zimtkind asked:
Why do many games have such limited character design, especially around hair? I am not familiar with making mods, but I see so many beautiful possibilities that are not available for consoles. Is it easier for fans to make than devs because of time?

dgaider:

askagamedev:

Time is part of it, but the main issue isn’t time so much as constraints. Modders get to set their own schedule, and they don’t need to worry about things like performance, technical constraints, localization requirements, certification requirements, or scheduling requirements. What you usually see with mods is the best-case scenario. This is how nice things could look. But as developers, we can never live in the land of best case. Our world is full of people trying to break the game, getting themselves stuck in awful circumstances, getting to the worst case scenario and staying there. It’s our job to make sure that those scenarios aren’t eye-gougingly bad.

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Hair specifically is expensive and extremely tricky to get right. In reality, hair can bend and flex in almost every which way, at almost any point in its length. You can take a strand of hair and loop it practically wherever you want. Hair can curl, it can swell, it can snap, it can shrink, it has all sorts of behaviors. It catches the light in different (nonuniform) ways, and requires a lot to make it look right.

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In games, this doesn’t work because we can only animate based on a finite number of animation bones. If the model doesn’t have bones attached, it won’t move. It will clip through the character model’s shoulders, back, arms, etc. And it looks almost comically awful if the character turns or tilts his or her head because it doesn’t move, like helmet hair. It will look especially bad if you have outfits or models that don’t play well with big or long hair. It’s one of the reasons why most games keep hair short. It’s also one of the minor reasons why so many protagonists are male - men in western society tend to have much shorter hair than women, so you don’t need a complicated animation rig to handle realistic-looking hair.

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The typical human head has around 100,000-150,000 hairs on it, and that’s way too much data to simulate on the fly at 1080p at 60 frames per second. Rapunzel (from the movie Tangled in the states… or Rapunzel anywhere else, really) had only 173 hairs on her head and it took them an entire render farm to simulate it. That’s definitely not feasible for games today, even if we optimize it down to the extent that Disney did. And even then, you can’t guarantee that you won’t have errors in the field either.

This isn’t to say we aren’t trying. Hair technology improvements are a big deal, and it’s one of the few areas that the hardware companies are looking to improve things. Take AMD’s TressFX technology, for example.

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It still looks kind of funny, but we’ve finally got some real time hair strand simulation. There aren’t really that many of them, and it’s still extremely limited in scope (it’s only her ponytail and bangs that get simulated). There was also a significant performance hit when players enabled TressFX - hair calculations don’t come cheap! It’s the main reason why Lara was the only character in the entire game with hair simulation on. This is one of the things that affected their character design - all of the other characters besides Lara had hair that was short, unmoving, and didn’t require simulation.

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What you often see with mods (especially with hair) is the best that things can be - it’s a prototype. Modders rarely have to deal with constraints like performance, deadlines, clipping, cert requirements, etc. Unfortunately for us, developers are held to a higher standard - we can’t just live in the world of best-case scenario, but we have to guard against all of the worst case scenarios… and the sort of cost involved with fixing those worst case scenarios is (currently) just too cost-prohibitive for us to put in the really nice-looking hair simulation that we’d love to if we could. 

This is all very true.

I’ve noted, when it comes to hair mods, that it’s not always that mods are the best that things can be but rather that mods have a lower bar for quality expectation — meaning that, if what you’re really interested in is new hairstyles for your character, you’re unlikely to mind things like awkward hair animation or clipping very much.

That’s not going to be true for the fanbase at large — although, if I’m completely honest, I think the people who are most concerned about things like clipping are, in fact, our own artists and animators. I imagine it’s tied up in their (understandable and justified) pride in their own work, but I really doubt there’s any fan who worries about clipping as much as they do. To an almost paranoid degree, actually.

But to say that, just because some fans out there don’t mind things like clipping, that none do… that would not be true.

Of course, then you have other fans who like to cherry-pick features from one game and say “why can’t your game do this?” — ignoring, of course, all the other features of that other game which they sacrificed in order to get the one they cherry-picked to that level. If you read between the lines in the stuff askagamedev talks about, you’ll see that game development is a shell game — you are always giving up one thing in order to get something else. You kill your darlings so that the others might live, and if you’re not the sort of person who can mercilessly pick which of your beloved children are your favorite then you will not survive in game design.

It does make it mildly insulting when someone comes along later and suggest that the darlings you killed didn’t have to be killed at all, like they know better — Frank down the street didn’t kill his darlings, right? (And you’re thinking, “hey… didn’t Frank used to have fourteen children and now mysteriously only has seven? Or did I go insane during the last crunch?”) But you’ll have to forgive them, because there’s no reason why they would know the truth… and, I suspect, every gamer deep down suspects the only reason a given feature doesn’t make into a game is because the game dev hates them and hates freedom.

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