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lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 9:34 pm
by MentokTheMindtaker
Hi guys, I've been reading this forum for some time now and I decided to finally throw in my 2 cents. Please overlook my poor english. It's because I live in one of those nonenglish speaking countries you heard about in the tv, without internet and electricity. Seriously, I am dictating this thread to our village elder who is telegraphing it into the internet right now ...

I haven't found a thread where this is issue is the discussed topic, so I decided to start one. The question is: What will the aliens look like in the final Version? There seem to be two opposing viewpoints on this:

1. Aliens should look "really alien", borrowing as less physical properties as possible from earth lifeforms and especially humans
2. Aliens should have at least some recognisable humanlike characteristics.

In this thread viewtopic.php?f=10&t=1641, there are some good points made by pd and eleazar to both positions. Personally I prefer pd's point of view:
There is a reason why 'usual' aliens in movies or games look somewhat similar to humen or animals. Don't think that's because of lack of creativity or something. It simply is that way because the audience has to be able to relate to the aliens.
If an alien design has a mouth, some eyes, ears, arms or legs it's possible to convey things like emotion for example using mimic and gesture.
One of the major things you want to pay attention to, when designing a character is either the face or the hands.

Also, a good design allows the audience to say just by watching it, whether this alien is aggressive, friendly, clever, sneaky, ... This is just possible, because we are so used to seeing humen and animals. For example we know that insects with their spikey, sharp shapes and intense colors can hurt us, since we've all been hurt by a bee or ant. Using similar shapes and colors in an alien design will definitely create an agressive and dangerous race.

If all aliens are going to look like blobs or just made of freaky shapes the player isn't able to identify with this alien race. Anything too abnormal will 'alienate' him.
Couldn't express it better myself. Why I bring this up is because I noticed that people who come up with humanoid species in this forum are sometimes discouraged to do so with the argument that it's lame. It sounds like this people would like to exclude humanoid aliens all together. I think this is a question of personal taste. Variations of a good idea can be better than something completely new but unconvincing. Am I the only one who would actually like to see this classics ingame? I am talking about the good old catpeople, reptiles and the "weak body big head" humanoids. I think especially people who like to roleplay would like to see these kind of aliens, because you can easily associate them with your favorite scifi novel race.This sterotypes are popular, so why exclude them from the game?

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 10:38 pm
by shrinkshooter
How about aliens that no one can relate to, or relate to very little. It's not a crime. Making an alien's emotions totally unrecognizable or its features indeterminate is not something that should be avoided at all costs. Ascendancy had a species that was basically an 8-foot tall single cell with a nucleus and internal organelles. I mean come on. I can understand humanoid aliens in light of TV show productions, but this is a game. We can do whatever we want. We're not making a documentary on a species or place that requires the emotional involvement of the audience, so I completely disagree with pd in regards to the "hands and face" aspect in almost all regards. Relating to the aliens is not a requirement. Of course it would be good to have some species that involve hands and faces; diversity above all else is good. But not every species. I'd say maybe less than half. Utilae's species, with Josh's illustrations, is a good example of non-humanoid alien with little to relate to in regards to features. I know there must be something that adds to gameplay through the ability of the audience to relate to the aliens, but what is it?

Looks shouldn't be the constraining factor.

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 4:23 am
by Josh
It's important first off that a species is well-designed and characters strike a particular chord with people by having compelling, memorable personalities (or story telling tropes). None of these things come from looks, they come from a certain quality of thought, care and preparation. Beauty is, as always, skin deep.

But, as for me, I suggest human based aliens, as it's what I know how to design reliably.

Consider also that Free Orion pays homage to the Master of Orion Series, and that historically their aliens are all humanoid.

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 4:43 am
by Redcap
I think a good mix will probablly be the direction this is headed, half the designers want humanoids the other half want non-humanoids. I say the more the marrier.

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 4:56 am
by Josh
Half and half sounds good. I'd still like the freak aliens to assume some familiar form, like a dolphin, or an ostriche ;)

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 6:09 am
by pd
Just to make this clear: I never said, there should be only humanoid alien species. I'm all for a large variety but I refuse to NOT include humanoids because some people think they are less creative(which is not true). Being able "to relate to an alien race" was probably phrased wrong and too narrowed down. It's is however important, that a design reads. This works by taking universally known pieces and putting them in a new context. As the topic starter stated, clich├ęs can be really nice and so useful in design. Also, mixing humans and animals has a long tradition in human mythology and is not a recent product of sci-fi writers.
I recently wrote:There is nothing wrong with being inspired by animals or plants or anything familiar from this planet. Actually it's a great way of communicating something, because one is expressing ideas based on a common vocabulary(we all recognize a fishy form and associate it with water, we all recognize something that looks like a wing and associate it with something flying).

