Thursday, May 24, 2012

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3 Ways Diablo 3's Lack of Avatar Customization Fails Players

Diablo matching avatars
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of virtual world and MMO fashion

Diablo III launched last week to plenty of fanfare (and server downtime). Now the auctions are booming, the servers have stabilized, and friends are eagerly adventuring together in the game's seamless multiplayer mode. Well, seamless unless you and your friend happen to be playing the same class and gender, that is. More often that not, you and your friend will look like identical twins, especially early on in the game. That's a pretty big problem with Diablo III, especially at a time when other online games offer so many more options.

Here's three key ways that Diablo III's avatars fall short for players:

Pre-defined characters make it hard to pick yourself out of the crowd

Rather than giving Diablo characters any appearance choices when they create their character, Blizzard has opted to put the entire burden of customization on equipment. Early on in the game, your equipment choices can be very limited, so you and a friend of the same class and race have a good chance of being nearly indistinguishable from each other. This wouldn't be a big deal in a first person perspective game, or even a third person perspective game where the camera is suspended just behind your character, but Diablo III's isometric view makes it very easy to lose track of your avatar, particularly in moments of chaotic combat. Simple changes to character creation, like something as straightforward as hair color choices, would all but eliminate this issue. More importantly it would be a happy medium between single player-style predefined characters and the MMO-style multiplayer gameplay that the game is built on.

Diablo Char Select

Limited equipment meshes mean less loot variety (in a game all about loot variety!)

As I mention, the more you progress in Diablo III, the more diverse your equipment will become, through looting, shops, and the player auctions. Diablo wouldn't be Diablo without the loot, right? The problem is that the more gear I saw, the more underwhelmed I was by it. Obviously I don't expect every single piece of equipment to be unique, because it would be too resource intensive to be practical, but I was still very disappointed in how often meshes repeat themselves. Most of the rare drops I found or bought were no different, using the same meshes but occasionally dyed a random different color. Not only does this contribute to the issue of distinguishing your character from a fray of friends as I mentioned above, but it can really take the wind out of your sails when you battle an epic boss to get a super-awesome rare exclusive amazing magical drop... that looks nearly identical to your old gear.

Dyes are hit or miss

Guild Wars 2 Dyeing

I was very excited to hear about the dyeing feature in Diablo III, based on my experiences with Guild Wars 2's versatile gear dyeing system (pictured on the right). Maybe Guild Wars 2 has spoiled me, but Diablo's dyeing system fell far short of my expectations. The problem is that there's really no way to know which parts of your gear will be dyed and which parts won't. For one style of lower armor I frequently see on my demon hunter character, dye may apply to the leg-armor only while leaving the rest untouched, which means that you have a good chance of looking like a mismatched mess even if you dye every piece of equipment the same color. Compare this to Guild Wars 2's dyeing system, where most clothing has more than one colorable area. This gives you considerably more freedom and makes it significantly easier to coordinate your outfit before venturing out into the world.

All this may seem trivial in the face of the insanely popular Diablo series, and the game's sales definitely aren't hurting because of these issues, but the bar is steadily being raised for character customization in multiplayer games. Hopefully, Blizzard will add some more customization in future updates. Because sooner or later, even the oldest franchises will need to do some adapting -- or risk falling into obsolescence.

Mixed_reality_iris2010 Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.


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Polish auto

Very disappointed


It's a real mystery to me how Blizzard - a game studio famous for it's polished, well designed and user friendly games (in fact to many of us it's the best of the best) - fails in character customization every time. I remember when WoW came out, how disappointed I was that clothing and armor could not be dyed. I'd already been spoiled by years of Ultima Online which had long been offering hundreds upon hundreds of dye colors. Everyone looked unique in UO. But WoW had none of that, and instead we were left with trying to get a reasonable looking outfit together - which has usually been a challenge due to the wince worthy styles they had. It was only a while ago that they finally came out with Transmogrification. Well at least we now have that.

So to see them do a sub par job in Diablo where customization is concerned although everything else about the game is kick ass? Not a surprise to me.

So far I've only been playing the single player storyline, but will most likely get into multiplayer stuff later on and be just as peeved as you. Thanks for posting about this!

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