What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.

My first thought on seeing ArenaNet’s reveal of the Sylvari 2.0 – Now with 50% more foliage!, was that they certainly passed the international standard cosplay checklist:

  • Opportunity to paint skin weird colours? Check.
  • Liberal use of liquid latex a must? Check.
  • Option to expose varying levels of said latexed/painted flesh, up to and including ‘disturbing’? Check.
  • Costume design that has ‘we’re going to need a bigger sewing machine’ written all over it? Check.
  • Compulsory requirement to stick foam shapes and bits of Plasticine to one’s head? Check.
  • Is it a hat or is it hair? Check.
  • Tattoos? Check.
  • Crazy luminous tattoos that someone is going to use as an excuse to make their nipples glow in the dark? Check.
  • Contact lenses considered mandatory? Check.
  • Potential for hormone colliding crossplay? Check.
  • Eschews traditional human-style gender roles? Check.

So yes, it’s all looking good on the cosplay front. And back. But mainly the front. Must be those bioluminescent nipple tattoos.

Reading a bit of background to the Sylvari, it seems that ArenaNet are trying to present a race which is a little bit alien, a little bit fae, a foundation usually filled by elves in traditional fantasy RPGs. Sadly few designers have managed to portray elves as anything more than an aloof sect of infinitely skilled disdainful know-it-alls. An elf race should give the opportunity to really explore that gulf which experience provides, that juxtaposition of a human-like being with the alien nature of one who has witnessed countless centuries, but it rarely seems to be expressed in games other than through that cunning narrative device of an arched eyebrow and a slightly condescending tone of voice. ArenaNet have branched off from this approach, taking the alien nature and layering it on to a budding young race, one that is inexperienced, although not naive. The Sylvari connection to The Dream will surely resonate with anyone who has enjoyed White Wolf’s Changeling: The Dreaming, and the second Sylvari design keystone of ‘curiosity’ can only help play to this fae feeling. Again though, as with the comparison to elves, the Sylvari differ from the fae in that they are a young race, and therefore there isn’t the unwieldy baggage of a millennia of complex history to weigh the players down as they travel through the world. There’s certainly plenty to like about this race, and more than enough to differentiate it substantially from the other races the game provides; much as I felt about the Undead in World of Warcraft, there’s something about the Sylvari that seems to set them apart from the other warring races. Although the other races in World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 all have a look and feel that differentiates them from one another, they still feel as though they come from the same basic stock, whereas the Undead and Sylvari have that slightly unknowable quality to them.

As for the physical design of the race, well we’re on the second edition [probably should avoid book metaphors, tree people may find books slightly offensive – Ed.], and it’s always going to be a subjective issue. In my view I think they still haven’t gone far enough towards the alien end of the scale, but it’s always going to be difficult to tell from a select number of screenshots. Certainly our friend to the left with the tree branch hair is approaching that level, whereas the one below right is definitely ticking all the boxes on the Foxy Chick With Leaf Hair cosplay checklist. Again though, there may well be variety in the character creation so that both options are viable, and there will almost certainly be people who like the ideals of the Sylvari, but to whom a strange alien appearance doesn’t appeal. Not to mention it’s a tricky scale on which to balance: at one end you have the Poison Ivy look, which is essentially a Playboy model with green lipstick and body suit, and at the other end you have World of Warcraft’s druid Tree of Life form, certainly a far more alien sentient plant design, but perhaps far less appealing to the majority of players. So I imagine ArenaNet’s Kristen Perry slid up and down this scale (having seen pictures of the inside of ArenaNet’s studio, I wouldn’t put it past them to have created a giant fun-park scale which everyone could slide up and down on tea trays) trying to balance a requirement for alien humanoid flora against a desire to still present an attractive aesthetic design; it’s a design brief where I imagine H.R. Giger would have had a field day.

Certainly the current Sylvari incarnation is an improvement over the original design, and it manages to find a place on the design scale that avoids the horrors of both Tree of Life Form in a Bikini and Naked Human Wrapped in Stinging Nettles, something for which I’m sure cosplayers and cosplay admirers everywhere will be grateful.

