy character (or for playing a woman at all, sexy or no.)

    Off the elf page there was a link to ‘realpeople seniors’ at http://vimeo.com/24684494 and they have a nice array of outfits and animations, but I don’t think they can carry weapons. You could have an alternate race of elderly monks? … in sweaters? I am pretty sure those would clash terribly with the elves, but now I am imagining a conversation between one of those sweater-wearing seniors and a kinky elf shopkeeper, and it is hilarious. It’s also fun to come up with reasons why only the seniors adventure.

    As an art-hungry aside, I’d love to be able to play actual elderly body types in a live game, not just a stock Barbie doll with a few wrinkles slapped on the face and grey hair. That’d be perfect for my mushroom farmer! Let me add to the art-hungry wishlist: muscular females, males who are not bodybuilders with disturbingly huge arms and hands, androgynous males and females, and human (or at least human-like) people with a BMI over 20. More variation of body type within a race, in general, would be *awesome*. Maybe if it’s hard to have so many models, instead of having 12 races with single body types, 3 races with four body types each and lots of culture and color options? Or is it that hard to just put in sliders in modern games?

  3. Expert novice says:

    Best blog entry ever by anyone.

    Please use whatever you can find the sooner I can play a Druid who dabbles in myco speak, the sooner the world is a better place.

    Onward to the new era!

    Ps your a genius and my hero.

  4. Jonathan B says:

    I wonder if there’s anything in Daz3D that could help you. Not my area of expertise at all, so that’s about as much of a suggestion as I can give you. http://www.daz3d.com

  5. Jim Hardin says:

    This seriously made me laugh out loud…and was informative too! Good post!

  6. Gretchen says:

    I really don’t know if this will be useful for you other than maybe textures and buildings, but I just stumbled across http://opengameart.org/

  7. Akjosch says:

    Did you check other game’s modding sites for models? A lot of them have high-quality models with very lax licences. For example, the HGEC female models for Oblivion (http://www.tesnexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=15802) are basically CC-BY, there is a ton of clothing and animations available for it as well, and they can be easily imported into Blender and exported into whatever format the game needs.

  8. Eric says:

    Thanks for the ideas guys! I haven’t looked at opengameart.org yet. I did spend a long time looking through the Elder Scrolls archives on your suggestion. Some great stuff in there, but when I drilled all the way back to the origin it seems that it’s mods of meshes that came from The Elder Scrolls, not completely original work, so I’m worried about getting into trouble there if I use it for something outside of the game it came from.

    Still looking through things though… there’s lots of material to dig through.

  9. Spinks says:

    I’m having this awful feeling now that I did once read a fantasy novel where male elves had two penises …

  10. BryanM says:

    …. you should run with this. Become the new Furcadia. This will be your niche. You know you want this.

    And what’s with the hate on high heels? They’re weapons. When she mounts her triple donged moon pegasus, she’ll be extra sturdy in her stirrups.

  11. I guess using Club Penguin style graphics is out of the question? What about shooting for something low-poly. Pixelated graphics have been done to death, but I think there’s a place for artfully done low poly models. If you use good shading it could be something interesting.

    I’m reminded of Love http://www.quelsolaar.com I think there’s room in that space for more artistic possibilities.