Tag Archives: character design

My Personal Fears About Dota 2‘s Art Plagiarism Made Real

My first contact with anything Blizzard Entertainment-related was when a kid much older than I found a copy of WarCraft II: Tides of War on our aging PC in the Philippines. I found the fantasy story gripping, but as a child who drew far more than he wrote [a ratio clearly flipped on its head nowadays] it was the visuals that really grabbed me.

A few years later, on my family’s return to Canada, seeing WarCraft III in Best Buy fliers made my eyes widen in awe. These were many of the same races and units I was familiar with, but updated graphically. I spent many of my precious minutes on the internet perusing the game’s website just gawking at the units and buildings before I finally grabbed a copy of my own.

When World of WarCraft was announced I made plans to play it with my friends, though those were ultimately stymied by the subscription fee as well as my family’s move to Thailand. That didn’t stop me from absorbing as much about the game as I could, though. This was a world I was deeply familiar with but expanded to a greater scope than I could ever imagine. Continue reading

The Lizard’s New Look

Film franchise reboots are certainly nothing new, and next summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man is sure to bring with it a certain amount of new flair to a familiar super-hero. More than just showing us a different kid in red and blue tights, this film is also an opportunity for us to see yet another (less well-known) Spidey villain: The Lizard.

Way back in July of this year io9 reported on a surprise viewing of the first Lizard clip, describing the character they saw:

…a giant beast, green with oversized arms, and a proportionally smaller head and enormous yellow eyes. He doesn’t have a crocodile head — more of a cross between a lizard and a human’s, with a flat nose, but a grotesque curled mouth.

This instantly drew criticism, and created the unanimous viewpoint that this sounded much more like a Goomba from the 1993 film Super Mario Bros. Yet another observation was that the design was much more reminiscent of the Batman villain Killer Croc.

As you can see in the image above, The Lizard has always had a more pointed snout, and looked generally more like, well, a lizard. The torn lab coat is also a trademark for the character, as well as purple pants [apparently he and The Hulk buy their clothes at the same place].

Yesterday the website spiderman.ru released concept art of the film’s Lizard, creating an uproar in internet comic circles. This is not at all what fans were expecting (even after the aforementioned description of the clip), and debates were sparked between Lizard apologists and Lizard die-hards.

I began sifting through the comments sections of blogs, as I am wont to do, and found an interesting disputation between two commenters on this article, with one commenter, Kitradu, stressing that actors wearing masks “should be able to act THROUGH their limitations, physical or mental.” He referenced Willem Defoe’s performance as the Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man movie as being captivating in spite of the helmet he wore which fully obscured his face.

His opponent, storymark, began the debate with the comment:

One of the big complaints about the Raimi movies, the first in particular, was that all the masks prevented any emoting. And very few actors would be interested in a role where their actual performance is obscured.

Personally, I think an expressionless face is boring as hell.

As far as evidence goes, I tend to side with Kitradu. He references V from V for Vendetta as well as Darth Vader in the original Star Wars films as characters that held our attention without us ever seeing their faces (save for that one scene in Return of the Jedi). Emotion is more easily portrayed through a humanoid face, but what does the design change mean as far as the abilities of the actor and our viewing abilities as an audience?

To be fair to storymark, The Lizard is a very different character from either of the examples he provided. He’s far more bestial, and, from what I remember, not particularly articulate. The motion capture that Rhys Ifans is doing may not allow him the freedom Hugo Weaving had behind the Guy Fawkes mask. Though, to refute my own point, this is something Andy Serkis had no problem doing in King Kong, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes. To counter that point, both Kong and Caesar have faces more similar to humans than reptiles.

All debate aside, it should be noted, as a potential last point for this post, that the character design for The Lizard is extremely similar to his original design by Steve Ditko. But maybe there’s a reason his look has changed in the comics we read today.

Why I Disagree With Dota 2

Gamers everywhere were rejoicing yesterday as Valve released the first official footage of their newest game, DotA 2, made more special by the fact that the footage was from a livestream of the first DotA 2 tournament ever.

