We’ve known for quite a while that new character models for the older races would be coming to the World of Warcraft. The high polygon count, level of expressiveness, and bouncy ponytail technology available in the Pandaren race has been putting boxy Human males and unblinking Troll females to shame for the past year. Many players had been eagerly anticipating seeing new character models at Blizzcon; and many players were thrilled with what was shown in the introductory Warlords of Draenor panel as well as the ensuing art panel.
However, controversy has been brewing after Ghostcrawler stated there were currently no plans to allow free recustomizations when the new character models were implemented–something that many members of the community had been hoping for and expecting. This tweet, however, gives us hope that they will be listening to community feedback over the coming months:
And Bashiok has been community managing away on this thread on the official forums:
Again I think it’s just way too early to make a determination, and Tom certainly didn’t give a definite answer. Our artists are going to extreme lengths to ensure the new models and animations embody (kyuck knyuck?) what you know and love about your characters. Our hope (and Tom’s point) is that you log in, go AWESOME, and enjoy playing your character that still looks and moves and acts like your character – just at a much higher fidelity. If it comes down to it and we just totally miss the mark I’m sure we’d at least seriously consider offering a chance to pick something else. But again, too early to say for sure.
Before I dive into the controversy, I’d just like to go on record that I REALLY loved the models they showed at Blizzcon. Just look at that gnome female. Her eyebrows are the same color as her hair. She looks more like a moving, breathing version of the gnomes you see in concept art, official illustrations and fanart. Plus, her underwear looks sewn, not painted-on!
The origins of the controversy
There are many reasons people make the choices they do in the character creation screen. Sometimes it’s for an RP reason, because of “personality.” If you look at Blizzard’s official statements above (and almost everything else they’ve said), it’s clear that they are very focused on making sure that, if you picked your character’s face because you liked the “soul” that it conveyed, you will not be disappointed when you log in on patch day–and that is an absolutely commendable goal.
However, people also like to create characters (especially female characters) that are attractive and “pretty,” and they like to create characters (especially Humans and Blood Elves) that look like themselves. And they create those characters within the constraints of the character creation system in front of them.
For myself, my main, Syrella, is a Human. I color my hair red; she’s a natural redhead. I didn’t think any of the available faces looked too much like mine, but she’s got full lips, a button nose and an oval face, which is good enough for government work. And neither she or I ever opt for a short hair at the barbershop.
My Horde main, Syrjiki, is a Troll. She has the exact same face as almost every other female Troll player character, because Trolls only have one prettyfase available in the character creation menu.
If I was offered a recustomization, I think I would prefer to keep Syrella at the “equivalent” to what she is now (maybe with a different hairdo and smaller earrings). I think she’s got a lot of personality, and I’d like her to look more like herself than she does now, the way the male dwarf and gnome shown at Blizzcon do. Syrjiki, on the other hand, has no personality. It doesn’t help that she hardly has any facial animations, of course, but she only has that face because I didn’t want her to look ugly or old.
Limited choices & compromise
The Troll female is one of the most obvious cases where the available choices (or lack thereof) means that players feel they are compromising their vision of their character. But at least you can choose if your Troll female will be ugly, old or pretty. The screenshots below show every option available for Tauren faces: five male on the left, four female on the right, and hardly any difference of “personality” at all between them.
I do not envy the artists who, while working on the beautiful new high-polygon-count Tauren models we know are coming, are limited to reinterpreting these nine bland expressions.
We should have more faces to choose from for every race. Female Pandaren have twenty different face choices. You can be pretty, cute, both or neither, and every face has a distinct personality. For male Pandaren there are twenty-one options. And the Pandaren, unlike the older models, don’t have old or ugly faces available at all–any of these faces would be appealing to a player who wants to create an attractive (if rotund) character. Now given the sheer number of new character models we expect are coming over the course of WoD, it may be too much to ask for each race & gender to have as many face choices as the Pandaren, but it would be nice if everyone had at least as many options as the female Humans do–fifteen, including the old and ugly options.
I also know that many players would also like to be able to customize more aspects of their characters. While it doesn’t look like any variety in character body types will be coming anytime soon, Sarah Pine mentioned freckles being an option for the dwarf females available at the Blizzcon WoW demo stations. If we don’t get a free recustomization, how will Blizzard decide which female dwarves get freckles and which don’t?
Aesthetic missteps vs. low poly count
There are two different things people talk about when they say that older WoW character models are bad-looking in comparison to the modern Pandaren. The first, and most obvious, has to do with low poly count, not enough bones in the skeleton, and beards clipping into shoulders. That’s what people see when they look at gnomes, dwarves and male orcs–you can see what they were going for, and they conveyed it effectively, but the technology has moved on in the past 10 years. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these aesthetically successful characters, with a very traditional fantasy look, were the new models shown in greatest detail at Blizzcon. Those two dwarves below really do look like the same dude–the one on the left is just a better-rendered version of the exact same concept.
The low poly-count issue is one that the art team and devs are clearly abreast of, and they know how important it is to address. That is not, however, the only thing people are talking about when they complain about the Tauren model, the Human male face, or even the Worgen female. In these cases, the aesthetic sensibility brought to these races just seems off. The character models are much farther from concept art, or from how players imagine their characters “really” look. And redesigning these models is going to be a lot more work, especially given Blizzard’s apparent tight focus on creating close equivalencies to the options already available in-game.
I’ve always felt that the Tauren models in-game were a little too “gritty” and “realistic”–oddly enough, the original anthropomorphic race never seemed as cartoony and timeless as the rest of WoW. But just look at these beautiful new Tauren male stills from the art panel! If the female is even half as successful you can bet I’ll be rolling through Mulgore the moment that model is deployed.
I mean seriously, look at this guy. He’s got a personality. He’ll look great next to any Pandaren. But if Blizzard doesn’t offer us a free recustomization, there will still only be five Tauren male faces to choose from, and none of them will be allowed to diverge too far from the relatively boring choices available now. And that’s a damn shame.
Credit where credit is due: This blog post began its life as a long-winded comment on this morning’s WoW Insider Breakfast Topic. MMO-Champion compiled many blue posts I didn’t bother to quote on their blog. And I’m sure there are many other blogs, tweets and forum posts on this issue but I haven’t read them yet.