Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Class Body

Chas' recent post at Righteous Orbs got me thinking about a few things (unsurprisingly—it's a thought-provoking post). The thing I want to write about here is about body shapes in games, and how they relate to the character's role in the game. I'm going to use World of Warcraft for my examples in this post as it's the game I'm most faimilar with.

In most role-playing games, the character you play uses the same basic model regardless of what class it is, and as Chas noted, they're invariably well-build musclemen if male, or "sexy" if female. Naturally there are exceptions: I don't think female orcs, trolls or tauren (or even dorfs) in WoW are supposed to be "sexy", and apparently Blizzard's artists consulted real actual women when designing the Horde females. Imagine that! Maybe it explains why the Horde women are able to stand upright, rather than walking around dragging their fists on the floor.

To use a rather extreme example of body-to-role mismatch, let's look at the male draenei:

Comparison of male draenei mage and warrior characters.

Clearly one is a HULK SMASH melee fighter and the other is a sissy robe-wearing flinger of girly magic.

My first character in WoW was a rogue. Rogues are supposed to be sneaky-stealthy types who stab people in the back and then vanish if things get too confrontational. They do not take hits to the face very well at all. And yet, because my rogue was male and human, he was build like Conan the Barbarian, which really grates rather.

My second character was a priest, and this time I made it female. It took a lot of fiddling to come up with one that didn't look like an empty-headed bimbo.

Caera the human female priest.

I fully intended her to be a shadow priest, hence the serious face. Alas, her voice doesn't match her appearance in the slightest: she sounds like a bimbo in the same way that my rogue sounds like an 80s action movie character.

Coming from the other end of the spectrum we have the female characters in melee fighter or tank roles. Female blood elves are notoriously thin, and even kitted out in plate armour they look frail, so much so that they looks out of place up front getting smacked in the face by a boss. It's rather silly to imagine them being able to hit as hard, and take hits as hard, as someone three times larger and heavier than they are.

A male orc and a female blood elf, both of whom can tank.

His forearms are thicker than her waist.

Make It Fit

So what could be done about this? I think it's quite simple, at least conceptually: make it so your character's body shape reflects the role it performs. Tanks and plate-wearing melee fighters would be stocky and strong-looking, regardless of whether they were male or female. Rogues and hunters would be lithe and agile, relying on stealth, subtlety and accuracy of attacks rather than brute force. And finally, spellcasters would be thin and physically weak-looking, reflecting their inability to do any meaningful physical damage. Hybrid classes like shaman, druids and paladins could simply have their body shape determined by their primary talent tree (although this may introduce oddness should a player re-spec, unless the body shape adjusted over a few days or something).

I imagine this might annoy some players (anything will annoy someone), so it could easily be made an option - some people might not like the idea of a tough-looking female character, or a thin and weak-looking male. Still, it would be nice to have the option to control a character that actually looks like they would be performing their role.


A reply to Chas' post brought up another point related to my post: animations. As things are now, if you make a priest melee something with a mace, they'll do it in exactly the same way as a warrior, paladin or shaman. The jumping animation, the running animation, it's the same across all the classes for a particular race/gender set.

This, however, is not something I can get too worked up about, as it starts to wander into development constraints territory. Animation is expensive and time-consuming, and creating a different animation for every class, race and sex combination could well be prohibitively so given the relatively minor difference it would make. That's not to say I think it's a bad idea; in fact I'd love Blizzard to do something like that—it's not like they're short of money—but I just don't feel they'd see it as worth the effort, which is a shame. It's small details like that which can really help immersion, even if they're not immediately obvious.


  1. Perhaps they key here is player *choice*. I'd hate to feel I was stereotyped as being weedy for choosing to play a caster, if that makes sense, but being able to have a little choice in your body type would be fantastic I think.

    I mean, y'know, in the MMO of life I'm clearly a caster but although I'm don't look like a Draenei I do exercise; I'm reasonably strong and I definitely wouldn't be confident of my ability to do damage in a fist fight, I don't look like I'd snap if you pushed me over.

    Of course, I suppose the attendant problem to this is that male characters might have strong, lithe and skinny to choose from, and female characters would inevitably end up with a choice between sexy and fat...

  2. I'd think it'd have to be an option to make it optional, else as I said people are bound to complain.

    I suppose the issue is the implementation: does it happen automatically, or do Blizzard complicate the character design screen with sliders for controlling body shape? I know some people like to spend a lot of time tweaking things to create the perfect avatar, whereas some just want to click Random and go, Kum what may. Perhaps there could just be an "Advanced" toggle or something.

    As to the choices of body type, if there were simply sliders for "thickness" and "height" then perhaps that would offer enough range to head off most complaints.

  3. I don't think it would add much complexity to the character design screen to add a simple body type slider. In fact LOTRO has it, and I think Guild Wars too (if I remember rightly GW also allows you to set the height of your character).

    As you know I started playing LOTRO again last week, I created a Lore-master (wizard/magey type fellow) and made him quite slim because that's how I thought he should look. It didn't make the character design any more complicated or take much more time, and I think it would also make characters a little more unique looking and players may feel a bit more attached to them, especially those into RP.

  4. I agree with some of the other commenters that some simple sliders would do a world of good. A lot of games these days have it and I'd love to see WoW implement the same. Then you can choose yourself what kind of body-type your character has, so if you're a mage you can choose to be scrawny if you want to.