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Sony Online Entertainment
MMORPG | Setting:Fantasy | Status:Cancelled  (est.rel 04/28/09)  | Pub:Sony Online Entertainment
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Interviews: Customization Q&A

By Carolyn Koh on March 25, 2009

Customization Q&A

What was the inspiration for the art & graphical style of Free Realms? How much did consumer feedback and focus groups drive the direction of the art?

Free Realms:

We started the process by thinking up some words to describe the Free Realms style. Our words were “whimsical”, “organic”, “vibrant” and “playful”. The concept artists used those words as inspiration and started to play with painted scenes to establish the forms and color palette styles for the different regions of the world. The artists and designers collaborated quite a bit on this to make sure that the feel was exactly what we were looking for. The feel itself could get pretty complex, for example Briarwood forest was meant to be menacing yet whimsical, and Merryvale was intended to be creepy in a happy way. It was pretty important to get this all done in concept as much as possible so that when it came time to start building in 3D we had a clear vision and not waste time making changes at that point. Even through all of that, we decided several months into production to do a major overhaul to the 3D art and simplify the silhouettes and textures!

Focus tests held throughout development proved to be extremely helpful for fine tuning and getting a feel for what attracted kids. We were a little nervous at that first test but it was a big relief when the kids loved the art! After that it was helpful to show them different characters and clothing styles to see what they responded to best.


How do players create their avatars? How much customization is there at creation?

Free Realms:

We wanted character creation to be as fun as possible and offer enough customization to engage players right away to give them the tools to feel expressive and creative in the process. We have options of different heads, skin tones, hairstyles, hair colors, face paint, makeup and clothes. Pixies also have options of different wings. Each customization is represented by an icon rather than slide bars because the icons are more playful.

Did the technology (how the game is being delivered) affect how much customization is available?

Free Realms:

Free Realms was designed from the ground up so we had the opportunity to define and balance the right amount of customization options without much restriction from the technology. The challenge came from providing a large enough library of assets while still maintaining guidelines that provide the high level of quality players expect.

What can players of Free Realms customize besides their avatars?

Free Realms:

Players can further customize their appearance through various outfits associated with jobs. Jobs offer wardrobes of items that can be combined within that job so players have control of their job appearance. We also offer “Free style” clothes which expands the types of items players can choose from.

Players can also equip fun shirts, hats, collars and shows on their pets! These costumes come in a range of colors and styles. Some are traditional, like a spiked dog collar or a pink bow collar for your cat. Others are more fanciful, like a Ninja outfit or a pirate costume.

Do you think that players identify with their characters more if certain basics – such as faces - cannot be changed?

Free Realms:

Players will have the option to choose from three face types in character create. Because players will be changing their outfits throughout play sessions we focused a lot on systems that provide mix-and-match outfit opportunities so players could define which items for each outfit are worn.

How easy is it to change a look in game? Will players be able to change their avatar’s hair style or color after character creation?

Free Realms:

Character create offers a handful of customizations to choose from and once the player is in the client they can continue to customize these features with additional options for each feature. Players will have the option to choose a variety of additional hair styles and tints. In addition, the players have six slots to customize outfits which include: Head, Shoulders, Chest, Hands, Legs and Feet.

You are launching with two races. Humans and Pixies. Why the choice of Pixie?

Free Realms:

We chose Humans and Pixies as the starting races because each one fits specific roles players may want to play. The Humans offer players the option of choosing a more familiar character while Pixies are more whimsical by nature. It was important that each race be appealing to both genders. In the case of the Pixies, the wings can be customized to look very elegant and floral or they can be bat-like and scaly.

Do you think you’ve done anything particularly innovative with the character customization in Free Realms? What are you particularly proud of?

Free Realms:

The quality of the design and art is top notch. There is such a fun variety of items and themes players can choose from, exploring these options just adds to the fun and playful experience of Free Realms.

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn has been writing for since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.