Tramell Isaac is a VP of Art at IllFonic who worked on a Predator franchise released in 2020. We interviewed him about his job, projects, and character customization that sells.
Tramell, please tell us about how you started creating the game. Guide us through the first day of work. How did you decide to make Planetside 2?
This literally starts with people saying “Hey, we have an idea”. In my own experience, I have never been in a production where all of the pre-pro was done before production started. In theory, pre-production should be done to get all the things concepted; when you go into production you’re just making staff. But it never happened to me in reality. This particular project was made in 18 – 20 months from 0, so there had to be some concessions on how we went about building things. The engine itself was built while the game itself was being built. A lot of the things were made upon assumption because with this particular type of game having 5 – 6 hundred people on the server, you can’t test it internally. So we had to make a lot of assumptions about how the game would work.
What were the things you’ve learned on this project that you would never do again? Or otherwise, some things you wanted to bring to other projects?
Character customization is things that we have learned about the implant side. Without that experience, there would be no basis for it in Predators. This experience is a part of my story, I have learned how to construct things this way.
Let’s talk in detail about character customization. What are the key elements of building factions in the game? How do you design them visually so that certain people could relate themself to one or another faction?
Actually, it is a combination of psychology and visual style. The first thing that matters to most people is not a visual component, it is more about who they identify themselves with. Each one of the factions we created was neither evil nor good, each of them had its reasons for acting a certain way, and depending on the personality type people could imagine what they relate themselves to. One faction believed in science, the other one strived for freedom, and the third group trusted the government to find the answers and protect the citizens.
In the beginning, we had a really good split across the board, there were 30-34 members of each of the factions because each one of those people playing the game identified with the ideas of the group. And then we had to visually identify every group so that the players could immediately distinguish a friend from an enemy.
Creating the concept we decided that we basically identify every group with basic shapes – triangles, squares, and circles. We just took those shapes and expanded them to the vehicles, and armor, and that was how it all was born.
We ensure that we maintain those look sets within, and they might be completely blurred and eventually, those shapes start to round themselves out, so we start using “kind of a triangle” or “kind of a circle”. Besides, we used different color combinations for factions, and there are millions of other ways to do it.
How do you customize the characters so that you feel the difference when you pay money, that you have this armor or weapons that feel royal to you, that you either earned it or paid for it?
You start with making sure that every piece of content that you create makes a difference. I mean, you can sell badges and stuff like that, but if you have a jacket with a circle on it versus a square, it doesn’t really matter, it is still the same piece of clothing. Sometimes it needs to change a silhouette, sometimes it needs to be enough coverage. In Planetside 2 you would be able to change the armor on top of a character, and then add things on top of that: change the colors, camo patterns, etc. It was accumulations of the things you could do to make a meaningful change because in fact it’s a fashion show – I’m showing off my things to the other player, and if it’s cool enough, they want to get it. But it’s also important to make these items rare, some of them can be received only at special events, which will make them even more desirable.
And for me, as for artists, it is important to understand that even though I personally would not want some items myself, other people might desire them. For example, I would not buy a pink gunskin, but some other people definitely would do that.
How do you know that? Are there any methods to estimate if certain items will look attractive to others?
You should listen to what people say, this is one of the reasons why we did it inside the player studio. We made an effort to outreach to the community and find out what they want. And nine times out of ten they would come up with “I would like this”, “I want to see this in a game”, and then we would put it out and that would sell. So my point is as long as you pay attention to your clientele and to people that are actually playing the game, you’ll easily figure out what they want.
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