6 thoughts on “What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action.

  1. ArcherAvatar

    First off, if the lady wants to dress as a sylvari (painted green with just a few “strategically” placed leaves) then I’m all for it, and bioluminescent markngs to direct the attention to the naughty bits won’t detract from the show in the least for me personally.

    (The green washes off if I get some on me though right?)

    I’m completely “in the bag” for GW2 at this point (so not exactly objective on this subject) but, I have to confess to tremendous enthusiasm for both the lore and appearance of the sylvari race. ANet has captured the “mysterious / alien” quality I was hoping for, and yet, still maintained an appealing aesthetic for me personally.

    They may not be everyone’s cup of tea (one of the reasons to include more than one race option for players in an MMO) but they are hitting all the right buttons for me.

  2. darkeye

    Heh, it’s funny to see where the discussions have gone with some of the snippets in the most recent blog, and the full-on lore blogs have not been released yet. People have been trying to wrap their heads around the facts that they have obvious gender (“plants with breasts!!!”) but can’t reproduce sexually, and trying to reconcile it leads to a lot of consternation and getting caught up in the nitty-gritty of sex and if the appropriate ‘bits’ are functional.

    It’s pretty far-out there in the norms of MMO race design, except maybe dwarves in Lotro, which I always thought Tolkien meant as a joke but the developers took as undeniable fact. The pale tree created them to go out and interact with other races, so gave them an appearance that could be acceptable but somehow it’s not quite right, just the fact a tree tries to communicate with other species via sylvari is disconcerting, and very appealing in the weird-out stakes, so much so that a sylvari necromancer just jumped to the top of my list of characters to roll.

  3. Melmoth Post author

    Two firm thumbs up there then! Firmly up, that is, rather than being firm. Not that you don’t have firm thumbs, you may do, who am I to say? I do like a nice firm thumb.

    I’m sorry you seem to have got me off track, what were you both saying? Ah, yes, so general approval there for the Sylvari, huzzah!

    The latest splendid video seems to address the point that they’re not elves, or fae, but something else that players will find hard to put into any one category, which is again one of those claims which we’ll have to wait and see proven come final release. I just hope that they don’t turn out simply to be elves that have been humping trees so hard that the twigs and leaves became stuck to them.

    Speaking of the video, I’m developing a quite a ‘thing’ for the way Ree Soesbee delivers her speeches, they seem really rather impassioned; I mentioned it before, but there’s a fiery faith mixed with a passionate conviction that seems almost on the verge of tears, and it’s really quite alluring to a gaming nerd such as myself. I bet she has firm thumbs.

  4. Attic Lion

    It’s funny to me that you mention Changeling because one of the main reasons I’ve been so very critical and harsh of the sylvari from the start was that ANet seems to want them to have all the good qualities of the fae without any of the negative, a vast departure from my favorite WoD game: Changeling: The Lost.

    I can (mostly) forgive that they look like something that was created for a poor Star Trek episode solely so that Kirk could have another green chick to screw, but trying to pass them off as sparkly, noble, empathic, closer to nature fae irritates me to no end. There’s no conflict there, no friction. They’ve made some half-hearted attempt at it with this Nightmare crap they’ve spoken about, but it feels hollow. All the races should be in conflict with the world around them as well as having internal affairs. It would have been so easy and much more compelling to give them some actual conflict by playing up just how alien they are. For example, if they had no moral objections to killing because they don’t have the concept of mortality that the other races do. Or maybe have them naturally think of humans as a sort of sister species and are stunned and demoralized when humans treat them as crazy ass pod people because they fall straight into the uncanny valley. Or have them be considered emotionless or distainful by the other races do because they don’t have an equivalent to adrenalin or any other mood altering hormones. Or any number of things to create conflict that’s more exciting than “this shit has been corrupted by a dragon, go destroy it.”

    I also don’t buy into that “They aren’t elves or faeries. They’re new! New! NEW!” spiel either, but I can accept that as just marketing nonsense to drum up hype.

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