To back up a little, DotA, or Defence of the Ancients, is a custom game mode for the Blizzard-made RTS WarCraft III. Although many mods of the game exist, there are none that can compare to the popularity that DotA has with the gaming community. Influential to the point that it has spawned its own genre of video game,and been the inspiration for the similar titles League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, DotA has actually become a  feature at worldwide tournaments, including the Asian World Cyber Games. To say that this is just another mod is an immense understatement.

For a bit of background on Valve, they have been the brilliant minds that havebrought us titles such as Half-Life, Left 4 Dead, and Portal. For the most part these are all games that are saturated with narrative and feature inventive, innovative gameplay. Valve has long been seen as a company that deeply cares for its fans, their constant release of new content for the [now free to play] shooter Team Fortress 2 being a prime example.

On October 13th of last year, Valve announced that they were creating DotA 2. IceFrog, a modder who maintained and developed the original game was hired by the company in 2009 and has since been working on the sequel.

That last word is one of my first issues with the game. The very usage of the name “DotA” with the addition of the “2” seems to state that this is yet another sequel to another already-owned property, such as Half-Life 2. This could not be further from the truth. While IceFrog did help a great deal in furthering the game, as a mod it belongs to the community that helped create it, the hundreds of men and women who suggested heroes or contributed icons or penned lore for the heroes they loved playing as. The name, of course, was chosen simply for familiarity, which brings me to my next point.

In order to ease players into the transition from the WarCraft III mod to the new and improved DotA 2 Valve needed more than just a title. According to Game Informer:3

DotA-Allstars‘ roster of 100+ heroes is being brought over in its entirety. The single map games take place on is functionally identical to the one that you can download for free today in the Warcraft III mod. Items, skills, and upgrade paths are unchanged. Some hero skills work slightly better due to being freed from the now-ancient Warcraft III engine, but Dota 2 will be instantly familiar to any DotA player.

Along with the heroes being brought over were their models. Since the world editor in Warcraft III only allowed for so much customization, unit models from the game itself were used in DotA. Instantly recognizable after years of playing the mod, Valve chose to make their heroes look as close to their blockier counterparts as possible.

To the left is an example of the icons used for the heroes, the ones on the left from DotA and the ones on the right from DotA 2.

The first, Prophet [known as Nature’s Prophet in Dota 2], features the same beard and horns, as well as facial tattoos. What was even more disconcerting, however, was the name of the image file for the latter, “furion_lg.png.” Furion is the name of the original hero, and is actually taken from a character in WarCraft III itself.

The second is known by Dazzle in both games, and clearly depicts a troll-ish kind of creature with a skull face tattoo. The colouration is extremely similar.

The third, called Storm Spirit by both, gets only slightly more original. Instead of portraying a humanoid panda DotA 2 instead changes the character to a human, albeit wearing extremely similar garb.

Valve has always been a company that pumped out solid, original content, and watching the tournament replays of this game made me deeply upset. The Anti-Mage attacks just as he always did with long, curved blades on each hand, Leshrac gallops swiftly forward on all fours, torso rocking back rhythmically as usual.

I could point out countless similarities, especially to character design that has always been distinctly Blizzard’s, but I won’t. The fact of the matter is that the easiest way to familiarize a gamer with something new is to show them exactly what they’ve seen before. A muscular red orc with a topknot hefting an immense axe remains exactly that, even with sleeker graphics.

DotA 2 is a game that has a very large number of players waiting to get their hands on it. The genre is only growing more and more popular, and Valve has found a way to successfully cash in on that market. It’s just a shame that this was the way that they chose to do it.

1. See? There’s even a Wikipedia page on it! <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dota_genre>

2. Seriously, no strings attached. <http://www.tf2.com/freetoplay/>

3.  Source to this and much of the other facts in this post: <http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2010/10/13/dota-2-announced-details.aspx>