Gamers spend hours getting every nose wrinkle and hair curl just right, but what if that didn't matter? What if your carefully tailored character looked completely different to others than it does to you? And is it worth it to preserve two distinct sets of character models if it causes a mountain of work every time a new armor set is created? This past week, the EQII team responded to a discussion about this very topic, and in this week's Tattered Notebook, we'll take a look at whether the current system needs to go!
Before we look at the third rail that EQII is about to grab onto, we need to look back a bit at the history of character models in the game and why SOE might be preparing to delve into the issue. Currently, there are two sets of models that players can choose from when rolling up a character: the original models and the SOGA models (or alternative models), the latter of which were added around the time that the Fallen Dynasty adventure pack was made. The SOGA team created the second set of models to make the game more appealing to players in Asia. There have been times when the SOGA models were actually the default models upon character creation, but currently, you have to choose to select them in order to activate them.
As with so many features in EQII, you can pick and choose which of the models you want to make SOGA and which you want to keep as the original models (there are a few races that still have only one choice, like Trolls). The caveat, though, is that if you choose the SOGA models for a particular race, you will see every character appear with that model, even though the player might have customized his character's look using the traditional model. I've always played with traditional models, but I've been guilded with many players who use SOGA, and every now and then I get a comment on how my toon looks. I know I look different under SOGA models, but even then, I never went through all of my characters to choose a look for both model types. It's just too much work.
What always surprised me is that there never seemed to be a clear consensus on which models were more popular. There are many old holdouts (like yours truly) who stick with the traditional models straight down the line, but there are also many who can't stand the old models and go SOGA all the way. Heck, there are even quite a few players who pick and choose their models, using a combination of the two. So it's a daunting task to try to get everyone to settle on one common model. Even the option of scrapping both models and creating a third one for all runs the risk of alienating players on both sides of the aisle.
I have to say, on the surface, it would seem like a crazy move to try to tackle this right now. If I didn't know better, I'd say that SOE has grown bored of past controversies like the ProSiebenSat.1 dustup and the more recent kerfuffle over shutting down the use of Station Cash cards to pay for non-recurring subscriptions and decided to proactively search out something that would get players all riled up. But when you think about it, it's actually something that's overdue for some attention. Armor assets, emotes, and animations have always been difficult to do in EQII because there are so many different races. Those who played caster classes will especially remember languishing for years with a very limited number of robe styles before getting more choices and styles. If my memory serves me right, a few years ago, the team reworked character skeletons so that all races shared one common body type, which made it easier to create new armor looks for everyone. But apparently it's still a lot of work to create new armor, and even though there is a lot of variety now compared to when the game first launched, you can still see lots of evidence of the old armor styles underneath the fresh coat of paint.
How others see us and how we see ourselves
The look of a player's avatar might seem like a non-issue, and to some, it is. For those players, we could all be brown boxes and it wouldn't change their in-game experience. But for the majority of players, it is significant because it says a lot about who we are in game and who we are out of game. Sometimes that's the same, but not always. And our character appearance shapes how others view and interact with us in game. When I finally did go to the character screen to see what my SOGA model toons looked like, I was floored because it was a vastly different representation of what I had chosen. I then realized that my friends who had built their characters with SOGA also had a different plan for their character appearance than what I was seeing on the screen. EQII is one of the few games to suffer this scenario, and there's probably a goldmine of information here about things like character identity and self-image for MMO scholars.
From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to firstname.lastname@example.org.