Even when fashion and video games seemed, at least in the popular imagination, diametrically opposed activities, gamers have always enjoyed dressing up. Now, fashion in games isn’t all about big cosplay festivals or finding a neat mask for Link: it taps into older industries, and Roblox isn’t a better demonstration of that fact. where, for example, a Gucci bag sold for $4,115, or $350,000. Robux, $800 more than the real thing.
In fact, Roblox, now played by nearly 50 million people every day and the most valuable video game company in the United States, is a platform where character customization and the self-expression it enables are fundamental to the experience. Now, Roblox has created a new system that enhances this customization: “layered clothes”. It has the potential to advance the company’s goals of being more than a game: a place – whisper it, a metaverse—for games.
Personalization is key
If you are not familiar, Roblox is not a game but a space where you create games: you player Roblox exactly, but play games inside of Roblox. His most popular traditional avatar was essentially the same from 2006 to 2019 (it went from 6 moving parts to 15): chunky and blocky, a mix of Lego and Minecraft. During these 14 years, the clothes of these avatars were 2D textures. All you had to do, says Bjorn Book-Larsson, vice president of avatars at Roblox, was open up Microsoft Paint and get a pink top or denim jacket ready, and it would fit the avatar like if you had painted it on his skin.
“The problem is that when you started creating more complicated characters, which the system actually allowed, there was no way to change the clothes of those more complicated characters,” Book-Larsson explains. Basically, you would have to rebuild the character. This was a crucial problem to solve, because Roblox emphasizes combination: you can rip off one arm and put on another, like a doll. In 2020, Roblox developed technology that led to smoother characters and more realistic shapes, but the problem of not knowing what type of body your design would end up on remained the same.
This is where layered clothing comes in. In most games, designers tailor outfits to a specific range of body types: samurai armor, for example, for a tall or short avatar. Still, Roblox doesn’t know what kind of crazy character one of the Roblox platform’s 9 million independent developers could create. A t-shirt has to fit on millions of different bodies, from dinosaur to zombie, and also has to take into account the programming of this game: you could get shot and your body fall apart, for example. Now users can design clothes for all avatars on the platform, not just a specific body type, without having to rebuild the character. Book-Larsson shows a human avatar wearing “hip hop pants and a puffer jacket”. As he goes to dress a dinosaur, the pants stretch to fit the reptile’s figure. “And if I put on a T-shirt and then a jacket, the two overlap and affect each other,” he says. technically, there’s nothing stopping you from putting a jacket on a tree or pants on a car.”
The technology required to pull off this trick is complex: it literally derives from rocket science, inspired by the way air changes the shape of a rocket as it takes off. “One of our engineers was looking at the topology of how rockets are affected when launched into space and how both the skin of the rocket deforms and how you control that rocket,” he says. . “And then he started using some of the papers around that to figure out how you control multiple layers that are actually connected to each other.”