23/05/2015

Attack of the Clones

I'll say it right away: This post has nothing to do with Episode II. Sorry if you came here thinking that it would. The title was just too appropriate not to use.

A long time ago, I saw a video on YouTube that was bashing SWTOR pretty badly. I can't find it anymore, but it was very straightforward really. The video-maker was running around the Imperial agent/bounty hunter starter area on Hutta and accusing Bioware of being lazy and of having created a dead and uninteresting world. His evidence? The NPCs in front of Nem'ro's palace were all the same. Not literally all of them of course - but as he was walking around, he pointed the camera at various citizens that were strolling around the area, talking to vendors etc. and there were indeed a lot of clones among them. The guy sounded so bitter and hateful that I found it easy to ignore him and to dismiss his criticism. After all I had already been playing the game for a while by that point, and I'd never noticed anything like that. I figured that it was probably footage of placeholder NPCs from beta or something.

I kind of forgot about his whole argument until late last year, when my guild was getting really into conquests. Initially, one of our main sources of conquest points was grinding low-level heroics on multiple alts, which worked particularly well on Nar Shaddaa. As I was mindlessly killing the same mobs over and over again, multiple times a day and for several days in a row, I couldn't help but get a closer look at them. Since they were low level compared to my characters, they posed no threat and combat required no real attention. So instead I started to notice... similarities.

The thing is, to a certain degree I honestly expect lots of mobs to look similar. In SWTOR, we spend a lot of time fighting enemy soldiers of a certain faction or another, and it's no surprise that people in uniform or heavy armour all look kind of same-ish, especially when you're more focused on selecting the right abilities than on inspecting them up close.


But as I was grinding those heroics on Nar Shaddaa, I started to notice things that looked a bit odd to me. For example the [Heroic 4] Mandalorian Rage requires you to kill a lot of Mandalorians from Clan Sharratt. Especially when they have a helmet on, it goes without saying that a lot of them will look the same. But I noticed things like that all the mobs called "Clan Sharratt Vanguard" were female Zabraks with red skin. That's a rather striking look, and when there are two of them in each pull it looks rather odd.

A similar thing caught my attention in the [Heroic 4] Lab Animals, where you fight some bad guys called Xenobi. The Xenobi thugs were all body type one (or two, not sure now) with short hair so not particularly eye-catching, but the ones called rangers were all body type three and had that wacky haircut that Corso Riggs comes with by default. All of them. It was slightly disconcerting.


After that I started to notice the same pattern pretty much everywhere I cared to look: Bioware would make a bunch of different mobs with different names and mix them up in larger mob groups, but every mob with the same name would look exactly the same. I won't pretend that this bothers me very much, because most of the time when I'm in combat I'm busier with focusing on my survival than on inspecting the facial features of some random NPC, and I rarely go to low level areas to mow down mobs that can't really fight back (that heroic grinding for conquest purposes was definitely an exception). But every so often when Bioware gives one of these generic mobs a more striking look, with an unusual skin colour or a funky haircut, I notice it again.

I even went back to check on Hutta, and the YouTuber whose name I can't remember was actually right. That same NPC is still there, playing a whole plethora of roles in front of Nem'ro's palace.


I'm just wondering: Who else has noticed this? And if you have, does it bother you? I'm kind of thinking that in theory, I would like a world where no two NPCs look the same, but I'm not sure how much additional work that would create for the artists. I'm kind of doubtful it would be worth it, when even long-time players like myself can take almost three years to actually take a close enough look to notice.

6 comments :

  1. Given a choice between almost no NPCs around (like, say, Silvermoon) or having a bunch of clones around, I vote for the clones.

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  2. To be honest, until you pointed it out, I had no idea. It's humorous to look at from your screen shots to say the least. But as Redbeard said above, I'd rather deal with clones than a completely empty world. To be honest when I'm actually fighting or adventuring I rarely notice that close of a detail. Staying alive is usually the priority lol. I think though that it honestly doesn't take away from the game and I doubt even those who do notice it on average don't really care that much as long as there is some variety. As far as mobs to kill, same thing. As long as some variety exists, I'm okay...they are going to be dead anyhow hahahaah.

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  3. I've noticed it. Doesn't really bother me. Given their character generation options, there is literally a finite amount of options. Remember the number of NPCs killed on that info graphic? It was like 2 billion or whatever? Imagine the resources it would take to create unique physical appearances for every NPC. Even the ones who are spawn camped and live for about two global cooldowns. And then remember all the players clamoring for new content. So given the alternative, I'll personally make do with what we're given so far.

    Personally, I like having NPCs, but I feel like I haven't seen a good balance yet. Stormwind has too many non-guard NPCs. Lions Arch, also too many. Fleet also has too many. I understand they want to create a particular kind of atmosphere. They should put that effort into drawing in more players, not drawing more NPCs.

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  4. I'm fairly certain that's typical of MMOs. It might be marginally more obvious in SW:TOR than some, either because the playable races (and majority of the NPCs) all look basically "human" or because it's a little less cartoony. I mean, I'm pretty sure there aren't very many Orc or Troll faces, period, in WoW, and I have this odd feeling that there are a lot of clone Blood Elf NPCs, but without hopping on to double check, I can't swear to it. But I don't think it jumps out as much in that style as in SW:TOR's style.

    Honestly, though, aside from being occasionally disconcerted to come across an NPC (particularly one with a conversation) that has _my_ face, the fact that there are a lot of clones in SW:TOR doesn't bother me.

    (Or in any other MMO, for that matter.)

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    Replies
    1. It did occur to me that a sci-fi game like SWTOR probably has a harder time as we are fighting humanoids a lot of the time, where fantasy MMOs are more likely to have a larger number of "monsters" (and I doubt many people think about how all the wolves, gnolls, kobolds etc. look the same). I haven't played enough of STO to have had a close look at the NPCs there.

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    2. That is an excellent point. Hence why we must campaign to have Wookies as player races! Oh, sorry wrong subject. But seriously, you are right. It's far easier in a fantasy world with more options than in a sci fi world.

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