[GW2] Natural Aliens

It’s the start of Sylvari Week! Kristen Perry begins with a shebang as she tells us how the player-controlled humanoid, plant race was designed and re-designed. I, personally, am just amazed. It’s another example of working and re-working things in that ol’ iterative process until it feels right. Perry did it at night on her own time!

The original design was not any more evocative of plants or nature than some forest elves. Perry mentions that they never seemed to hit the trifecta of noble, beautiful, and plant. Their visual design always felt like fae at peace with nature. I loved their story as it seems to stem largely from sidhe mythology, but they were about as interesting as elves to the eye. Or, rather, humans that were slightly different.

Now they feel alien. Something about them is not quite right. It doesn’t feel like an obvious, natural creation, like making yet another anthropomorphic race. The plant-grown sylvari feel unnatural, and that is why I think Perry hit the design straight on. They should be unnatural. They aren’t a culmination of evolution or even magical…uhh.. offspringing. They are weird. Perhaps unliked.

In so many stories about the sidhe and other noble fae, we are told that they have otherworldly beauty. Strange beauty. It rarely made sense to me. I usually went along a supermodel-ramped-to-eleven route in my mind, but I think the answer is something more along the lines of Medusa. Alluring and repulsive at the same time hits the mark, and it works great for the sylvari. I think that this design will especially appeal to both men and women gamers, whereas the old “elvish” design might not have appealed to that tough, CODBLOPSy guy.

I can’t believe the “stock” of the sylvari can rise much higher after this start, but, once again, I am waiting to be surprised.

–Ravious
wyrd

33 thoughts on “[GW2] Natural Aliens”

  1. I still don’t understand why plant creatures need belly buttons or some of the other… mammalian features. I’m not up to date on their lore, though.

      1. It’s like all those robots designed to look like humans. They have the same features, but there is just something unnatural and almost kind of creepy about them.

        I think this is how the Sylvari should be, and they nailed it.

    1. Read Kristen’s post. It’s only a passing comment, but she says that the “opposing divot” of the body acts like a belly button.
      The anatomical detail in the Sylvari is great.

      1. Yeah – I really like that she considered the actual anatomy of plants before going ahead with the design. With the sprouting socket kinda idea – whereby if you look at a flower or a leaf they sprout out of a central stalk – and she tried to incorporate that in the design of both the characters and their armour/clothes.

    2. Did you read Kristen’s blog post? She said it was like a fruit, you have the part where to stem grows on a fruit (for example; an orange) and the other end of it with is kinda funny shaped. That ‘other end’ is what the belly button is on a Sylvari :)

  2. I think you’re right, the sylvari (although seemingly the most “nature”like of all the races) should feel unnatural. My theory is that they are a defensive mechanism by the pale tree – a sort of forced evolution. Which is why they are so planty, there wasn’t time to forge anything other than something hewn from the tree herself.

  3. A lot of their weirdness might be due to the seemingly symbiotic relationship they have with other plants, looking at the “costume” design, you can see other plants intertwined with their bodies. Look at Caithe closely, the big leaves that make up her shawl have their roots in the middle of her chest. Bioluminescense suggests other organisms under the skin.

    All and all I’m really impressed with the new look, Caithe especially. It’s going to be hard wearing general armours, when the racial sylvari armours look amazing.

  4. They really look great…I love the idea of a “winter skin”. Be interesting to see what leaf motions and swishing sounds get tied to the body.

  5. I am glad they aren’t all picture perfect humans. I want them to look and feel different. They aren’t humans, they aren’t us. They shouldn’t look like us. I just hope there are options to remove some of these human likeness, like bellybuttons and stuff. That would be cool. Also the bio-luminescent markings sound really awesome. Would look cool with the glowing weapons at night. Cannot wait for what they have in store for gamescom. I wanna see the Sylvari Animations. I wonder what those will look like :D

  6. Personally I think they’re portrayed closer to humans than they likely should have been. At the moment they reminded me a little of delvian from Farscape, or really the majority of races in fantasy or sci-fi that are ultimately human at their most distilled core.

    Still, I do agree that they are at a good balance between unsettling and familiar, just the right mixture for a MMORPG race were realism, as with most media, is a tool rather than the law.

    A good thing to the creative mind. ;)

  7. I think the one thing they really hit the nail on the head with was the uncanny feeling that Fae have. As you mentioned Fae are often viewed as unnaturally beautiful or unearthly. To me the Sylvari exist in that inbetween which is what they are suppose to be.