No arbitrariness means, you should have a reason for everything(most of) what you do. This reason doesn't have to be based on actual function(we aren't doing industrial design) but can be based on something we imagined. In this last case, it has to be shown/explained visually though. It has to look as if it could work. This is where we can use this common visual vocabulary everyone has.

[...]

We have to keep in mind that in the end we design for humans, since they are the ones playing the game. For a design to be successful, the player has to be able to relate to it and this works by using forms, shapes, colors, patterns, proportions we all have seen and associate with something based in our world.

[,..]
This does not have to do with a lack of creativity. It has to do with the story telling. In TV/Movies there is usually a lot of communication involved. How to we communicate? Using language and body language. So if aliens are similar to humans or animals those tools can be used just as well.
shrinkshooter wrote:I completely disagree with pd in regards to the "hands and face" aspect in almost all regards. Relating to the aliens is not a requirement. Of course it would be good to have some species that involve hands and faces
This was a general statement about character design and I didn't say all our aliens need to have a face and some hands. Denying the importance of the face and hands in character design shows how little one knows about it. Of course those "tools" are important for aliens just as well, because it's all about successful design and not about making the weirdest outer space blob possible.
Utilae's species, with Josh's illustrations, is a good example of non-humanoid alien with little to relate to in regards to features.
Really? It may not be humanoid, but it's using many features from animals, which is why the design works and why we can relate to it. I can see two major legs on a bird like body, used for running and that reminds me of an ostrich(as intended) or even some dinosaurs(who are ancestors of birds). There is one additional joint but the anatomy is obviously borrowed from earthlings. The feet are frog- and reptile-like. The space suit and ships borrow elements from insects. There is even an eye and I bet we could express quite a lot of emotions just by squinting and moving the eye lids together with using a proper posture.

To sum this up, I'm once again quoting myself:
In a video game we might be able to get away with something more freaky[than in television], but even then it has to be rooted in familiar things. Otherwise it's just some arbitrary crap.

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 8:10 am
by Tortanick
I feel the need to point out that, unless I missed it, we haven't decided on the visual appearance of the diplomacy screen, if we're just going to have a static picture (worked for ascendency) or something like MOO2 where the aliens' behaviour never varied then it doesn't matter if we can't show emotions correctly since we won't be showing them anyway.

Even if not then I'm not so sure you need to be that human to show emotions (at least the limited emotions we'd need). Human emotions are displayed in a huge verity of ways, and we are used to understanding emotions from animals and even from inanimate sources, such as music where you can get textbooks describing the emotional effects of certain sounds. I'm not too sure if you could create the complex characters of Babylon 5 if they weren't humanoid but something as simple as angry/happy/upset should be possible.

For those of you who think humanoid races can be very creative, prove me wrong and design some that are fresh and interesting in appearance and phisology.

Josh wrote:Half and half sounds good
No, the problem with that is that while humanoid is a single type of physical form, "everything else" isn't. If we have humanoids ingame they should be no more common they any other type (that probably means no more than two I haven't counted though). Half humanoid, one of A, one of B... one of M. wouldn't work too well.
Josh wrote:It's important first off that a species is well-designed and characters strike a particular chord with people by having compelling, memorable personalities (or story telling tropes). None of these things come from looks, they come from a certain quality of thought, care and preparation. Beauty is, as always, skin deep.
That's true, but if the first priority is that they're "well-designed" somewhere not too far off is that they look fresh and interesting. As you say none of the attributes that lead to "well-designed" come from looks, so by extension the choice of appearance dosn't get in the way of well designed. Since you can have both we should try to ensure we do have both.

