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The Ghost in the Machine: An Open Letter to the Artists of Kingsisle

Feb 01, 2009
To the fallen artists and designers of the once-beloved game known as "Wizard101,"

I write to you in such a state of grief that I find articulation of the matter at hand to be an excruciatingly difficult task, though I embark on it nonetheless as an act of love, an old, long-nurtured compassion for both the game which, until today, brought me such rapturous joy, and for the creators of said game, to whom I owe the aforementioned rapture. I myself am an artist and an optimist. I approach all other things through this lens; for I find this particular rose-colored glass to make all things more beautiful by virtue of its nature; for it does all in its power to emphasize the beauty in all things. Thus, I am jarred- to put matters kindly- when confronted by a thing so harsh that even all those beautiful elements in which it is cradled are not enough to soften its edges.

Such was my experience this very morning.

Oh, how I wish I had not, by way of habit, launched Wizard this morning, and had not, by way of vision, encountered the aesthetic monstrosity that is my faithful avatar, Anna Moonshield. Where once I met the familiar gaze of my sorcering self, I now avert mine eyes in the face of what can best be described as a discarded prototype of a would-be Barbie, scrapped for want of anything inviting, anything comfortable, anything familiar save for that terrifying effect that Freud would accurately describe as "uncanny."

Allow me to describe to you the harshnesses entrapped in the wizard Moonshield's visage. The most glaring change is the nose, which has been repainted so as to appear sharper, creating the illusion of a considerably smaller nose by comparison to the nose pre-update. The new nose is so disproportionate to the rest of the face that it appears alien, a choice that an artist might make in order to instill terror and disgust in the player. I am an advocate for individual autonomy in nearly all things, including one's appearance and right to alter it as they so please, including by surgical means. This said, the non-consensual, botched plastic surgery that has been performed on Anna's face is both morally unacceptable and visually repugnant. I fear both for those who might encounter her in the wizard realm (lest they be turned to stone) as well as for Anna herself, who appears as though she might now find breathing an impossible task. This is not a nose that any humanoid should be so unfortunate to bear, but I cannot be brought to believe that the face of a child, wizard or otherwise, could possibly possess a nose so small and insignificant that it contradicts the biological tendency towards "cuteness" in young creatures so as to improve the want to nurture in those elder beings of the same species. Concisely, this nose is not "cute."

Regarding the eyes: whereas before they were painted (albeit clumsily) with a subtle shadow beneath the upper lid, the whites of the eyes now stand out as being both flat on the face and in front of the eyelid. The bottom lid is yet another casualty: for in painting the bottom lash line in exactly the same manner as the lash line above, the artist at fault has destroyed all sense of softness and naturalism. They have made the most novice mistake; for any seasoned artist knows that one does not, unless the intended effect is one of discomfort, outline the eyes in one closed shape with no variation in the thickness of line.

If it were clear that this overhaul meant to impose a more cartoonish look upon our wizard avatars, my criticism would not be so harsh. If it were clear the overhaul meant to impose a more naturalistic look, then too would I be more forgiving. Instead, the stylistic intention remains unclear; for the two elements of the face I have thus far mentioned are at odds with each other, one over-rendered so as to achieve some misguided realism, one under-rendered to resemble a shoddily-painted factory doll. The inconsistency itself is yet another point of anguish; for it is as confusing to the eye as it is unpleasant.

If my grief were not so taxing, I might go on to describe in detail the several other mistakes that the artists at fault have made- the softening of the jaw; the addition of a crease that runs from the outer nostril, effectively aging the child-wizard Anna Moonshield some 50 years; an equally disturbing excess of detail in the neck; and so on. Yet, I confess that I have neither the strength nor the will to carry on in this manner, so I must leave my letter at this.

Dear artists, designers, and whoever else has any sway in this matter whatsoever: do not underestimate the importance of a well-executed portrait. Do not underestimate the impact of a poorly executed one, either. It is true that the previous design was imperfect, but what you have done is as far as could be from an improvement. Until the issue has been resolved, I am afraid I will be joining those who are uninstalling the game and ceasing to play. The situation you have created is untenable.

I hope you take these words to heart.

In pain, in suffering, and in condemnation,
The player formerly known as Anna Moonshield

May 07, 2010
wow, that was quite the read you must be a very skilled writer as well as artist! aside from that, you definitely nailed the major stylistic problems with the models. as an artist myself, i pretty much share your same thoughts:

i agree that for girls, the nose is way too contoured & the smile lines are too harsh. these lines also carve sharply under the cheeks, making them look too puffy+tight (cheeks also have too-strong lighting that aggravates this). this type of detail is inappropriate for a late-teens player model, & clashes uncomfortably with the cartoony traits of the overall art style -- these being the large eyes, the round head, the child-like body, and the 2D-painted style of the eyes & mouths. the girls thus sit in a confusing visual age range, where you know theyre supposed to be young wizards, yet they simultaneously look middle-aged.

removing (or at least shortening) the smile lines around the nose & mouth would make a huge difference. i feel the nose needs to be slightly redone too -- specifically the nostrils & nose bridge are too harshly sculpted. after that, maybe readjusting the lights & shadows in areas like the cheeks would also help.

(the guys have the opposite problem i think -- their face sculpt is more age-appropriate, but combined with the enlarged eyes & rounded+shortened jawline, they now look too young -- around 10-12 years old).
i also agree with what you said about the eyes. the flat 2D-style the eyes & mouths are rendered in again clashes with the harsh detail of the face sculpt. overall, i fully agree that the stylistic intent of these models is unclear, and that is a major problem.if the new models are meant to keep the 2D style elements of the originals, evident by the eyes & mouths, then the sculpt of the face should not go in the other direction & attempt to look "realistic." this creates the "uncanny" visuals.

i feel that going for realism in revamped & new graphics isnt the right move for this game. it simply doesnt fit, and thats ok! let other games do realism as it fits them. this game is meant to be fantasy -- whimsical, magical, dynamic, etc. the original style knew this & presented its unique style well. the only problem was that it was old, not that it was bad. i implore devs to remember this going forward. i dont want the art style to become the confusing, uncomfortable look seen with these models, nor do i want brand new graphics that conflict with the game's establish look (ie. catacombs models). i think the translation of the old eyes & mouths to the new style was mostly good, its just the detailed 3D rendering that doesnt match up.

im glad im not the only one who noticed the neck! the strong contour of the "V" muscles has absolutely NO place on a teen-aged model, and adds even more stylistic confusion. the V-muscles arent even that prominent on young people in real life, unless theyre stretching or exerting. also, ive said it like 10 times and ill say it again, it shouldnt have a thicker top & a thinner base. its an unnatural shape & meshes badly with our bodies. KI, please remove the sharp geometry on the sides of the neck that fan out at the top & are sculpted by the "V" shading. then, lighten up & smooth out the shading overall. itll help make the neck's shape more evenly rounded instead of bulgy & crude, and itll look so much better

sorry for the long read, hope it wasnt too confusing (still learning how to format). anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts -- even if others get deterred by your presentation, know that i understood & i appreciate your perspective. i truly hope that your feedback, & the feedback that hundreds of players shared during test realm & continue to share on various platforms, is heard by the devs, and that theyre continuing to improve the models

Nov 23, 2011
The player formerly known as Anna Moonshield has a point. I am not overly fond of the change. The eyes are too large. My wizards look much more cartoonish to me than previously.