  8. Much improved. I was never going to play a sylvari when they were wide eyed elves dressed in plants. The base look is still a little elfin for my liking, but the green and brown skin variations are pretty refreshing, and the costuming and armor has left my jaw on the floor in sheer awe. Fantastically organic, glowy bioluminescent effect is awesomely desirable, I might make a sylvari now just to have a base to hang those armor pieces off, like a clothes hook dummy. :) And no doubt the race will then proceed to *ahem* -grow- on me.

  9. After reading the stories of Killeen in the original Guild Wars novel, Ghosts of Ascalon and then Caithe in the follow-up book, Edge of Destiny, I’ve been planning on creating a female Sylvari Necromancer.

    The only problem was, that the original Sylvari look didn’t quite fit with the appearance that I’d imagined for my necro.

    After seeing the latest iteration I’m as happy as a dog with two bones, as Kristen’s newest visual creation fits perfectly with my imagined merging of the two characters from the books.

  10. Overall I am pleased with redesign, much better than original.
    That leaveas only one thing for me to wish/complain for/about. That is body mass. I hope we will be able to change budy type of our avatar since, well… Sylvari are supposed to be mimicking humans, if that is so, some should be more muscular and some should be bones and skin and others should have option to be fat.
    All that said, I just want my Sylvari to have a bit more muscles (male). Nothing extreme such as Night elves, more like male blood elf models.

    That sounded too much like complaining…
    I am certanly pleased with what they did, but with this I would be even happier. A man can dream and gamescom is coming closer every day.

  11. The look is too human. They look like green and brown humans with leafy highlights no matter what anyone claims to the contrary.

    If a plant raised by a centaur was going to produce a new race for an important reason, why would it adopt humans as a model? Why not a centaur? Why not roots and twigs in the more entish form which would be more natural to a plant? How does a plant form a nose? Why would it do that?

    Remember the jungle with all of the nifty thorn creatures and their kin? What about the larger ones, the island guardians in Factions? All of these natural types of animated plants seem to have been discarded.

    If we’re going to really push the boundaries, why wouldn’t we give players a real variety? We now have big humans (norn), normal humans, and leafy humans. Think about the major differences with Charr and Asura. Do these sylvari really have that degree of distinction?

    1. “Ronan, a human soldier, found the fist-sized seed of the pale tree in a cave. On returning to his home he discovered his home destroyed by mursaat. He planted the seed on the graves of his family and swore never to fight again. Ronan formed an unlikely friendship with the centaur Ventari and together they built a refuge near the growing tree for those who sought peace and shelter.

      As the pale tree grew, the war between the centaur and krytans became more brutal and fewer listened to Ventari and the small outpost grew smaller. Before he passed away in 1180 AE, Ventari carved his life lessons on a tablet which he placed at the base of the tree in the hope travellers might read it.

      Over one hundred years later, golden fruit formed for the first time on the pale tree. In 1302 AE, these opened to the first of the sylvari. The tablet at the base of the tree and the Dream of Dreams guide the sylvari, who are imprinted by the morality and ethics of Ventari and the bravery of Ronan.”

      the seed for the pale tree itself came from a cave first found by Ronan. And you might as well ask why charr looks like charr and asura looks like asura.

      1. So… how does the place where the seed was found have any bearing on anything?

        Consider: They could have done amazingly cool things with the Sylvari. They could have had a “plant mode” and a “humanoid mode” which could be switched by the player. They could have made it so they Sylvari were slightly metamorphic meaning they could change to be slightly more like any of the other races than their true plant form at will (think shapeshifting assassins or spies). There is so much that could have been.

        Ah, well. Nothing is perfect.

        1. I think the issues are a) the sylvari shouldn’t be TOO much more complex, visually or mechanically, than the other playable races, and b) while we lore geek types might love it, the majority of ANet’s audience – especially the new players they wish to attract – are going to be more comfortable with a basically humanoid, familiar shape. I think they’re pushing enough boundaries for me to let them compromise on things like this (and let the female norn being indistinguishable from female humans slide).

          The thought put into this redesign and the plant-growth shapes is amazing, I was so impressed reading Perry’s article. With things like the clothing design, it’s like it reflects that sylvari think like plants.

  12. I think the sylvari redesign is absolutely brilliant. She really developed a gorgeously innovative and pleasing aesthetic. Couldn’t be happier and this is definitely the race i will identify with.

    Stunning job.

  13. Eh. Despite all the talk about how they weren’t just green people with leafy clothes, that’s exactly how they look. Nothing in the included pictures even vaguely suggests that they’re anything more.

