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Massively's Black Prophecy Q&A: Character Creation

James Egan

Black Prophecy is one of the hotly anticipated games on the horizon that sci-fi MMO fans have been wanting to hear more about. Until recently though, Reakktor Media wasn't quite ready to reveal many of the specifics of what the game will offer. We've known that Black Prophecy's gameplay will differ from titles in the genre like EVE Online -- with Reakktor's game a bit more accessible in terms of learning curve and with a more dynamic feel to piloting space ships. Plus, if the screenshots and video footage are an accurate indication, Black Prophecy will be visually stunning as well.

Business-wise, things have recently changed for the better at Reakktor Media and the Black Prophecy project is once again moving ahead at full speed. More info about this title is on the way as well; Reakktor was kind enough to agree to do a series of focused Q&As at Massively about various facets of the game. Over time, this series will cover topics ranging from Black Prophecy's modification system to details about how players will build space stations. Since we're going to look at some of the fundamental aspects of Black Prophecy, it makes sense that we'd begin this series where the players themselves will begin -- at character creation.

In our first Q&A in this series, Massively spoke with Jens Kortboyer, Lead Artist on Black Prophecy, who walked us through the design decisions Reakktor made in creating the look of the Genides and Tyi characters, as well as the visual choices players will have when starting out.

Gallery: Black Prophecy | 46 Photos

From a visual standpoint, can you tell me a bit about how Reakktor approached the look of Black Prophecy's characters?

In contrast to other MMOs, the player character in Black Prophecy is not represented by a 3D avatar, but by the player ship itself. Even though a fully detailed 3D avatar is available, it rather takes the back seat. Nevertheless we put very much emphasis on a high quality visual presentation and pay much attention to create a realistic look that appears credible to the player. Through this we want to achieve that the 3D avatar is recognized as an inherent part of the game world and not just as a nice gimmick. We also stepped back from utilizing overdrawn or totally wacky, stylistic devices. The human appearance in all its facets was the foundation for all further design considerations.

On the basis of these fundamental requirements and all resources at disposal, the artists received the objective to create a rich wealth of variety. We managed to achieve this large variety with the basic visual characteristics, such as ethnological origin, adjustments of the face structures and other head characteristics (eye color, hair styles, etc.). Thereby it is possible to seamlessly adjust specific characteristics such as age, weight, ethnology or facial characteristics (eyes, mouth, chin, cheeks, ears, forehead, etc.) without being limited to pre-defined presets. Selecting the hair color is done via a color picker where you again have several possibilities of adjustment such as basic color, top hair color, highlight color and strand color.

Under supervision of our Art Director we conceptualized the most important NPC characters of the game's story. From these concepts we developed the player characters as well as the 3D models of all characters. For this we utilized complex shaders that are able to generate special lighting situations and skin effects which come very close to our demand of providing state-of-the-art visuals.

Subsequent to the conception phase all technical conditions were discussed with the graphics programmers. In a process of mutual exchange with the technical department the basic features of the character editor were developed among other things. Also we managed to find a very good skin material that works very well with all character setups and we decided to use morph targets instead of bones for the facial animations.

Of course these are just a few points of the whole working process but it would go beyond scope of this interview to outline it in full detail.

What role will someone's avatar play in the game -- will it be a snapshot of your character or will it be a full-body 3D avatar? When or in what situations will other players actually see your avatar?

Ultimately there are fully detailed 3D avatars that appear in dialogs and conversations as fully animated 3D portraits of the upper body and head. For loading screens and statistic pages we made use of 2D character snapshots. The basic principle is that the ship represents the player character and undergoes visual changes, next to the statistical changes, by attaching new ship items like you are used to do in other MMOs when you put on a new armor item, for example.

What kinds of racial or faction customizations will be possible during character creation in Black Prophecy? On that topic of customizing your avatar's look, will helmets, tattoos, and other body modding be possible?

Generally there is the possibility to decide between two races: the Tyi and the Genides. Unfortunately we are unable to elaborate on this specific topic as it would spoil certain parts of the game's story. Next to the race selection, the ethnological origin determines the major part of the character's appearance. For this we have taken the human ethnologies with the highest diffusion rate; African, Asian and Caucasian. It is however possible to seamlessly mix different ethnologies to create e.g. a Caucasian-Asian character.

Building upon these basic characteristics there are various gadgets that allow you to individualize your character. Among other things this includes masks, glasses, tattoos, implants, helmets and much more.

Will certain customizations only be available to players of a given race or faction, such as cybernetic options on the Tyi?

Yes, although all player characters are based on human appearance, we put much emphasis on generating faction specific characteristics that distinguish the factions from each other. To pick up the example of the Tyi, their distinguishing characteristic is the excessive use of external, fully visible implants that clearly create the typical picture of a Tyi. In contrast, the Genides have other gadgets at hand that rather fit their characteristics.

Beyond the look of a player's character, will there be options to change the lighting or background behind the avatar? Will such backgrounds be specific to that race or faction?

Players will be able to select from various background pictures. This way they can customize their 2D portrait in a way that both resembles their play style as well as fits the visuals of their character. On top of that you will be able to select the camera angle from which the 2D snapshot of your character will be made. Various selectable emotes round off the picture of your character giving him or her even more expression.

Will the NPCs that players interact with be generated using this same avatar creation system?

As previously mentioned, the player characters are based on the initially created NPC concepts. In addition, all important NPC dialogs, particularly the NPCs in story missions, will receive voice-overs. To give the NPCs even more expression we utilize Lipsync technology which animates the spoken words and emotes of the NPCs realistically.

Reakktor has mentioned a "station walking" feature to be implemented after the game's launch, allowing players to interact with other characters as 3D avatars. At this point, does Reakktor still have such plans for Black Prophecy?

Yes, we still have plans to offer this feature in a future expansion but we are unable to reveal further details at this point of time.

Thanks for speaking with Massively, Jens.

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