An Argument for Ugly Characters

Ugly NPCs

Ugly NPCs

Here’s something I wrote a while back when trying to convince the team that our online racing game should allow for ugly characters. Does it convince you?

Online games dependent on micro-transactions and purchase of items must create and maintain a compelling library of buyable content. Generally this content is geared towards improving player’s abilities in-game, either upgrading performance of a vehicle, allowing access to a bigger weapon, or resupplying ammo/fuel for those weapons and vehicles. Purchases can also be purely cosmetic – improving Player’s outfit, hair style, or physique.

Play imbalance is created when Players with money are able to purchase upgrades that improve their in-game ability. This influences their win/lose ratio, making it possible for inferior Player to defeat superior Players, simply because they spent money. In a system like this it is impossible to maintain a culture of fairness. Every defeat is “unfair” because the opponent likely used a purchased upgrade to attain it. Every win is “hollow” because no real skill was used in attaining it.

It is agreed that in a fair and balanced PvP environment purchased items should not upgrade or influence a Player’s ability to win. This means purchased items are purely cosmetic.

Purely cosmetic upgrades create a problem, specifically “Why would anyone purchase them?”

This question goes to the root of all purchases, virtual or real.
Purchased items fall into two categories: “Necessities for Survival” (needs) or “Items of Desire” (wants).
Necessities for Survival include food, clothing, shelter, medicine.
Items of desire include jewelry, designer clothes, and general “luxury” objects.
Necessities are things every person needs to survive. Items of desire only matter in context of a social group.

Marketing tells us we need objects in order to be better people, feel better about ourselves, and impress our peers. If not for marketing, every person in the world might exist on the same basic set of durable goods. Marketing tells us we aren’t enough, that more is needed to be “complete”. As such, purchasing is ultimately driven by fear.

In-game the ability to visually register the material worth of a character is limited. How can I know the worth of your shoes upon immediate inspection?

Solution: Our brains have evolved to be powerful facial characteristic readers. We are walking face “value scanners”. A game geared towards the creation and maintenance of facial “value” taps into this most basic skill of the human brain.
Facial beauty is a function of ratios and relational harmonies. A character creation system with built-in flaws limits Player to creating only ugly faces.
Real-world marketing tells us their products will make us more beautiful, more handsome – but without radical and expensive surgery these promises are unattainable. In a virtual environment, the promise can be a reality.

Typical facial creation systems assume Player will build a face at the start of the game and then leave it until the end. By linking the facial manipulation mechanic into the store we create a constant driver to spend time/money on making a player character more and more attractive. The promise of all those marketing campaigns becomes a reality.

Races (crashes specifically) will deliver damage to Player Character’s face, clothing and body.

This way we create an instantly recognizable value system within the game which can be monetized through make-up, insurance, surgery and more.

Image reference for ugly characters taken from this Game Informer article.

BaiJiu Racer Concept Announcement

Widescreen BaiJiu Race

Bai Jiu Racing

Today we’re going to try something a little different: Pitching a video game concept!

Traditionally when I’ve pitched game concepts the process involved face-to-face meetings with potential publishers, use of our agents (CAA) back in Los Angeles, and lots of traveling. Well, I’m getting old, China is FAR from the rest of the world, and the Internet can do a lot of amazing things, so here’s a game pitch for the next generation:

Announcing “BaiJiu Racer” – An MMO-lite racing game concept with China as the core theme. The concept has been in focused pre-production for the past three months here at Spicy Horse. Working with our Chinese publishing partner ICEE we’ve crafted a solid Game Design Document, Technical Design Document, Art Bible, Visual Target Demo, and Development Plan. Together these materials constitute a compelling pitch for a title we think will be a strong competitor in the worldwide, lite-MMO, online racing category (think “Kart Racer”).

A lot of teams dream of a “Mario Cart” or “KartRider” killer – and we think our concept goes a long ways towards being a viable contender. For one, it’s the first Chinese cart racing game developed with an authentic and original Chinese art style, set in real-world locations, and featuring some of the funkiest racing vehicle designs the world has ever seen (inspiration coming from actual Chinese vehicles). We’re focusing on semi-realistic (and fun) physics-based racing dynamic, going light on the power-ups, and throwing in a lot of visual action. Check out the art and video to see the result.

A few key features and differentiators:
* Distinctive art style featuring a timeless portrayal of everyday Chinese people and locations
* A clean and clear graphic style for UI
* Core gameplay focused on skill-based racing, avoiding fun-killing power-ups
* Strong narrative backbone and emotional drama – “everyone can be a hero”
* Unique and interesting vehicle designs based on real-life Chinese vehicles
* Track locations that reveal a China few foreigners have seen
* Risk reduction in production through use of 3rd-party tools and engine (UE3)
* A fast and efficient project schedule built on Spicy’s proven development processes

Our Chinese publishing partner ICEE has a lock on the publishing rights in China. What we’re looking for now is a publisher interested in the remaining world-wide rights. We might also be open to territory specific deals with the right partners.

To learn more about BaiJiu Racer and what’s on offer, you can do the following:

Visit my Flickr Account to view a collection of concept artwork related to the project.

Visit my YouTube Channel to watch a video of sample game play, primarily intended to show the art style working in-engine.

Finally, email me to request information (GDD, TDD, budget, schedule, etc) relevant to deciding if the publishing rights are a fit for you.

Spicy Horse has established itself as one of the strongest independent game developers in China. Following the success of Grimm we’re growing and expanding to leverage our core talents, process oriented development methods, and inspirational location. If you’re interested in learning more about the studio, our capabilities, and our ideas, let me know!