Updated Fri, Jan 02, 2009 by Shayalyn
Signature Art Imitating Life
There's probably not a gamer out there who doesn't remember the first time they felt the magic-the magic of the game world. From Final Fantasy to EverQuest, these worlds are bursting with color and enchantment. Our avatars, too, are captivating. They never age; they look just like we want them to look. They're prettier, more virtuous, nobler, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound.
The level of attachment gamers have to their gaming personas even outside the game intrigues me. Signature and other game art, in particular, reflect this abiding attachment gamers have to their avatars.
I've been creating gaming signatures ever since one of my best gaming buddies (who also happens to be a family member) asked me to help her design some EverQuest Live guild forum signatures (or "sigs," as we call them).
A former web designer, I had enough knowledge of the basic principles involved that I thought I could learn how to create signature art. What I lacked in knowledge and training, I was able to begin to learn from artists like those at Norrath's Studios.
For instance, you can't tell by looking that over four hours of artwork can go into one teensy little forum sig. For instance, before I even started on Axxon's signature, Axxon sent me his character's history, a description of his personality, and comments about the mood he wanted his signature to communicate. He sent me a number of screenshots, but one of them seemed to capture his avatar perfectly. He took the screenshot, showing me what he meant to show me; I merely translated the message into 400 x 100 pixels. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
One of my favorite signature artists is Pipa, at Inky Mouse. She sometimes spends hours re-brushing, coloring, and otherwise beautifying EverQuest 1 and 2 screenshots for players who request forum signatures. By the time Pipa is finished with a portrait or signature, she has produced an image that expresses a level of individualization that no game can ever produce: one that says something about what the player herself sees or feels while she's playing the game, something about who she is.
Gamers are fond of differentiating between "real life" and the game, begging off from raids or other guild requirements by pleading the inviolable Gamer's Fifth Amendment, which is the right to have a real life. The fact is that real people play games, and the line we imagine exists between the game world and the real world is thinner than we think. So, though that dashing avatar isn't really John Q. Public, he is a lot like the guy John would be if he could re-create himself. He's stronger, nobler, and more heroic; or he's meaner and more petty (eh, he's a dark elf at heart). But he's more of something than John himself is, so his avatar expresses something real about John. Maybe it's something John wishes he could be; or something he is but doesn't have the luxury of expressing very often in the "real world." At heart, he is a dragon-slayer, but his day job is that of a copy machine repair guy. Regardless of what he does, a part of his real self is revealed through his avatar, and through the art he takes out of the game and offers on a forum as his signature, underscoring his written thoughts and feelings.
Over at the official Vanguard forums, we're currently limited to making text-based signatures with variations only in font size, type, and color. The more in-game and concept art that's released, the more impatient people seem to become about developing their avatars, and the more likely they are to want to begin to take that art off the Vanguard and related fan sites and into the forums and web sites they frequent.
Until the Vanguard beta NDA is lifted (or until more in-game images are
released), those who are waiting to immerse themselves in a new world
through a new avatar will have to make do with what's available in the
here-and-now. Since we can't have Vanguard signatures, we'll have to content
ourselves with desktop images or the Ten
Ton Hammer Signature Mill.
I know that I, for one, can hardly wait to get my hands on some good screenshots so I can start making those Vanguard: Saga of Heroes signatures and desktops!