    1. They’re not strikingly inhuman, true (and a fair few people would like to see them pushed farther). All the features of a human body are there, although I stick by my theory that it’s because sylvari are imitations of the human form – a way for the Tree to mix and mingle with humanoids and experience, if you will.

      Personally, I just compare these images with the old sylvari images on the race page, and I think they’ve done an excellent job developing the concept.

        1. Why do they have arms and legs and hands and eyes and noses and mouths? Why are there males and females?

          I’m going to go with there having been some research that says humans would have a hard time playing anything too far removed from a human form.

  14. According to the DEVs the sylvari are plants that are trying to “imitate” humans… the plants are presenting an optical illusion.

    Simply having the knowledge that this is what’s going on augments the otherwordly weirdness of the race to me.

    To commenters on the interwebs it sounds like the “plants” are doing a little too good a job of “faking” being a human… then again, some folks are easily deceived.

    All of those considerations aside, I like the aesthetic of the redesign. The details of the ears… the possibility of bioluminescent markings… the multiple “seasons” allowing a wide variance of options (personally I love the “winter” character models) all of this added to the intriguing lore of the sylvari makes this the most interesting race of the most anticipated new MMO for me.

    The first character I’m going to create when I get my hands on this game is a “winter” sylvari necro.

  15. First off, I really, really like the Sylvari redesign. I’m delighted that they are heading off in the direction they are going. I like the plant-man vibe, and I think the anatomy work really brings that off far better than the original look.

    But… um… when Ree Soesbee says “They are new to our world, they are new to every world, there’s never been a creature like this” I must gag a bit. RuneQuest had the same concept in Pen and Paper RPGs in 1978. The old joke then was that Elves were a Troll’s favorite vegetable. And yes, they were plants, with plant concerns: the “brown elves” and the “green elves” were deciduous and evergreens. Aggressive too… you didn’t want to wander into the “garden” in old Pavis. And it’s taking over that whole area…

    Looking forward to seeing this wonderful old concept (admittedly, not much used) that’s been part of Sci-Fi and Fantasy since Beam Piper, E.E. Doc Smith and Edger Rice Burroughs done in what looks like a great game.

      1. On the guru forums, people are already at each others throat about that. I’m pretty new to the GW community, are they always that hostile?

        1. Can’t really say, haven’t seen the threads, though this is the internet, and pointless hostility is a given. Still, for me, this was a needless, unforced error. What’s the one joke that we recall about Al Gore? That he “invented the internet.”

          I’m delighted at almost everything I’ve seen from Arena Net. I eagerly await what they come out with. I’ve been a Jeff Grubb fan for years (since he was at TSR and did the old Marvel Super Heroes game). I love reading what Kirsten Perry and Ree Soesbee say about their design work. Just don’t be silly with the hype — I get that you are excited. Don’t claim that the ideas you have are so revolutionary that nobody has ever had them before.

          RPGs aren’t amazingly new anymore. I’m excited for the wonderful implementation, not the fantastic new concepts. And when you have Jeff Grubb doing the background and concept work, you can’t claim ignorance of the biggest work in the field he was hired from (pen and paper RPGs). RuneQuest was very well known back in the day, and the fate of the Deldrimmor dwarves and the origins of the Sylvari match really, really well to the RuneQuest Mostali (dwarves) and Aldryami (elves) to the point where I figured it was homage.

          I probably sound bitter, and I’m not. I’m a fan of ArenaNet, think GW1 is the best RPG on the market now, and anticipate having great fun in GW2. I want to draw friends into playing these. Having silly statements like this make my job (slightly) harder, not (way the heck) easier.

          There’s a sentient plant in the Green Lantern Corps, for crying out loud. This is not a new concept.

          1. I said something similar on Hunter’s Insight, but ultimately every fantasy/sci-fi race has been present in some form in some medium. The problem is that it’s easy to construct a race in hindsight…. “oh sylvari are just dryads with sidhe and borg” but the genius of it is that ANet created it forward.

            At the end of the day I don’t think it matters. What matters is the direction and depth of the race. Norn ARE just big human vikings with a dash of animism, yet they feel awesome. They feel like more than humans even though they don’t look like much more than a race of Andre the Giants. That’s what will matter, IMHO.

  16. I think they got it right with the second approach. In fact I expected nothing less from them.

    I could never really believe that ArenaNet would simply add an Elf like race to the game and we had too many of those in the RPGs of the past…

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