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They Are The Champions: Character Customisation

Shayne Herrera, Cryptic's Art Development Director, has finished his presentation about the whole art side of Champions Online: its comic-shading approach which hybridizes trad-characters with cell-shading, tranforming comic-dynamic poses into action and masses more. I'm left with a single, burning question.

“Can I have an enormous head?”
“Like you do?”
“That was a set up.”

It's official. In Champions Online, you can have an enormous head.

While Shayne's presentation is fascinating, much in the way that any Art Director tends to be – one of the more thrilling presentations this year was the intense Italian Art Director of Tom Clancy's Hawx who made it clear exactly the artistic elements he was trying to invoke with the metal blues and rusty reds of the hypermilitaristic shooter – most I paid most attention to any time the magical phrase of “Character Customisation” was brought up.

Which was, basically, all the time. It appears there's going to be a lot of it.

“We're about customisation,” said Shayne, “The entire company is about customisation. Each round we go, we discover something else we can customise. What would be bad-ass to make available to the players? As we come across these cool things we go ahead and go – let's make that available to everyone.”

As anyone who saw the Male/Female/Huge toilet gag will remember, City of Heroes allowed you three body types which you can scalea little. “In this game we don't have this,” says Shayne, “They're all built on the same mesh. We can take the character who's seven foot tall and make him eleven-foot tall. You can take a character that's 150lbs and make him 500lbs.” In other words, Champions actually only has two body types: Male and female and then you can do whatever the hell you want with them.

 I wonder if he has a big head? I suppose that'll be a new line of questioning for developers - so, your - yes - your character has this skillset and bump-mapping and millions of polygon. But what about his cock? How much meat is he packing? RPS demands to know.

He shows four character, three males. One standard-ish hero, something a lot more rangly and an alien sort with a squat tubular body, arms which stretch to the floor and tiny legs. Shayne stresses they're all built in from the same mesh. “You can take these characters and mix and blend these characters into any sort of physical make up you want them to be,” he says, “The only thing we can't do is make one leg or one arm longer than the other.” More standard options like being able to adjust the facial dimensions – chin, eyebrows, ears, jaw-line. More impressive is something we saw hyped for the forthcoming APB. That is, tattoos and decals being able to be put on the body, and moved to wherever you want. There's more body aspects too. “You can make a character that's big with low amounts of muscle definition. Or you can change it so he's ripped,” says Shayne, before pointing at me, “Like you”.

He's correct. I am pretty fucking ripped.

Moving away from my physical perfection, the game moves into unknown areas for MMO-customisation. Namely, animation. “Your character could be a lumbering brutish character or it could be a hovering mystical character. Or they can have beast walk on all fours,” he says, “What we allow you to do is to have a library of animation stances that let you change all of the non-combat stances” So how you walk and move is entirely up to you. “As we develop further along, they'll be more stances available,” he says, “Like Programmers.”

He's joking. Or maybe he isn't. As the list of elements continues, it's increasingly hard to tell.

Take the fabrics, for example. “You'll be able to customise...” he starts, “Well, if you have metal on your body, you can actually change that to leather. You can change that to cloth. You can pick the designs that I'd see on that thing.” The plan being is to continue this as far as they can. “Each week, really, there's more customisation,” he says, “As we move forward, the idea will be we'll find better ways to customise your animation.” For example, he describes admiring the facial animations in the Incredibles. “We feel like we get just that feeling,” he says, somewhat proudly, “A lot of MMOs don't have facial animations, and the ones that do don't really look that good. It almost detracts from what you are trying to accomplish.” And, according to the Cryptic leitmotif, you can pick them. “You will be able to actually pick your facial animations and expressions,” he says, “You could say your character is sad, so you pick a sad expression that sits on their face. Or angry.”

Nice Helmet.

Which leads to the obvious question – what about the powers? Here he's almost coy, while making it clear that it's an area they're following. “When you start to customise your character. When you start to customise your stance. When you start to customise your facial expressions...” he says, “I can guarantee we're not going to stop there.” So, yes, some kind of power customisation. They were hardly not going to. “There's going to be more customisation than what I've told about, as that's the nature of the beast.” he says, “ But when you're able, at some level, to customise your powers, all of the sudden you have a character that feels /entirely/ like yours. Even if two characters have the same powers, they're going to look different, their emotions are going to be different.”

In other words, it sounds like the new definitive character creator and the sort of thing you could imagine as a stand-alone post-Spore Creature Creator package in and of itself. My only reservation is that while the results are shown, the creator itself was kept under wraps. I didn't see any of these elements in action. But, with Cryptic's record, I'm inclined to believe them.

After all: I don't like to imagine that I couldn't have a totally enormous head. Yeah, Shayne? Can I have an enormous head?

“You could have an extra large head,” says Shayne, “One of the technical artists here made me. And it was What the Heck! So I made him with a giant head and a zombie walk.”

And, as a bad person, any character creator which can double up as a tool for bullying workmates strikes me eminently desirable.

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