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 8:31 am
by pd
It really doesn't matter how and where aliens are to be shown. And it's not just about emotions either. It's (again) about creating successful designs, designs, that express what they should, designs that deliver.
and we are used to understanding emotions from animals and even from inanimate sources
Yes, of course, for the many reasons I've stated above. Why are we able to do this? Mainly because we personalize animals and because we project behavioristic patterns from humans to animals.
Could you provide some examples for inanimate sources, please? I have some in mind, but they all relate back to a face, which would prove my point even more. I agree, that it is possible to communicate emotion using music, but it has not much to do with this discussion, where we are concerned with the visual appearances.
'm not too sure if you could create the complex characters of Babylon 5 if they weren't humanoid but something as simple as angry/happy/upset should be possible.
That's what I'm saying. An it works by using our common visual vocabulary which is based on familiar things, like humans and animals.
For those of you who think humanoid races can be very creative, prove me wrong and design some that are fresh and interesting in appearance and phisology.
I'm not the one who wants to exclude something from the game for a personal reason, besides having other more important things to focus on at this stage. So why don't you create a non-humanoid/non-earth-like design that provides the same array of communication possibilities that a human has?

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:34 am
by Tortanick
pd wrote:Could you provide some examples for inanimate sources, please? I have some in mind, but they all related back to a face, which would prove my point even more.
Background sounds convey emotions (e.g. horror films often use sound to build suspense), a painting containing no people or animals often conveys emotions. Waterfalls, fireworks, sunsets, a good view, the weather, ambient light. If we put in some effort we could probably do something for some very alien races. For example a purely crystalline race might communicate by glowing, it shouldn't be too hard for the player to understand its emotions just from looking at it (e.g. smooth trasnatctions between bright warm colours for happy, violent flashes for angry).
pd wrote:
For those of you who think humanoid races can be very creative, prove me wrong and design some that are fresh and interesting in appearance and phisology.
I'm not the one who wants to exclude something from the game for a personal reason, besides having other more important things to focus on at this stage.
There's no rush :) however someone has to design humanoid aliens before its possible for us to use any.
pd wrote:So why don't you create a non-humanoid/non-earth-like design that provides the same array of communication possibilities that a human has?
Can't, too much human communication is subconsious for anyone without a Phd to understand, yet alone convert to an alien race. Heck its pretty much impossible to create humans in a computer game with the same arrray of communication that a real human has. What I can do is create non-human aliens with a wide enough array of communication to convey the several different emotion states it would need in a game like this. All my aliens already do so to a greater or lesser extent. (I'm assuming you've read their phisology first)

AEIOU (probably the hardest of mine to portray emotions for): they communicate by telekinetic touch but they can use posture to indicate their emotional status. For example they could make themselves bigger to seem threatening, or shrink themselves to seem non-threatening. If they're angry they might levitate slightly.

Etty: They Etty are not supposed to show much emotion (they're really introverted and withdrawn) and they have a non-audial language but even then there are ways to make them show emotion. The plant part of their body might pull in its leaves so they point long the stem when threatened or leave them at almost right angles when confident. If they like you they'll probably loosen up a bit an move a little but remain very still if they don't.

Abbadonians: They have a vocal language so that makes it easy, in addition there is quite a bit of body language they could do, make themselves taller, crouch, gesture with their legs etc.
Canonically there diplomat is a computer that portrays itself as one of the race it's speaking too but that's off topic

The Stonecarvers: Also have a vocal language, they can gester with their cybernetic hands, their CCTV camera can count as the eye conveying their paranoia by always looking back and forth assessing the situation. I like the idea that the smoke from their power plant will also change based on emotions.

The People: Another non-vocal language, but they have a (very odd) face that could move around based on emotions and hands to gesture with. They could also use their posture to indicate emotional status.

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 11:46 am
by MentokTheMindtaker
Tortanick wrote:
Josh wrote:Half and half sounds good
No, the problem with that is that while humanoid is a single type of physical form, "everything else" isn't.
That depends on how you choose your cathegories. You could also say there is the big cathegory A of very humanlike aliens, cathegory B of aliens that primarly resemble a specific earth animal and than there is cathegory C: other. My point is that categories are made up by choosing criteria you consider significant.
Tortanick wrote: If we have humanoids ingame they should be no more common they any other type (that probably means no more than two I haven't counted though). Half humanoid, one of A, one of B... one of M. wouldn't work too well.
Why?

