The armor in Guild Wars 2 looks amazing, with a wide variety of styles, themes, options between skimpy or clothed, and of course the level of artistic care we’ve come to expect from anything ArenaNet releases.
That is, if you play a female human. Everybody else? Might be lucky enough to score a few good looks with some quality time in the wardrobe. And in some cases, the art looks downright bad in comparison.
Nowhere is this clearer than when looking at asura and charr. Both races feel like second-class citizens compared to the hegemony of normally-proportioned humanoid figures*. Clipping, stretching, and outright ignorance of anatomy are sadly typical for both.
*Artistically, norn are a broad and busty human race, sylvari are a slight and thin human race.
I’m going to layout the full problem and point out needed solutions for each race, then look at both the obstacles and advantages of doing asura and charr right, not just in lore, but in art.
Full disclosure: I have two charr and two asura, one of each gender, and will be using them as models for this post.
Big, hulking bipedal cats more than willing to rip you limb from limb, if it weren’t for how efficient guns and iron are at doing the job. They’re a race so uniquely Tyrian that there really doesn’t exist an analogue in other MMOs.
But because of how unique they are, they contain their own unique challenges presently ignored by existing armor options, even including cultural race-locked options:
The most blatant case of clipping in the game is a charr’s tail. Virtually every armor set doesn’t account for it, and it pops straight through.
Charr horns are a thing of pride, except when wearing most helms in the game. Then, they magically disappear in violation of the laws of physics and cultural pride. This:
Turns into this:
Charr hunch over*. While by itself it’s not that big an issue, the hunch creates stretched textures due to the elongated back and shortened front.
*I’ll skip over the whole “faithful recreation of large feline anatomy” explanation. Ask me on a discussion thread.
In addition to hunching, charr are big. Like, beefy male norn might compare. Sometimes. This also creates stretching on top of the amount caused by a charr’s hunch (see above tail picture).
Moving back to the face, a charr’s muzzle is boxy and elongated compared to a human’s rounded and flat. Helms flat-out don’t work, looking awkwardly stretched and poorly proportioned.
The helms that do take into account the vastly different head shape are merely scale-ups to “fit” the head without shaping to it, like creating a sphere big enough to fit a box. It still looks bad.
The problems with charr armor have existed since before the game released. It afflicts almost every set they have, and there is no “low effort required” way to fix it. However, there are some things that can be done to improve the situation in the short term as a more comprehensive fix is worked into place.
Cut a small-size hole in each armor skin so that a tail doesn’t clip through. Perhaps have a “standard connection” piece that affixes to the tail rather than the main charr body, creating the illusion of the tail being accounted for in the armor skin’s texture.
In cases where a sudden horn lack becomes a major issue (Radiant helm comes to mind), just let the horns clip through. This might be my personal taste, but I’d rather horns just pop through a helmet than to magically vanish.
Since helm and head always move together, this could create the illusion that the horns are supposed to poke through where they do.
Tail Shrouds and Two-Tailed Trenchcoats
Cultural armor neatly creates the eventual solution for charr armor: tail shrouds. Adding a small amount of texture that drapes over the tail creates the illusion of there being a hole, and minimizes visible clipping.
This works for most light and heavy armor, but medium armor’s marriage to trenchcoats presents a different problem. So rather than throw a shroud on, split the trenchcoat in half at the tail, letting it fall naturally to either side. Due to how the trenchcoat looks already, no shroud should be necessary.
Holes for horns
There are several different locations for horns and even more head pieces to account for, so personally tailoring each option is utterly infeasible.
Instead, create a small “rim” texture for each helmet that dynamically adjusts to where horns are and their thickness. For one, this is much less work. For two, it creates the illusion of the helmet being physically possible to put on.
Add extra “size” to the texture to avoid stretching
With the high fidelity of textures in Guild Wars 2, the problem does not lie with the detail of a given texture, but with its original resolution. It’s clear that the original resolution for most textures is a human figure.
This must be avoided. Resampling the same texture on a higher resolution that better approximates a charr’s figure is a must. This also has the benefit of helping out large norn males who run into the same problem.
Rescale All Helmets
Helmets need to take into account the rectangle that is a charr head, as opposed to forcing it to fit based on the flattened ellipsoid a human has. This requires outright redoing many textures to match the change in proportions.
Switching to the opposite side of the size scale are the asura. Tiny, but otherwise humanoid, they suffer from different problems than the charr.
Asura may be humanoid, but they’re half the height of the average human, with heads that are almost double the size. Most armor on them looks heavily scaled down, with many details that look fine on larger races vanishing behind pixel limitations.
In addition to the larger head, asura have their ears (and they love to mention them, too). On many helms, said ears disappear completely, without any physical place for them to go. This becomes even more pronounced on characters with very large ears.
Asura feet are pointed in three directions, like a reptile. This is much different from humanoid races whose feet go in only one direction. As a result, every single skin has an asura’s feet clip through in two places.
