Live and Let Dye – Kristen Perry on GW2 Dye System

Discussion in 'Guild Wars 2' started by Aspira, Nov 23, 2010.

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    Aspira Admin Officer


    By Kristen Perry September 28th, 2010

    I’ve been thinking for months now about how to describe the new dye system to you, which has been completely redesigned and is much more flexible than the original. There’s one big change I knew would surprise the “dye hard” fans, so I figured I should reveal that information first. Besides, if we all have the collective gasp at the beginning, I’ll know at least everyone will have a full tank of oxygen in their brains to read the rest of the article.

    Here’s the deal: there’s no more mixing.

    There, I said it. Now here’s why it’s the bee’s knees!

    No more mixing? OMG why??

    Enhance your calm; this is the best thing that ever happened to the dye colors. In the gamescom and PAX demos, some of you got a chance to toy with the dye system (slapping on colors as fast as you could to make the most of the remaining demo time… it’s okay, I understand, I didn’t take it personally :D). We actually had 254 colors total, but to streamline the experience for the demo we only made 96 colors available.

    It was awesome to hear that you guys loved the variety of colors and the tones that we showed you in the demo, but honestly, even 254 is just not enough. So after the shows I went to the fine folks in charge of such things and plead the case for more.

    What’s the new limit? As many as I have strength to design! Yup! When I run out of meaningful variations (if shades are too close to tell the difference, they’re not needed), that will be your new number. I’m guessing that means over 400 colors, but we’ll see… I haven’t created them all yet!

    I know what you’re wondering, though: “It’s cool we get all these new colors, but why did you have to nix the dye mixing? That was fun! Couldn’t we have had both?” Okay, okay, indulge me with a nostalgic Guild Wars sashay and then I’ll talk about all the bonus new features.

    Ye Olde Guild Wars Dye Shoppe: everything you never wanted to know about dye

    Once upon a time, there were 10 colors in the original Guild Wars: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black, and silver. In Guild Wars, each profession had their own base colors. We achieved dye colors by starting at the base tone and hue shifting it from there to other selections.

    As we kept adding professions and armors through new campaigns, the dye system began to get bloated because we had to keep track of individual profession palettes. So somewhen in Factions we decided to streamline the whole deal and just pick one color to hue shift from: red. Why red? To explain about red, we have to explain about white.

    Hue shifting darker colors to look white creates complications. When taking these textures, the highlights and middle tones will change the most, but in order to make a texture feel clean, you also have to take out contrast. When you lighten the dark tones, the main meat of the texture will feel white, but unfortunately it can also make the texture feel washed out, since you don’t have the really dark nooks and crannies that describe the construction of your armor. As a result, there was always a bit of a balance and reworking involved when trying to get your armor to dye reasonably well.

    With mixing of white as well as black in toning the base eight hues, we tried to give some creative freedom; but though the dye system was fun and interesting to play with, it didn’t always ideally —or predictably— give aesthetic results. This was because we were using numbers to create the mix colors rather than picking them directly ourselves.

    The trouble comes because of the nature of the light spectrum. Since your computer monitor is really just illuminated pixels, the dye system is a pigment system that must be translated into a light system. Check out this spectrum:


    As you can see, the range for many colors is pretty broad. Red has a nice spread, as do green and blue. Yellow is deceptively narrow, though. There are really only a few shades of the tone that will feel distinctly yellow before it will feel more green or orange. Hitting this color shift is tricky. Essentially, we needed a color that had enough saturation to shift to yellow and a color that is midway in value between black and white so you can mix to those extremes. This is why new armors were that odd red for a while and then a “neutral” gray when we tried to even it out.

    Ye New Guild Wars 2 Hotness…

    So what changed? Well, just like the skills and professions, we saw we were stuck with a system that was getting increasingly harder to control and balance. The problem was such that the only ideal solution was to sit down and manually slog through the whole system, hand-picking each color.

    Insane? Certainly. But I was just mad enough to do it.

    Hand-picking each color also had the side effect of eliminating the need for a mixing system. When selecting the colors, I made sure to have jewel tones, natural hues, metals, leathers, earth tones, pastels, desaturated colors, darks, royals… the whole gamut. I’ll continue to tweak the amount and tones of these colors right up until shipping to get them juuuust right.

    Colors dye according to material type.

    Always endeavoring to bring back the pretty to dye colors, we wanted to better describe the materials being dyed. Since cloth is very flexible and easily changed to a huge spectrum of natural-looking tones, we made that material capable of the highest saturation. Leathers also have a broad selection, but they will not be quite as saturated in order to preserve their nature. Metals are more desaturated still. However, just because there’s a tendency towards desaturation, doesn’t mean it’s absolute. Copper metal, for example, can present very naturally saturated and there are some gold tanned hides that look quite realistic as well. I made sure to create material-specific hues that work very naturally to help players find just the right shade. You want tungsten? Got it. How about pewter? Yup. Calfskin? Rawhide? Jalapeno? You betcha! Plus, now all the colors have names, too. There are no forgettable numbers to memorize. Named colors allow for a more casual color discussion.