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 11:51 am
by pd
Tortanick wrote: Background sounds convey emotions (e.g. horror films often use sound to build suspense), a painting containing no people or animals often conveys emotions. Waterfalls, fireworks, sunsets, a good view, the weather, ambient light.
I was more refering to artefacts, objects that have been build and designed.
Of course a waterfall and a sunset convey an emotion that makes us feel good, but the difference is, it doesn't intend to do it, there is no consciousness and therefore no communication. Those things don't show emotion, it is us associating a feeling with a setting.
If we put in some effort we could probably do something for some very alien races. For example a purely crystalline race might communicate by glowing, it shouldn't be too hard for the player to understand its emotions just from looking at it (e.g. smooth trasnatctions between bright warm colours for happy, violent flashes for angry).
This again, is basically what I'm talking about all the time. This works because we are used to seeing things like these and associate them with something. A smooth transition of warm colors might remind us of a sunset, while flashes might remind us of lightning - so they are rooted in earthy things, in human experiences.
In the end, effects like this are just that - effects. They can be used to extend a certain expression or accentuate it, but the underlying design should still be solid.

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 5:44 pm
by shrinkshooter
pd wrote:
Utilae's species, with Josh's illustrations, is a good example of non-humanoid alien with little to relate to in regards to features.
Really? It may not be humanoid, but it's using many features from animals, which is why the design works and why we can relate to it. I can see two major legs on a bird like body, used for running and that reminds me of an ostrich(as intended) or even some dinosaurs(who are ancestors of birds). There is one additional joint but the anatomy is obviously borrowed from earthlings. The feet are frog- and reptile-like. The space suit and ships borrow elements from insects. There is even an eye and I bet we could express quite a lot of emotions just by squinting and moving the eye lids together with using a proper posture.
Also keep in mind that it's rather difficult to create something that we cannot relate to. We assume something requires appendages in order to perform tasks and sensory organs to gather the information around them. Almost anything you try to create is going to have something (probably many things) we can relate to because that is our consciousness of the world coming out in different forms on paper. Like you said, if we wanted something totally alien to us with nothing involved at all, no eyes, no ears, no appendages, no internal organs, nothing at all, it would be a blob or something else totally strange. Of course we won't be able to relate to that, but I think just one species along those lines should try to be incorporated into the game. Utilae's species has little to relate to compared to humanoid aliens, and I should have qualified my statement as such. Species like those of Utilae's design or Karagh's design are the aliens I like to see. I have no problem with humanoid aliens, as long as they aren't everywhere, as they are in many games. Perhaps two would be a good number for me, not including the human (non-alien) species itself. Keep in mind the human brain's recognition template, as well. It may have been intended to remind you of an ostrich, or it may not have been. People see bats and butterflies in inkblots, too. Many times we relate to things not only because we want to or the object in question is intended to, but because our brain forces us; this comes up in any introductory psychology course.
pd wrote:This was a general statement about character design and I didn't say all our aliens need to have a face and some hands. Denying the importance of the face and hands in character design shows how little one knows about it. Of course those "tools" are important for aliens just as well, because it's all about successful design and not about making the weirdest outer space blob possible.
For the sake of peace of mind, I will not take offense to this. I have not, nor will I ever, denounce completely the importance of hands and facial expressions in character design. It is monumentally important in instances where there is animation, because as you stated, body language is used greatly in communication. In pictures there is a bit more leeway because the expressions are not animated, but they are still very important depending on what you wish to convey. As I said before:
shrinkshooter wrote:How about aliens that no one can relate to, or relate to very little. It's not a crime. Making an alien's emotions totally unrecognizable or its features indeterminate is not something that should be avoided at all costs.
Although body language is used greatly in communication, these are aliens. They were not evolved to communicate bodily with humans, and so my point was that we should not try to get the audience to relate to every single species we make. Keep in mind however that although they may not have been evolved to do it, the recognition template of our species, coupled with the most-certainly-high probability of the neccesity of appendages, will probably get the audience to relate to almost any species we try to create.

It has not escaped my attention from your post that you seem to believe me some ignorant or possibly misinformed person, "talking out of his ass" as it were. However, since you said that denying the importance of the hands and face shows how little one knows about it, and since I did not say that they were totally unimportant, I won't take this personally, as I'm interpreting it to mean that your judgement doesn't apply to me. This is one of the few, extremely rare instances where I believe we can actually take the hands and face and discard them from several species with no ill effects, and so I believe we should. Am I saying we should do it with all species? No. Is it unimportant? No. In fact, this final quote showcases the fact that I did NOT think it was unimportant:
shrinkshooter wrote:I know there must be something that adds to gameplay through the ability of the audience to relate to the aliens, but what is it?
I simply didn't know what added to the actual gameplay itself.

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 7:53 pm
by eleazar
I feel no urgency to try to "settle" this disagreement, knowing that it's going to come up many more times before we actually start doing alien species, and most of the people now participating won't be around then.