This is an issue with many skins, not just asura, but it is most glaring with asura.
Zojja is not bald, though the headpiece she wears with cultural T3 light armor makes it appear that way. And every asura player sees Zojja during the very first story mission in the game. (UPDATE: Zojja is bald. I need to be more on top of the lore) Hair should not vanish because of the application of a headpiece.
Can’t fix scale
Due to the nature of reality, the smaller scale of asura will always be a limitation on how detailed and intricate their armor can be. Little touches that work on another, taller race need to be brought forward and exaggerated, or dropped completely. What should be kept are the distinctive parts of an armor that differentiate it. For instance, Braham’s armor looks great on asura (see above)*.
*And not just because the horns are as tall as she is.
Most light and medium helms give plenty of space to allow ears to show. Even the pirate caps of medium can have subtle adjustments so that they sit above the top of the ear, preventing clipping entirely.
On heavy armor, some helms make sense to show nothing (see Braham’s armor above), while others could easily add a space for ears to stick out, similar to the existing cultural options.
Design boots fit for an asura’s three-splayed foot
Universal clipping through isn’t acceptable. Copy/pasting the same texture to fit around the three-splayed foot is, especially since the small scale of asura make it hard to tell.
Don’t have non-helmet headpieces bald asura
Headpieces should not be akin to a cut rate bottle of Nair. If there’s a concern about clipping due to pigtails or long hair, adjusting the “fall” of them to not clip should be the go-to instead.
No matter how worthy a cause as fixing armor to not look horrible, there are obstacles in the way of making it a reality.
Taking Up Space
I recently found out from that_shaman that armor textures are the same for all races. This does a fantastic job of saving space in the already massive data file. Even if additional textures are only restricted to asura and charr models, that’s a tripling in the space taken up, for every armor skin in existence, and all future ones added.
Adjusting models and textures is not easy. And since the various armor issues have persisted for the entire game’s existence, it isn’t part of the workflow right now to address them. Adding it in, on top of going back, will take a lot of technical skill.
There’s a lot of armor in the game, both as part of the original content and as gemstore additions. Fixing each and every one will take a lot of time. It’s not the sort of thing to be done in one fell swoop.
As such, I suggest phasing adjustments over time. Updating a few armor sets each patch spreads out the workload, and creates an anticipation for the next set of fixes to come.
“But asura and charr are Unpopular! Look at the Statistics!”
I’s true that asura and charr were lesser-picked races at launch. However, I consider this a false conclusion now. The continuing lack of proper armor for both races has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course people won’t want to create characters as much for the races, because it’s a pain in the backside to make them look good (assuming that’s even possible).
All of those stated, I still think it’s worth taking the additional time to make asura and charr armor on par with the human-based armor already in existence.
Better Artistic Consistency
First and most importantly, art is one of the best parts of Guild Wars 2. Environments are gorgeous and armor and weapon design have a level of detail few other MMOs (or games, for that matter) can match.
This is marred by the stretched, clipping, twisted morass that is asura and charr armor. Things look amazing, up until the point they reach two races’ bodies. Fixing them will create a more consistent, prettier picture.
Charr are proud warrior race guys. Why on Tyria would they wear armor that degrades their dignity by hiding their distinctive features? Or for that matter, clothes that are ill-fitting?
Asura have a pride in their ears, as well as wearing clothes that are functional to them experimenting and researching. Uncomfortable clothing that clips through their own anatomy wouldn’t happen.
So on top of creating a more unified artistic look, fixing their armor will make the visual appearance of them better match their lore depiction.
Increases Popularity of Unpopular Races
The counterpoint to the above obstacle is that giving asura and charr armor proper attention will increase their popularity. Rather than having to willingly accept that armor will look worse, players will be able to choose based off of what appearance they want to portray.
Asura and charr have been advertised races since the original announcement of Guild Wars 2 back in March 2007. They’ve been an integral part of the lore, both historically and in the expanding narrative.
Not doing their appearances justice is not a fair approach to those facts. As difficult and time-consuming as it may be, both races are a part of the game, and should be treated as such.
From a player relations standpoint, there is no downside to updating and fixing asura and charr armor. People who play the races will love the attention and care, and those who don’t might consider rolling a new character of those races.
Goodwill is worth its weight in gold in the reputation-dependent games industry. With enough of it, minor mistakes are overlooked as minor mistakes, rather than as signs that a game company is trying to hoodwink the consumer.
Asura and charr armor are of noticeably lower quality than the human, norn, and sylvari equivalents. Regardless of the reasoning, it reflects poorly on the artistic quality of the game and reinforces negative statements like “ArenaNet only cares about human females” or “ArenaNet doesn’t care about charr.”
Fixing their armor to look like it belongs on them needs to happen. Yes, it will be time-consuming and technically demanding, but it will build greater goodwill and reverse the existing distaste. It doesn’t have to be done all at once, either, so long as steady progress toward true racial equality in armor is happening.