CK3 Dev Diary #34 - It’s all about appearances

CK3 Dev Diary #34 - It’s all about appearances

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Senior Artist @ PDS
1 Badges
Mar 22, 2017
  • Hearts of Iron IV: Cadet
Hello, I’m Nils and I’m the lead character artist on Crusader Kings III. We’ve already touched briefly on a lot of the features of the portrait system but in this Dev Diary I’m going to dive deeper into the intricacies of the system. It might get a bit technical at points - so bear with me. I personally think all this stuff is very cool but I'm also a gigantic nerd when it comes to these things.

There’s going to be a lot of text in this Dev Diary, but really, when it comes down to it, it’s mostly there as an excuse to show off the art!

Characters are generated dynamically in the game using a DNA system that defines their looks - everything from mouth shape to body height is stored in this DNA. A DNA is made up of a number of genes. Each gene defines a certain feature. Crusader Kings II already does something similar, but in CKIII we have more than 10 times the amount of genes for every character and a lot of added complexity. The system itself is very flexible and it was up to me how to set it up to get as much visual variation out of it as possible.

Our predecessor, CK2, by necessity builds up characters from a limited number of facial features. There are x amount of noses combined with x amount of mouths and x amount of eyes and so on to make up a face. While this works well and gives a good amount of variation it still has some inherent limitations. What we’ve done in CKIII is to have a much more granular approach where we use many parameters to control each feature. So, for example, instead of just picking a nose (you shouldn’t pick your nose kids) out of a selection of pre-defined noses we store values for nose protrusion, nose height, nose length, nose nostril height, nose nostril width, nose ridge profile, nose ridge angle, nose ridge width, nose size, nose tip angle, nose tip protrusion, nose tip width, nose ridge definition and nose tip definition. In other words; if you’re into noses, or any other facial feature, this is the game for you.

Some of the many faces (and noses!) of Crusader Kings III
As you can imagine, this gives us quite detailed control over the facial features of characters. And they can vary greatly depending on many factors, which I will try to cover here. Let’s start with ethnicity.

Like we’ve shown in other Dev Diaries already, the CKIII map covers a vast area of the world from Ireland in the west to modern day Mongolia in the east and from Arctic Norway in the north to Sub-Saharan Africa in the south. This big area is populated by groups of different ethnicities which we represent in the game. Due to the way that the character generating system is set up, we can use the same base assets for all different ethnicities and just script in different average values for the facial feature parameters. As an example, west african characters have, on average, darker skin, fuller lips and differently shaped noses than their european or asian counterparts, but they still use the exact same base model. This is good news for inheritance, which is the next subject I will discuss.

A selection of characters of different ethnicities
Due to the fact that all characters use the same base model, we can easily create blends between multiple DNAs. Each character stores two sets of genes that we call dominant and recessive, respectively. (Disclaimer: Please note that the dominant and recessive genes in our system do not work exactly like in real life. We’re still dealing with an approximation of genetics. We haven’t fully replicated real world genetics. Yet.) When a baby is born it will inherit two versions of each gene - both of which will come randomly from either parent. As mentioned one of these genes will end up being dominant and the other one recessive based on a chance value (dominant genes from the parents have a higher chance of being inherited as dominant genes for the baby). The appearance of the newborn character is decided entirely by its dominant gene set. But the recessive genes are still there as a representation of genes carried down the generations. So when this new character gets to make its own babies they will have a chance of inheriting a gene from their grandparents, even though that gene might not have been visible on their parent.

Inheritance in action. Top row parents and bottom row their children. If you look closely you should be able to spot the inherited features.
I hope you guys are still awake for the continuation of this Dev Diary. What does all this genetics mumbo-jumbo mean for you as a player? It means that inheritance has a much bigger impact on the appearance of a character in CKIII than than it does in CK2. Characters of different ethnicities that get down for the hanky panky will make babies that look like a blend between both parents, with some genes from further back in the family tree thrown into the mix. Of course, there’s still a fair amount of randomness in the system so we won’t get identical siblings unless they are, you know, identical twins.

Now, while we’re on the subject, let’s talk briefly about children and aging. This is the other huge factor in defining the appearance of a character: his or her age. The 3D system that we use gives us the possibility to have seamless aging and there’s a ton of things that are set up to take advantage of this. A newborn child will obviously be very tiny compared to when it’s all grown up. It’s adult facial features will be there already from birth but they are very toned down during early childhood to get gradually more pronounced as the character ages. When a character approaches their 30’s and 40’s their skin will get more rugged, age lines and wrinkles will start appearing in the face, and their hair turns grey. Once they enter old age their body will start sagging, posture will deteriorate, their ears and nose will get bigger and the jaw protrudes as they lose their teeth.

Chieftain Somatu of Kevrola, from age 0 to 99

In addition to genetics and age, lifestyle choices and changes also impact a character’s appearance. Body types vary greatly from alarmingly thin victims of starvation to truly impressive bulks of some high nobility gluttons. Different levels of muscularity and fitness are also represented and tied to the “prowess” value in the game.

