Monday, December 12, 2011

SWTOR Armor Appearance: Why 'unify color to chest piece' is gone, and what's next

Few of our systems seem to have generated as much passion as our 'Unify Color to Chest Piece' system. So, I'd like to shed a bit of light onto exactly what this system is, what happened to it and what is in store for it in the future. Pretty much from the start of the project, one of our goals was to solve the 'mismatched color' issue that exists in many MMORPGs. This initiative has actually been driven directly by James Ohlen, our Game Director, as this is an issue close to his heart.

Now, it is useful to understand that when artists create a new piece of armor, they always create it as part of a set. A certain pair of pants, for example, is thematically meant to go with a specific chest armor, gloves, boots, bracers and helmet. If the players always put on full sets, they would look very good indeed and the colors from the different pieces would complement each other. Of course, at any given level, players have access to many such sets and wear bits and pieces from multiple sources.

Now, in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™, we have created sets that, in many cases, are quite compatible with each other. You'll notice that, for example, Jedi Knight outfits use a lot of earthy colors that work quite well together regardless of which set they come from. Unfortunately, this is not always true – the Trooper is a good example of a class that does not look its best with mismatched pieces.

To solve this we created an option called 'Unify color to chest piece', which we also called 'Color Match'. Once turned on, the option automatically matched the color of any equipped piece of armor to the color scheme of the chest piece. This option was very popular with our testers and did solve the color clash problem, but not without introducing some issues.

While we have a policy not to give details on a system in progress, I do want to talk a little about the worst design issue we encountered. As implemented, Color Match had a subtle but ultimately perverse effect: from the moment it was turned on, the player would perceive far less diversity in their loot. In some cases, to be honest, there are only so many differences we can create between two pairs of boots apart from their color scheme.

Take away their color differences - thanks to the Color Match system - and you are left with a game that feels a bit less rewarding; where, sometimes, putting on your exciting new gear barely changes the appearance of the character. Depending on your personal preferences and your play style, this may or may not seem like much... but an MMO is a complex system of challenges and rewards and, as designers, we must stay vigilant in that regard.

So, anyway, the good news is that we are not only committed to solving the color clashing problem, we want to actually improve on the Color Matching system players experienced during Game Testing. The bad news is... well, this won't be in for launch. The system we are currently working on isn't quite done yet and has many dependencies. After taking a hard look, we decided it would be preferable to keep Color Matching turned off for launch rather than try to do a potentially messy post-launch conversion. If anything, the live changes we made during testing to other systems (like the cover system or the item modification system) have shown us how confusing switching things under people's noses can be.

This wasn't exactly an easy decision – we know how popular the feature is and how eager and vocal the community has been for its return. So, I humbly ask for your patience. The feature (or, to be exact, something I consider a better version of the feature) will return. The next time you find a particularly bad combination of armor pieces, take some screenshots - and hopefully in a few months (as always, no deadline is guaranteed), you’ll be able to tell new players "Back in my day, we had to wear those orange pants with purple boots! Uphill! Both ways! In the snow!"

As always, I’m very interested in hearing from you... I have (so far) managed to read every single post on the Item Modification system and will hopefully be able to post a follow up clarifying any concerns and questions that you have.

Emmanuel Lusinchi

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