H1Z1 Adds Female Character Models, More Skin Tones Coming Next

Q&A: We talk with Daybreak's art director Sebastian Strzalkowski about the new avatars and where the game is headed next.

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Right on schedule, Sony Online Entertainment's Daybreak's PC MMO H1Z1 on Friday added female characters, a feature fans have been calling for. Development on the avatars began in March as part of an effort to overhaul the look and diversity of all of the game's characters. As you can see in the image below, Daybreak has designed its female characters to look fairly typical, but also somewhat athletic.

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We caught up with Daybreak art director Sebastian Strzalkowski and picked his brain about why female characters are coming to H1Z1 now, how he and his team designed their look, and what impact their introduction might have on the game overall. Strzalkowski also outlines some future plans for H1Z1 in terms of character customization, saying Daybreak is hoping to add more skin tones and head sizes next.

Check out our full interview with Strzalkowski below. A variety of renders for the new lady avatar are also available in this post and in the image gallery at the bottom. You can also read today's full H1Z1 patch notes over on Reddit.

H1Z1 is available now on Steam Early Access ($20), where it's already sold over 1 million copies since its release earlier this year. The game is also coming to PlayStation 4, though a release date for that version has not been announced.

Why were female avatars not available when H1Z1 was originally released?

H1Z1 was--and still is--in Alpha. When we launched on Steam Early Access we knew we weren't launching with a complete game but we wanted to have a little vertical slice of all the features, so we started with just one character model. This female character model is just the first iteration. We have plans to expand the head models for the females and male characters as well as add skin tints to give players a range of customization options.

I've read that you designed H1Z1's female characters to look "relatively typical," if not somewhat athletic. How did you decide on these attributes?

We wanted to make the female character feel authentic. She is a survivor of a zombie apocalypse, so we gave her somewhat of an athletic build to justify some of the physical endurance she'd require or gain quickly in order to survive not only a zombie horde but competition from other human survivors.

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How many different iterations of the female avatar did you go through before deciding on the model you have now?

We started by creating a collage of faces and body types as reference and narrowed it down to some options that felt right for the first pass. We used physical anatomy sculptures for both genders as reference, too. We chose the bun hairstyle for simplicity but will support additional hair styles in the future.

What has your approach been when it comes to clothing--I've heard before that you're making male and female equivalent clothing, but what does this mean exactly for H1Z1?

We made clothing unisex for a few reasons. We didn't want players to have to sort through clothing items created exclusively for the opposite gender that they can't even use, and we wanted to keep art production simpler so we can focus on making more content. Most importantly, we wanted to give players maximum flexibility to choose what they want to wear and how they want to customize their character.

Are female characters more technically taxing on H1Z1's engine because they have more hair to animate than men? Is this an issue you, as an art director, need to consider when coming up with new designs?

The biggest technical challenge was fitting the same skeleton to both genders. We wanted to make sure that neither gender had an unfair advantage in H1Z1, but there are some obvious anatomy differences we had to reconcile. Choosing a slight athletic build for the female not only fit the story, but it also helped keep the body types close enough that the overall silhouette could be comparable without breaking the universal skeleton.

You've worked on all manner of games before, from Free Realms to Star Wars Clone Adventures to the EverQuest franchise. But those were more stylized as opposed to realistic. What was the experience like for you transitioning to the darker and grittier world of H1Z1?

Since I joined the team halfway through production I had to play catch up listening to the team and analyzing what the best direction should be for the art. For a game that identifies with realism, I wasn't sure where art style would fit, but there is always room for an aesthetic direction regardless of the graphical limits. I've actually had a lot of fun working with these limitations because they really pushed our team's creativity.

"We wanted to make sure that neither gender had an unfair advantage in H1Z1, but there are some obvious anatomy differences we had to reconcile."

As an example, in-game lighting has been a crucial area of development for the art style. The H1Z1 world looks much like a raw footage film and we post-process the view in real-time with color-grading and tone-mapping to create a specific mood and style much like a movie director will do with a colorist for a film.

Maybe this is a question for a game designer instead of an art director, but how do you think the introduction of female characters into H1Z1 might impact the overall game experience?

The addition of a female character helps diversify the game and gives players more options for customization, which is especially important in a game like H1Z1 where role-playing is so popular. Now that we have both genders in-game, we're moving onto more skin tones, more head styles, and more customization in general.

Anything else you'd like to share regarding your work on the new female character models for H1Z1?

We're really excited for this addition and we hope our players are too. This is just the first pass though; we'll be adding more features, such as new hairstyles and giving her a voice, and making refinements to the character throughout Early Access.

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