    Even though there are a multitude of colors, those are not the only hues you will see. For each color, I had to craft three versions to meet the materials’ standards. This shift in hue will happen automagically, depending on the section you want to dye. While some colors will look best with some materials (i.e., copper was really made for metal), their alternate material equivalents will still look great and will feel like that particular color. For example, in the image to your right, the cloth, leather and metal materials are all the same color, but they are shifted to read properly with their intended material.

    Incidentally, my working file so far has over 3500 iterations to whittle down to the current 254 (x3) hues. Each color isn’t just selected from an RGB grid. We have a tool that allows us to craft the color from five different variables: hue, saturation, lightness, brightness, and contrast. These five allow for some very robust controls to get the color as true as possible. Hmm… let’s see… more than 3500 iterations x five tone variables to make three materials of currently 254 colors… yeah. Let me say I must love colors. :D

    Colors will be unlocked, not muled.

    Storage was always a factor when it came to dye colors in Guild Wars. The new system would cripple most inventories if we required characters to lug all the dyes around. Fear not! The dye hues themselves will be unlockable through various means, both in-game and out. Once you unlock the color, it will be available across your entire account, not just the individual character.

    Colors are sortable by hue, temperature, or materials.

    Because players enjoy a lot of freedom with customization, we tried to offer greater choices in organization for the dye UI. In the hue sorting option, the colors will be displayed in typical neutrals and rainbow breakdown and will also include designer category sets such as the midnight hues, jewel-tones, and more. The temperature sorting option keeps the tones divided into warm, cool, and neutral tones. The material sorting option organizes them into cloth, leather and metal groups. Again, just because it has an affinity for a material, that doesn’t mean it’s restricted. You can definitely place all colors on to any material; the colors will just change to suit the material.

    We know sometimes it would be nice to have ready access to the hues, so we’re creating a “favorites” area in the dye UI so you can hold a working palette of your choice.

    Armors have up to three dye areas per piece.

    Every piece might not require it, as you may have a simple glove that would only need one or two colors, but you’ll have so much more freedom and flexibility with three dye areas per armor piece. Unlike the original Guild Wars, where there was only one area to dye and this would coordinate with neutral tones and fabrics you couldn’t change, in Guild Wars 2 you’ll have the ability to change most all of the other areas. There may still be a small bit on your armor piece that will be undyeable, as we are limited to three channels per piece, but rest assured we will maximize the impact of each dyeable area.

    Check out some of the variations achievable with just one design:


    Introducing sets!

    In Guild Wars 2, weight classes determine the profession distribution and the seam rules for our armor coordination. We realized there were times when we desperately wanted to break those rules, so we developed a solution to do so. For example, town clothes work similar to the light armor system. There is a waist seam that allows mixing and matching to work relatively smoothly between pieces, which gives the player as much creative freedom as possible. But for clothing, it would be a travesty to never have a long trench coat, which has a seam overlap that would follow medium armor seam rules.

    To solve this dilemma, we have created sets. Sets are two or more sections of armor fused into one to prevent mixing troubles that allow us to design with far less seam constraints. For example, we could have an outfit with a large trench coat, an inside vest and shirt, and pants. You’ve seen this before in my previous clothing blog post. That outfit is one piece. However, because we know there’s so much fabric real estate, three dye channels aren’t enough. In cases like these, we have allowed four dye channels. This will allow a remarkable amount of control over the parts of the outfit without having to require the pants to dye the same as some part of the coat.

    Oh, and just to clear up the question: yes, most clothing will be wearable by players.

    Races get their own starting palette.

    We realize as a young hero, the starting areas will have a lot of similarities in what is available to wear. To ensure that the five races have their own identities, we’ve created a cultural palette that reflects the character of the species. This means a red color for a human may not look the same as a red color for a norn or charr. The norn, for example, have far more earthy colors: rust reds and rich forest greens and browns. With the furs, straps, and intricate carved patterns of their culture, these colors really feel solid and meaty on their armors. A charr would have probably have more blood reds and desaturated military blues and greens, while a human might have more jewel-tone reds and blues, etc.


    By offering a specific palette to each race’s starting areas, there will be a stronger self-identity when you encounter each other. If you travel to a different city, you will feel like you are an explorer from another culture because the environment around you —including the inhabitants— will feel different. Until you dye your outfit with new dyes, of course!


    New identity dye colors.

    Instead of a base red or gray for new armor drops, we are applying a set of basic neutrals to the dyeable areas. Cloth will look beige cream, leather will be calfskin brown and metal will be steel-toned. This makes any new armor drop you have look perfectly serviceable in the interim while you experiment with the color palette you want. To put it more succinctly: you don’t look like an undyed dork just because you’re out of turquoise. You’re welcome.


    That’s a big chunk of how dye colors are different in Guild Wars 2. There are a lot of things we plan and balance behind the scenes to give you guys as much fun, beauty, and customization in this game as possible. We love what we do. We hope you love what we do, too!

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