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November 12, 2007Glenn Turner

"We’ve got an enormous amount of apparel to customize your avatar. We actually had apparel designers instead of typical game designers, and many of the apparel designers had in fact never made a video game before. All we wanted was people that knew clothing."
Rock Band Art Director Ryan Lesser (via MTV Multiplayer)

It's about time developers woke up and realized that game designers aren't the best folks to be doing costume design. As in-game graphics become more and more detailed, the costume design for the game's cast is going to become more and more important. I hope I'm not the only one sick of overly generic fantasy, or simply sloppy, costumes and clothing in my games, and a lot of this stems from having the wrong folks helm that facet of character design. Films have their own costume & apparel designers, so why not games?

The problem is grander than simply designing what the character's clothes will look like – it's about how the texture of the fabric is conveyed, how light strikes it, how the fabric, and costume, moves in the game's world, how it's constructed and, most importantly, how it serves the character's purpose. Why are they wearing it, what does it imbue them, is it easy to move in and if not, why would they bother with it? Does it serve a functional purpose and, if it doesn't, why are they wearing it? All too often it feels that too much emphasis is simply put on making the character look fetching to an adolescent male, so we end up with characters scantily clad in spandex or end up with a space marine in space armor. I want more.

We need characters appropriately & realistically attired, and that goes for concept and construction. The industry needs real costume designers, people that can say 'there's no way a character would wear (or wield) this', ensure that fabric moves properly and works within the limits of the game's established environment, and is being somewhat realistically adorned on the characters. We need characters that aren't just wearing generic sweaters and jeans, or resistance fighters heading out to war in short pants and mid-riff tees. Sure, we need memorable dress, but not outfits known for the amount of skin shown (or, if so, there'd better be a damn good reason for it).

To push the concept further, I'd love to see cutting-edge, technologically bent, fashion designers be brought on a few gaming projects & just imagine what Hussein Chalayan could do, untethered of financial restraints and given free-reign in a future world. The man's already producing some jaw-dropping technical apparel; just think about the logistical gaming applications of his servo-based laser dress! Imagine that outfit being wielded in the Ratchet & Clank universe!

Nonetheless, Harmonix should be applauded for hiring someone who knows what they're doing when it comes to clothing, and hopefully this is a trend that'll continue. Sure, their approach involves character customization and I'd rather be impressed by an exquisitely crafted, pre-made outfit than have the ability to create my own piecemeal effort, but that's a subject for a different article. Certainly I don't quite expect to see the gaming equivalent of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, complete with environments designed around Jean Paul Gaultier outfits anytime soon (at least, not on a console), but it's nice to see this facet of videogame character design finally receiving some outside input and improvement.

1 comment for ‘Game Couture’

#1 WholeFnShow Nov 13, 2007 08:07pm

I've only ever personally found myself questioning the attire in a video game twice ever.

Once while actually playing the multiplayer campaing of Perfect Dark Zero. If you're unfamiliar, Joanna's sassy black teammate saw fit to wear booty shorts and a fleece vest no matter what type of weather the level held. Including the snow levels, most ridiculously.

Second, upon seeing the whole of the visual design in Magna Carta. It's difficult to explain what feeling in particular overcomes one when seeing the ambiguously-female males, and the overtly-female females in the garb that can best be described as "Anime Future Xena." Best I figure anyway.

I actually like it when games give me the option to mix and match bits of outfits. I'll take near any level of customization in order to have a bit more invested in the character than I would otherwise.