Examples of different body types

Like, every Christmas Holiday, ever

I got ripped in five seconds!

There are a number of traits and conditions, genetic or otherwise, that have visual impact on the character portrait. Some examples of non-genetic ones are pregnancy, wounds, scars, lost arms, blindness and disfigurement. And some notable examples of genetic conditions are dwarfism, gigantism, albinism and hunchback.

Genetic traits


You know how some people have names that just feel “right” for them?

“You should see the other guy”

We have already discussed clothes in previous Dev Diaries so I won’t go into great detail about them. But I would like to show something I don’t think we’ve shown before. That is the barbershop feature which allows you to change clothes, head wear and hairstyle for your character:

Even though the vast majority of characters have randomly generated appearances, there are some notable exceptions. The detailed setup of the DNA system allows us to design quite specific appearances where we want to. There are some historical starting characters in the game whose looks were based on how they are described in historical sources. For example William the Conqueror and Harold Godwineson of England. Of course, medieval sources are not always... perfectly reliable and the portraiture from the time not the most accurate (to put it mildly!) so we did have to do some guesswork and use a lot of artistic license. There are also a whole bunch of developer characters with appearances that match their real life counterparts. They’re lurking around various courts in the game. If you want to find some, a pro tip is to browse through the characters in modern day Sweden…

It is perfectly possible to mod DNAs as well as adding new ones, so if you feel like adding your own likeness or a medieval Abraham Lincoln to the game it is fairly easy to do so.

Historical characters from the “Fate of England” in the 1066 start date. Guess who is who!
And finally, to end this on a more gruesome note, the last thing I’d like to show you is some diseases. As you all know, the middle ages were a time of ravaging epidemics and quick unexpected death from disease. And the game reflects that in quite a graphical way.

And if you don’t enjoy being disgusted - don’t worry - we have an option to turn off the worst looking diseases and replace them with something less nightmare-inducing.

WARNING: The following spoiler tags contain images that some viewers might find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you


Community Developer
May 14, 2018
Hey guys!

Nils is currently on holidays! So please be a bit patient for your dev reponses <3


Senior Artist @ PDS
1 Badges
Mar 22, 2017
  • Hearts of Iron IV: Cadet
Hey everyone, thanks for all the comments and questions! I'll try to answer as many as I can. I will have missed some and some I simply don't know the answer to, so apologies for that.

Will all characters age with the same speed, or could you have grey hair already in your twenites in CK3? Same with balding or wrinkles?
There is some randomness (and inheritance) in the way people age. Also, as Nicou pointed out, beautiful people age more slowly in the game.
"It is perfectly possible to mod DNAs as well as adding new ones "
Should I interpret this as a sign that entirely new sets of body parts could technically be modded in?
Yes it should technically be possible to mod in new types of attachments to the body.
Hmmmm... I'm not sure I understand that system correctly. What is it that prevents the drift towards averages on the inter-regional scale? Are enviromental factors accounted for in any way? It seems to me that over numerous generations nobles from different regions will start to look similar.
Newly generated characters should reduce this effect as they will use one of the preset ethnicities.
So you have some kind of editor, right?
Given that there's a player base that plays Sims just to create their characters (and doesn't actually play the game), a proper Create A Ruler mode might allow you to extend you audience by quite a bit... Especially the ones who enjoy creating pest ridden disfigured characters might prefer CK3 over the Sims for obvious reasons (although I believe that this target group is rather small).

On the nitpicking side: There are still a few spots where the specular looks a bit weird (i.e. the first turban). Apart from that it looks great.

And regarding the aging: Do characters instantly grow a huge beard when they reach a certain age or do they start with more subtle ones?
Beards are one of the few things that we couldn't make gradual, unfortunately. So they will appear from age 18. Stubble, however, does fade in gradually. I would love to add growing beards at a later point though.
This is a gorgeous dev diary.

some questions.

1.) could we see some more screenshots? Maybe of a female growth through the ages or a pregnant character?
2.) what do the less nightmarish versions of diseased characters look like?
1. Maybe at a later date, we won't be able to do it right now due to vacation times :)
2. They use either the "common illness" effect (pale and hollow eyed) or a face mask for the very severe ones.
Will the build still be a sort of sliding scale? Will most of the 'average' characters (that is to say without a unique trait specifically affecting their body shape) I see have diverse bodies to a degree? I'm basically wondering how different the torso can look without it being part of weight. Like the idea of someone being "barrel chested" as a part of their bone structure, etc.
There is some inherited variation in body types making characters genetically more skinny, chubby or muscular. Those are all sliders of course. But the greatest variation comes from in game factors.
Why is some of the clothing so extremely shiny? Even for silk I think this is somewhat overdone and could be scaled back. It also seems like way too many characters wear silk if that's what it's supposed to be
The selection of characters in the diary are heavily skewed towards more high ranking characters, simply because they are more important in the game and also have a bit more of the cool stuff when it comes to clothes and headgear. In hindsight I probably could have included more low ranking characters for a better representation in the screenshots. But there's a lot of characters wearing clothes of simpler fabrics as well.
Can characters that spend time in the south or north get tan/pale temporary modifiers?
That's a very nice idea but unfortunately not something we have implemented. Characters of Mediterranean ethnicity do have more tanned skin though, of course.
View attachment 601770

