By PWE_BranFlakes @ April 16, 2013 at 12:00pm
Character Creation 2.0
Among our many plans for feature improvements in the Legacy of Romulus expansion, the re-imagining of character creation was one of the most ambitious. Not content with a handful of small improvements, we sought to completely re-build the experience from the ground up! Our goals were to immerse the player with a thematic presentation and streamline the experience with a simplified visual interface.
Below, we’ll discuss some of our design challenges and how we went about solving them.
Choose your Faction!
One of the major changes to our character creation directly reflected a new gameplay innovation for Legacy of Romulus – the ability for a new character to start the game as a member of one of three distinct factions!
Our challenge was to put this critical choice front and center, while allowing a player to quickly and easily explore the different choices within each faction. Early mockups and designs placed great emphasis on the faction choice itself, but left it too removed from the meat of character creation. Species appearance, traits and class options remained isolated on separate screens.
Further concept iteration proved that we needed to allow players to quickly and easily observe the ramifications of their faction choice on other critical components. This tied directly into our next design challenge.
From early on in our redesign process, our concepts and mockups fulfilled the high-level goal of thematic immersion. However, as noted above, they did not entirely meet our goal of simplification. Early mockups still required too much back and forth between selection screens when choosing a faction, class, and species.
The final iteration combined these options into a single interface, proving that simplest was best. Now players would be free to quickly jump from one faction, species and class combination to another for quick comparison – all without ever leaving a single screen.
Further, we wanted to enable players eager to enter the game to create a fully-fledged character with the minimum number of steps. That meant an experience with as few selection screens as possible. After a number of iterations, we were able to focus the entire character creation experience into just three distinct screen steps:
- Faction, Race and Class Selection
- Background, Name and Confirmation
Further supplementing the simplicity of flow was a new visual approach to selection, which we developed specifically to reduce dependence on purely text-based menus.
Our mantra from the beginning was “what you see is what you get” – choices were to be represented by images whenever possible. Large, expressive icons were designed to communicate Faction and Class options. On the Appearance page, costume choices were displayed with large, clear preview images, leaving no confusion as to what a player would select. The same was true for both Face and Hair options as well.
Choices formerly identified only by text or titles – unseen before being selected and applied – are all now easily previewed at a glance.
In addition, a series of “pre-set” options was critical to our goal of allowing a new player to easily navigate a streamlined interface, and emerge at the other end with a fully realized character.
Quickly creating a complete character meant providing the player with pre-packaged options up front. One example was that each species would now come with an ideal, pre-defined selection of traits. However, players wishing to customize this selection further would be able to re-spec their traits once in-game.
Our pre-set philosophy also meant offering costume options in complete outfits. Players would no longer need to root around in menus, searching for parts that “go together.” Now, a player can quickly browse through a catalog of outfits, pick the one they like, and apply it with a single button click!
Advanced Details Minimized by Default
Finally, in keeping with the goal of simplicity and ease of use, we were determined to avoid presenting new players with a phenomenon sometimes known as “the tyranny of choice”. This seemingly paradoxical situation occurs when a vast array of choices presented to a new user causes paralysis or anxiety in decision-making instead of clarity or satisfaction. Thus, we designed the first layer of interface to offer a limited number of clear, but attractive, choices, with the option for “more information” or “advanced” options underneath.
This allows the new user to first browse a smaller number of choices, gradually digging deeper for more details if they desire – or, simply jumping right into the action if they don’t! The last thing we wanted was for a new player to become “stuck” in the details of character creation if they just wanted to play the game.
However, it’s important to note that we’ve preserved all the details that experienced players have come to know and expect, accessible in the advanced tabs for head, body and uniform. This allows long-time players, curious newcomers, or detail-oriented tinkerers to adjust the myriad details of their character as they like.
Finally, we wanted to wrap this all-new interface and flow in a variety of thematic trappings to help create the experience of the Star Trek universe. From UI to backgrounds, lighting, and ships, we wanted to envelop the user in the look and feel of this unique setting:
- A new login screen overlooking an alien planet in deep space – designed to evoke the endless exploration of a place where no one has gone before.
- Faction-specific backgrounds designed to evoke each faction’s personality through detailed props, lighting, and architecture, with a view into space to convey a sense of scope for the epic journey ahead.
- Backgrounds looking onto space and the Faction’s signature starting ship – these were meant to underscore the important duality between the captain and his ship, or between space combat and away team missions.
- New character selection – also meant to evoke the vast scope and feel of exploring the Star Trek universe, this composition pays homage to the pantheon of great Star Trek movie posters by featuring both your crew and starship!
It’s been a thrill and a pleasure to redesign the Character Creator for Star Trek Online. Along the way we benefited greatly from iteration and feedback, and we now look forward to our fans experiencing it in full as we prepare to unveil our upcoming expansion – Legacy of Romulus!