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Opinion: the problem with back item design

Tai Kratos.3247

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So, the usual preface: this is just my opinion. Let me know if you agree / disagree and why. It's something I've been thinking about and I put together the material for it in 30 minutes, so it might be wrong. I dunno.

TLDR: I don't like the design of most back items. I find them hard to combine with armor to make a cohesive character design, often making me opt to go with the back item hidden. Many characters using back items look cobbled together, and I think this might be because back items don't know what they're supposed to be or what role they're supposed to fill.

Are back items armor pieces or accessories? Anet doesn't seem to know either:PMbs3ys.png

On the equipment screen, back items are grouped with the accessories. But in the wardrobe, they're grouped with armor. This makes sense for the GUI because they fit conveniently in those places. But unlike other accessories, back items are visible. But visually, they aren't treated like armor.744BeAK.png

So the first image shows my character normally. When you use an items that applies shaders to your character, all of the armor is affected except for the back item (shown in the second image). This also translates into the log-in screen, where the back item is not visible (the third image).

So I think Anet's approach to back items is to treat them as accessories that just happen to be visible, rather than as parts of your armor. And I think this philosophy impacts both the types of items available and their design negatively. Check it out, I made a pie chart:bvcgSQ3.png

I think I have too much time. But this chart categorizes all of the different styles of back items in the game:

  • Wings (any wing shaped item)
  • Enhancements (crazy add-ons like tentacles, metallic claws, jetpacks, etc)
  • Armor (things that actually could be considered part of the armor)
  • Backpack (items that are literally just backpacks)
  • Junk (random crap glued to the player's back that have no business being on anyone's back)
  • Plush (plushies glued to the player's back)
  • Banners (this includes all of the new banners from PoF)

This is subjective, because what I think is junk might not be junk to you. But let's be honest, some of the Chinese New Year back items look like decorations from a cheap American-Chinese buffet glued on. And there are waaaaaay too many plain backpacks, which is incredibly boring. The number of backpacks and junk is artificially boosted by the plethora of back-items supplied by crafting back items, which cluttered the page with dozens of back items that I never see anybody using.

Then there are items like this one: 220px-Lava_Skull_Backpack.jpgIf we're honest, this kind of items looks like a child's backpack. You know, the type that looks like a cartoon character's head? How is this supposed to fit into any character's design? I haven't seen anybody using this.

I think the best kinds of back-items are wings, enhancements, armor, and banners, because those items actually belong on a back. The best for me is the armor category, which I kept selective based on a few criteria: they had to either belong on a back properly (like a quiver) or fit in naturally as part of the armor (like the Order of Whispers back pieces). If they had a color that could not be matched with dyes (like the Auric back piece) then they were excluded. I honestly had to be forgiving to some items to artificially bloat this category. (For example, I included the Vigil back pieces because they can be matched with dye colors.)

Right now, it is possible to come up with a cohesive look for a character by mixing and matching armor pieces, but it is very difficult to include back pieces in this because of their design. Back items often look tacked onto a character instead of part of a cohesive plan. I think a few things could improve this:

  • Treat back items as armor (in shaders, on menus, etc).
  • Design back items to be a part of character design, not tacked on accessories
  • Add dye sections to select parts of certain back items so we can match them to our characters better, instead of matching our characters to our back pieces

Some shields when put on the player's back make better back items than the back items do. For example:Ul9CRvw.png

There can be so many ways I think that back pieces can be a part of character design: make back-plating that bulks up your character, add an armored spiky spine that goes along the player's back, make icy spikes grow from the player, add capes (shout-out to the GW1 players out there), add a wind-up toy's key that spins in the character's back as they walk, add a turtle shell, add a fur cloak that bulks the player up ala The Night's Watch. Add something! But I'd love it if the back items were actually a part of my character, rather than an afterthought.

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Anet have way, waaaaaaaaaay jumped the shark with all the ridiclous wing types we have in the game by now if you ask me. Very much takes away from the nature of the game to see it inhabited by 85% bird people. More "low magic setting" backpieces such as cloaks and the like would be more than a welcome change if you were to ask me.

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