This is how shieldwalls used to look like. Large armies could feature a large array of colours and insignia that would make you remember whose troops are the ones you're seeing, and, most importantly, add visual variety to the game. With colours being faction-specific this has largely been lost, with only your symbol marking the troops of the various clans, with every shield being a heraldic shield, and every armour being ... half-heraldic. I can barely distinguish the clans I'm fighting with in the battle, and I feel like a lot of narrative potential is lost with that. Most importantly of all, as it stands now, the banners do not accurately represent how a medieval army would have looked like around this period.
Each clan should have its own set of colours, consider bringing up the banner editor for custom battles into regular SP. That thing can come up with some creative and good designs. Just having an additional tab for the Background and an additional "row" of permitted colours for it could yield some interesting banners people could get attached to.
Now, how are they going to be displayed? I thought of some solutions separately for banners, shields and armour:
Now, I understand that freeing up numbers from having to display allegiance to make them simply display relationship to the player is advantageous for the gameplay, as I have observed myself. But still, I feel like there are ways to mantain the advantage in gameplay while still preserving visual diversity.
Now, on the in-game wiki this shouldn't be a problem. Simply show the "original" coat of arms of the house in a shield and slap one of these around the shield to signal their culture, of course properly coloured and with decorations appropriate for the culture and all that (perhaps with more elaborate decorations with tier and rank)
For Banners in the campaign map, I'd envision them similarly to how the encyclopedia handles it, but with the faction colours. Simply put, here's the journey of the Vlandian clan dey Smileyface (if you're an artist you may want to avert your eyes I'm so sorry)
Frollo deySmileyface starts out as some wandering knight without allegiance. This is the banner he valiantly and gallantly displays into battle and tournaments
King Derthert, impressed by his skill in horses, lances and art accepts him among the ranks of the Vlandian nobility. This is how, in the current state of the game, his proud banner should look like
HOW VILE! HOW REPULSIVE! THE PROUD COLOURS OF THE DEY SMILEYFACE HAVE BEEN VILIFIED! My proposition is that the banner should look (somewhat) like this:
So, shield shape is character culture, background is primary faction colour, shield board is secondary faction colour (internal shield board should be black to avoid clashing with the colours inside), clan coat of arms in the shield. This should only apply to vassals, the king may go around with the faction banner proudly fluttering in the wind, the encyclopedia page of his clan showing the original coat of arms of the clan but with some heavy decorations around it. This should apply to other ruler clan members.
I honestly think shields should just be exempt. Let them be as colourful as they want, it doesn't seem to really matter anyway: when I try to understand if someone is friend or foe, most of the time I don't have the time to look at their shield anyway, instead looking for the colour of their armour. I have far more problems distinguishing Imperial recruits and archers than their shielded brethren (I'm gonna go back to this, the Empire is a huge problem).
If it comes out that shields have to be somewhat coherent for gameplay purposes, I propose a more advanced scripting for shield colouring. Here's popular Warband mod 1257 AD, which also featured a "All shields are heraldic" concept.
The mod ran a script that randomly assigned heraldry to AI troops, with some displaying that of their Lord and others accessing a pool of generic warpaint. That is the solution I propose: have some of the troops display their clan heraldry and colours, while others display heraldry and colours from a faction-specific pool. BONUS: determine this by rank and type (noble and mercs always display clan heraldry, commoners up tier 4 display faction heraldry).
What a tragedy to see my Sergeants and Banner Knights displaying a lion even if you've been beating Derthert's a*s for hours! I know this is minor and really only affects 2 troops, but I feel like it's important to address, and if properly done this way of designing armour could be applied to other factions too. Mr devman, if you really must keep the colours, atleast let us keep our symbols! While we're at it, make military tunics less muted, that's a big problem when fighting Empire v Empire battles. Rant over.
As far as civilian attire is concerned, it should just show clan colours. If you're at a feast, friend or foe doesn't matter.
For the battle attire, the way the game has handled this is fine. Soldiers wearing garbs of similar colours is ok, the shields are the main culprits for lack of variety. I do think, however, that Heroes should be exempt, and just display their clan colours. Amidst a sea of purple, blue, green... it's not very confusing to come across the one guy in, say, black and gold, they're probably a noble.