I would point out that it's highly likely that it will be relatively easy for players to create their own "alien species X mod" with some graphics and a text file. And i predict species mods will be the most common and popular of the mods made for FO.

Thus no one will be forced to play with aliens they dislike or without the kind they prefer.


Also we really don't know how the aliens will be presented to the player. Concerns about "acting" and "empathy" may be totally moot.

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:08 pm
by Robbie.Price
Goodmorning all,

Just a quick point,

The only species in a sci-fi book i've ever encounted that didn't work because it was related to something human, or earth like. Was the Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy's "Particularly intelligent shade of blue". That is to say that no matter how unhumanly / unearthly we try to make our creatures we're going to see them with earthly filters.

Crystiline creatures are emotionally cold, irrespective of biological life, and analytic,
blobby amorphous creatures are more instinct driven, consume vastly, and spread quickly, disease like

. . . and so on, one could argue WHAT the traits are and how we see them and some might see different forms differently. . .

But, when building a race, one has two options, to go with the 'natural' behavior for the form, or against the 'natural behavior'.

And if you go against the 'natural' why? if it's just to upset the 'normal' keep in mind that at best you might hope for is to succeed and make people uncomfortable with the race. . . . not normally what one goes for when creating a race? no?

Anyway, as Eleazar said, this is very unlikely to be 'solved' now, and any 'solution' we come to will probably be debated and re-debated many times before the project is finished.

I say anybody who wants to create a race, feel free to create any race they feel 'works', but just remember that even if it works for you don't be offended if *in 2 years time :wink: :lol: :cry: * it's not included in the first release. If the race doesn't resonate with people it is very unlikely to be included.

So keeping Resonance in mind, Create away all you creative people.

Robbie.

Re: lame generic humanoid vs variations of deformed blobthing

Posted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 10:27 pm
by Tortanick
MentokTheMindtaker wrote: That depends on how you choose your cathegories. You could also say there is the big cathegory A of very humanlike aliens, cathegory B of aliens that primarly resemble a specific earth animal and than there is cathegory C: other. My point is that categories are made up by choosing criteria you consider significant.
With a good category things grouped together feel like they are a group. For a lot of Sci-Fi humanoids are a good catagory since they share a lot of characteristics. On the other hand something like B from above wouldn't feel like a group, for example: a tiger an eagle a squid and a wasp, do they really feel like their one group?
MentokTheMindtaker wrote:
Tortanick wrote: If we have humanoids ingame they should be no more common they any other type (that probably means no more than two I haven't counted though). Half humanoid, one of A, one of B... one of M. wouldn't work too well.
Why?
It would lack any feeling of overall cohesion, having a bunch of very similar humanoid aliens in a galaxy where every non-humanoid was highly unique would give a similar sort of feeling as having two seprate design teams that weren't talking to each other. I'm not very good at putting feeling about things like this into words, sorry.

Secondly, if half the alien races (say 9) are all humanoid then it would be very hard to have 9 creative and innovative outward appearances if your limited to the same body shape. 9 different rubber foreheads or animal faces isn't the hight of creativity and hasn't been since the ancient Egyptians did it.

Finally you'd have to justify why no individual body shape save humans got more than 2 races (if that), but for some reason 9 separate races evolved into the same body shape. Normally we don't put too much focus on realism, but this is the backstory rather than the gameplay.
Robbie.Price wrote: But, when building a race, one has two options, to go with the 'natural' behavior for the form, or against the 'natural behavior'.
Forms have a lot less natural behaviour than you might expect. Dog: a friendly loyal companion, eats food provided by its owner. Wolf, same shape, a vicious predator.
Its easy to see why people think crystals are cold and analytical, all those hard edges and angles sure look it, but when you think about it there is no logical reason for them to be so.

And its not as clear as with the form or against it, you could mix the two: crystals who are intelligent, analytical, logical but care about other life. Or you can go on a tangent, replace analytical with philosophical. Or of course you can do what people here seem to be quite good at and create very unique forms that don't have too much of a history.
Robbie.Price wrote:And if you go against the 'natural' why? if it's just to upset the 'normal'
That one of the reasons I do it :)
Robbie.Price wrote:keep in mind that at best you might hope for is to succeed and make people uncomfortable with the race. . . . not normally what one goes for when creating a race? no?
Do you have any examples of that actually happening?