I think I spotted a little case of incomplete beheading, or possibly a neckseam? n_n

But apart from this, I LOVE EVERYTHING @.@
Well spotted. It's a known issue and I'm hoping we can get a fix in.
Question: Is it possible for you to see if your spouse has cheated on you? For example if you are both french in CK2 and she cheated on you with a german, you could sometimes see a german child. Will it be visible to the untrained eye? Or is it really diffucult to see? Or is it only after your child has grown up that it becomes obvious?
It will usually not be super obvious when the spouse and the real father are of similar ethnicities but there might be giveaway signs such as hair colour or an unusual feature. Of course, in the case of less closely related ethnicities, it would be more apparent.
This looks amazing! I'm pumped!
However... now I'm wondering if my laptop will be able to handle it.

Is there an option to turn of the 3D animations specifically? Or is performance impacted greatly by the 3d animations/portraits?
Yes there is an option to turn off portrait animations.
Really great stuff. Can't wait to see this in-game.

Wondering if normal levels of height variation will be able to be a thing or how moddable that'd be? Like it'd be nice to have a character who's tall but not freakishly so (such as William the Conqueror, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, etc.).
Yes height will vary quite greatly even when not affected by a trait. The height distribution is based roughly on medieval peoples' heights (meaning averages are shorter than today but tall people - even by modern standards - will still appear occasionally)
People with leprosy can choose to wear masks, right?
The masks are used by disfigured characters by default. If you're using the option to hide graphical looking diseases they would be worn by lepers as well. It's a good idea to make them selectable in the barbershop though, I'll note that down.
So, since you mentioned modding appearances, does this confirm no official ruler designer? If so, would a similar feature actually be moddable? Or would you need to individually edit text files to get a "custom" ruler?
Like @Olden Weiss mentioned earlier in the thread there is a portrait editor available through the console where it is possible to design an appearance and save the DNA, that was what I was referring to.
My one requested improvement is for the clothing to reflect injuries and diseases in some way. Something as simple as a few outfits for injured characters that include bandages and bloodstains would help a lot in avoiding the issue of the injuries and diseases abruptly stopping below the neck.

EDIT: Is an entire feature determined by only one set of genes? Is there allowed to be a little mixing, so say a nose can be partially based on one parent and partially based on the other? With the genetics system it should be fairly easy to do that, but I'm not sure how good it would look.
Yes it works exactly like that, different parts of a feature could be inherited from different parents.

I believe it's a combination.
View attachment 601832

View attachment 601833

I believe the way it works is that each section of an facial feature has its own "gene", and each of those genes is inherited separately. So a child can inherit his father's nose tip shape, his mother's nose ridge shape, his father's nose ridge definition, his mother's nose length, and so on.
Yes exactly, very well deduced :)
Let's see:
- Middle guy is a duke, the rest are kings.
- Birth years, approximate according to wiki: Hardrada - 1015, Estridsen - 1019, Godwinsson - 1022, William - 1028, Malcolm - 1033.
- Godwinsson is usually depicted with a mustache.
- Guy number four looks quite a bit younger than numbers 1 & 5.
- Wikipedia says Estridssen was tall and powerfully build.

1. Harald Hardrada
2. Harold Godwinsson
3. William the Bastard (since he's not the conqueror at this point)
4. Malcolm III Canmore
5. Svend II Estridssen
Very good 5/5!
This all looks really excellent. One question, though -- to what extent will the aspects of physical appearance be modelled on real-life recessiveness/dominance of associated genes? To touch on what I mean, I noticed that one of the sample images for "Inheritance in action" featured a dark-haired Altaic/Central Asian man with a blonde-haired European wife, and two of their children also had blond hair. This isn't impossible genetically, depending on the man's ancestry (the Eurasian steppe was/is a pretty diverse place, after all) and other factors, but blond hair especially is notorious for being a recessive trait that doesn't express itself in first-generation mixes between different racial backgrounds. Please pardon me if this is an unfounded observation, given that I'm commenting based on only one shown image without any additional context like the Altaic man's own parentage and grandparents, but it does give the impression that blond hair and potentially other traits will be treated like a 50/50 in terms of inheritance.

I have no complaints if this is the case and it ends up with Sims-esque outcomes for kids, but it would be interesting to know to what extent these traits actually will be following recessive/dominant tendencies of inheritance.
It is a simplified system compared to real genetics so it will have roughly the same chance to pick either parents' hair colour.
You have probably researched it but pretty faces are mostly symmetrical faces. It should therefore be possible to create pretty faces. Is this the solution you chose?
Pretty and beautiful faces will generally be closer to the average (less extreme features) as well as have smoother and more youthful looking skin. And the opposite is the case for ugly characters.