Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Costume Design in Games

This was originally written for Forces Of Geek on the 13th June. I ended up with lots of cool fashion and costumes design types following me on twitter after it went live which was great as it reminded me how much I really enjoyed costume design.


With graphics improving and next gen console specs promising mind blowing, tear jerking realism the nature of costumes and clothing in games is paramount.

There are some things that rarely escape the uncanny valley, such as eyes, flesh tone and hair but more and more fabric can be digitally replicated with greater skill. One only has to compare the likes of singular block 8-big bodies of the past to the multi layered flowing robes of the various characters in Assassin's Creed for example. The attention to detail is incredible.

As such, I'm going to take a quick look at some of the best examples and uses of costume in video games as well as some of those rather impractical designs *cough* Ivy from Soul Caliber *cough*

Textures can be so intricate, detailed and complex that capturing their essence in game is a hard job. I studied textile design in my late teens and managed to re-write my design brief to incorporate video games because back then I was and to this day still am incredibly passionate about all aspects of gaming.

I began looking at cosplay and studying my own games. I found the textures and design features fascinating and began sketching, painting and experimenting with different fabrics, fibres and accessories (I was in love with Lulu's costume in Final Fantasy X with all the belts!). In the end, I designed and created my own variation of Princess Zelda's costume and it's still in my wardrobe!


I imagine that designing video game costumes is potentially easier, no need to adjust the fit for your model, take up hemlines or spend hours embroidering intricate designs, however I have little knowledge of video game design or 3D modelling to back that up! 

In terms of well designed costumes, that is a costume which looks good and is ergonomically sound i have to say that Link's costume is perhaps my favourite. It's a simple yet well designed tunic and if Link was a real life adventurer his costume would be everything a modern adventurer needed - so he might not feel particularly masculine in tights and a tunic but it gives him all the flexibility in which to climb, run, ride a horse and throw the occasional chicken. 

In terms of detail however, Link's clothing is a little dull unlike the protagonists and multitude of background characters in the Assassin's Creed franchise. The design team at Ubisoft really know their stuff and it shows. The amount of research into renaissance Italy in Assassin's Creed 2 and Brotherhood which is incorporated into the characters clothing is evident in the Venetian masks, the billowing styles and rich colours which would have been the product of various vegetable dyes at the time is astounding. Mohamed Gambouz, art director of Ubisoft Montreal spoke about their vision for Assassin's Creed 2

"Our main focus from the beginning was to make the game look and feel rich visually whether through architectural styles, textures, ornaments, and diverse and historically accurate" - 
Gambouz on the CGSociety website for digital artists.

It definitely shows in-game and I could spend a lot of time analysing the designs in the Creed franchise, but it would take up a whole article! 


You only need to look at the many Assassin's Creed cosplayers to see just how good the designs are. You only need to go to a convention to see how popular the Assassin's Creed costumes are. If cosplayers are choosing to represent and emulate a character and their costume then not only does it set a higher standard for the games designers, but it also shows they are doing their job well!

Another game series which really takes costume design to another level is BioShock. Perhaps this is because much like Assassin's Creed the game is set in a different time period and setting, giving the design team a plethora of historical inspirations and designs to draw from. Even so, I love the combination of Art Deco and industrial influences that are apparent in the game and though the majority of the costumes in the game are simplistic, I felt the grandiose nature of some of the costumes, especially in the flashbacks, really added to the narrative and incorporated Andrew Ryan's grand (yet deluded) vision.


Phil Frechette, Sarah Rosa, and Kayla Belmore as Splicers for a costume comtest at Irrational Games.

Speaking of vision, there are times when I wonder just how practical headgear, visors and helmets really are. Some of the headgear in the Elder Scrolls games looks as though it would hinder or obscure  your line of sight. Lucky for our characters, we have a better field of vision than they do - though I often wonder if some of the helmets in Skyrim are basically akin to wearing a bucket on your head. How the hell are you meant to see a dragon coming at you wearing that?!

It conjures up images of the classic kids TV show Knightmare in which kids were essentially blindfolded (well, they did get a helmet to wear) in an empty warehouse and had to navigate "dungeons" guided only by the voices of their friends. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, take a gander at this; 

(Knightmare video)

It's not just headgear, sometimes a characters clothes or lack thereof are just plain silly. I don't even think I need to explain why fighting in these clothes would be difficult...


A great video which highlights the impractability of certain female attire in the video game world is this episode of Immersion by the awesome Rooster Teeth gang, it has some "revealing" results!

(Rooster teeth video)

So, while a lot of video game costumes would be implausible in real life, the majority of them are beautifully designed and often help set the tone and style of a game, whether they're period costumes รก la BioShock or sci-fi inspired onesie spacesuits, costume design is an inherent and important part of character design - they can take a character and make them an icon. I mean, if I tell you to think about Max Payne, I bet you're imagining a wonderfully garish shirt or an awful tie? Or think about Lara Croft - her look is so simple yet every gamer could tell you the components that make up her costume because it's so iconic.

Next time you play a game, take time to really look at level of detail that has gone into your protagonists costume. 

Got your own favourite video game costume? Then hit up the comments section below and let me know.

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