[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)
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:
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.
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.