A View from Atlas Park: A Unique Look, Just Like Everybody Else

From the earliest days of CoH, long before anyone outside of Cryptic had ever seen more than a few random screenshots, people could be counted on to ask, “Can I create Spiderman in-game? He rocks!”. A close second question was “Can I customise my character’s powers to make it look like I want?”. Cryptic devs repeatedly said it was a good idea and one they would consider introducing, but when the game went live it wasn’t something available to players. Over time, players have kept up a steady tattoo (rising sometimes to a dull roar) of requests for CoH/V to introduce power customisation to enhance the already super-customisable costume system that CoH is known far and wide for. Despite some indiciations that the devs have taken some steps to develop a system that would allow for customisable powers, it is a feature that has no release expectations for the forseeable future.

But what is power customisation? Most players don’t make any distinction, instead seeing everything as linked, but there are really three different customisation systems that could be introduced. These are:

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  • Weapon Model Customisation: A number of powers within CoH/V see the characters draw weapons, be they guns, swords, claws or stone mallets. These are static models in so far as they don’t change appearance (only location) over the course of an animation. Currently it is possible, if against the EULA, to modify these models so that you (and only you) can see a different model in place of the “standard” one.

    It has already been indicated by the devs that this is the easiest type of customisation to put in place – a selection of weapon models could be designed and offered that players could choose from. All players would be able to see the changed model, so a team made up of (say) Katana Scrappers could all have different looking blades.

    This type of customisation could also potentially apply to some armours which aren’t reliant on particle effects to indicate that they are active (such as those seen in the Stone Armour powerset).

    Obviously the issue here is designing the system that lets a player choose a weapon model, then stick with that choice until another selection is made. Also, this customisation only effects a small proportion of the powers, so it may be the case that it wouldn’t be done unless power customisation was seen as important enough to go the whole hog on.

  • Power Colour Customistation: When discussion occurs around power customisation, this is what most players mean – the ability to pick the colours of your powers. This is desirable for several reasons – to make certain powers better fit a character, or to perhaps stop certain powers from dominating the visual landscape (eg the dark aura powers that easily swallow a character whole when active) – and would provide a whole new era of character customisation within CoH/V if introduced.

    The technical limitations of providing colour customisation are already well known. In developing the powers for CoH/V, the colours of powers were “hard baked” into the actual powers, meaning that every time that powerexec_[insert power here] command was executed, the same colour and particle effects would occur. Since ever power of the same kind was standardised, it would have made development of the powers easier to do.

    As much as this system has attracted the derision of certain seconds of the player base for being a stupid and short-sighted decision, it makes sense. CoH/V is already one of the most customisable MMOGs in existance, so it probably wasn’t a priority to add another layer of (what may have been seen as unnecessary and overly complex) customisation to it and hindsight is 20 / 20: if the devs knew then what they know now, they might have done things differently. As is, they got the game out the door and it was stable, with fixed colour attributes for powers.

    Positron has indicated that they have played around internally with colour customisation for powers, but that although they were happy with initial results, it would still require a lot of programmer time to be done right.

  • Animation Customisation: This is one that few people talk about directly, but if you read between the lines on a lot of forum posts, it is a highly desirable feature for CoH/V to have.

    (Author’s note – for some reason, when originally posted the second half of this article was eaten – I’m correcting this on April 2)

    Animation customisation would let you control what your character does as they perform a power. The new flight animations touch on this subject – one of the big complaints about the new flying animations was that they were random and really should be selectable by players. So the new animations got pulled until such a system could be put in place.

    Custom animations for powers sounds like a good idea, but it’s a Pandora’s box. I’ll go into that later, but at the very least it would require a lot of programmer time to pull apart animations from power effects (at least I believe it would, given what little I know about how the powers system works in-game).

  • These are the three levels of power customisation that get lumped together in a lot of discussion on the topic. Of the three, I doubt that CoH/V would ever see customised animations. Power colour customisation is a big “maybe one day”, while weapon model customisation would only come on the heels of power colour customisation.

    All in all, power customisation would eat up a lot of programmer hours for, in my opinion, little net benefit. It would make some existing players very happy no doubt, adding to CoH/V’s ability to customise characters to the Nth degree. I’m not convinced it would bring in any new players however, and may even deter some from starting – there is a point where the sheer number of decisions you’d have to make about a character could see people turned off before they even start. Also, as with a lot of things, it would be an “old” system – fully explored and accepted into the game by the players – very quickly.

    The other big issue is how min/maxers would take advantage of such a system. Should customised animations be part of the overall powers customisation system, a “best” animation for each power would be quickly determined. It might be a bit faster than the others, or perhaps not root a character where others do, but any animation that would be perceived to have an advantage over others would be quickly adopted. Also, given that powers often have set particle or graphics effects, unless those could be changed too, some animations would look very odd with some powers.

    There are other issues with powers customisation. I have no doubt that PvPers (who do play CoH/V, much as they are often ghetto-ised by others in the community) would quickly find the best colours for powers so that they couldn’t be seen against most backgrounds, making it harder to see where ranged attacks are coming from, or what auras are active, or any number of visual cues CoH/V gives.

    If any kind of customisation should go into CoH/V, I think that its the weapon model customisation that would have the most impact. Nothing but cosmetics would be changed under such a system, but giving players a range of different swords or armour appearances would add to the player experience.

    Should full (or even partial) power customisation be introduced into CoH/V, I’d certainly use such a system to enhance the individuality of my character. But is it really work the devs’ time compared to what else could be worked on ie new powersets or zone content? In my opinion, probably not.

    – UnSub [@UnknownSubject] unsub@warcry.com 30 March 2007

    A View from Atlas Park: A Unique Look, Just Like Everybody Else

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