Ingame Aesthetics and Items

If you’ve played some Role Playing Games where you get to customize your looks like TESV: Skyrim or Fallout series, maybe you have had the dilemma of “using a strong armor” or “look good”. In this blog post I want to talk more about how these design decisions affect game-play, or do they not.

Looks vs Utility

Imagine this scenario. You buy a game and pre-load it. You are waiting to decrypt it on steam so you can play it. After waiting 30 minutes its ready for you to play and you boot the game. You see the intro which you have seen before the release. You click play and after a short intro you are allowed to customize your character. How much time do you actually spend customizing the character?

Also do you think it matters in the long run? Many AAA RPG’s allow you to play the game either in third person mode or the first person mode. The first person mode allowing a higher immersion in the game but you can’t see the character. The third person mode allows you to have a nice sense of the surrounding and get immersed.

Higher strength armor looks visibly strong and players tend to stick to it because as the game progresses, it is not easy to survive with a light armor.

So coming back to the question, does the character aesthetics matter? Personally I feel they don’t matter much. Generally players tend to find themselves with the characters and customize them very close to their looks and views. Either how they look or how they wished they look. But it is still very close to their self. I read this article talking about the “Psychology of Video Game Avatars” that talks more about why people tend to do that. So thought people try to make a custom avatar, they tend to get the best armors and parts that work well and at the same time feel empowered as they tend to associate themselves with these characters.

So how does this effect designing and the aesthetics?

I feel, if these items blend well with the game theme, it increases the immersion. Having a cybernetic armor in a game from medieval times takes it away from the game theme and makes it feel off even if the player can see it or not. At the same time if the item is over powered, there is still a chance that people might use it by not caring about anything.

Another thing to consider is the audience. In one of the previous posts I had written bout demographics, audience and community. The game made is for these three sects that may or may not be pleased with the theme and items which leads to people making custom mods to satisfy their needs and liking’s. 

Take the game Fallout 4 for example where, there are crazy and amazingly themed armors that scale well with the theme and are aesthetically pleasing at the same time. But you end up using a bigger tactical armor for most part of the game during combat that hides it. I myself play the game for the story but I have spent more time on building than story and I make sure I am in a 3rd person mode with items that I like so that I can take great screenshots. Maybe someone else plays just the story and completes the side missions in the tactical armor and don’t even go in 3rd person mode. Every person has a different perspective.

As a designer, I would try to theme everything really well and play-testing with a wide audience from a wider demographic to find the balance between the strength of how each suit works and scale it so that it feels much more natural and immersive for the user. 

  • Aaron Albert

    I think that the power of in-game customization does not come from just aesthetic appeal, but from identity and ownership. Even though you may never see your characters face in Fallout or Elder Scrolls, that character is yours. You made it, it is special, it is yours and nobody else’s. Players develop a personal relationship with the characters they play. Through customization, that character becomes theirs, and playing the game is a much more intimate experience because of it. Even though thousands of others might be playing the same game, you know that your character is unique, even if you never see their face.