Weight is a physical and emotional sensation that people feel everyday. And conveying that in a visual way can be incredibly challenging. But it is something animators do all the time, and the principles they use can be applied to game design.
In fact, it needs to be, as many of these principles are sacrificed by the animator for the good of playability. Thankfully, since both animators and designers have to juggle multiple disciplines to bring their creations to life, they speak much of the same language. They just use a slightly different alphabet.
Each part will lay out the 12 principles of animation, and how they are not only used in animation but how they directly relate to game design. Both animators and designers will realize quickly that many of these are unspoken truths, but the benefit comes in knowing that they can now speak to each other on a deeper level. A level that takes animation and design past being purely functional, but now fully functioning towards creating an honest experience.
It is how both can add an extra sense of weight and purpose to the game and the characters within it. Many of these fundamentals are inter-connected, and it is through a combination of all of these working together that you will have characters that move with weight and emote with weight. And that is what will stick with players.
“It is important for the animator to be able to study sensation and to feel the force behind sensation, in order to project that sensation.” – Walt Disney
Applied to Animation
This one directly ties to hand drawn animation, but the core of the idea translates to computer animation as well. It means, know your subject. Before you can make it move, you must understand what it looks like standing still. You have to know the form, the structure, the purpose. It means you must know your tools. You have to be comfortable with a pencil, before you can bring a character to life. This is obviously the same with a rig or software package. But on a deeper level, it also means, KNOW THE CHARACTER. Know their personality, their background. Know what they would say, and when they would say it. Get inside their heads, and get into character. This is how you convey not just their physical weight, but learn to understand and express their emotional weight.
This is known as being a method actor and is responsible for some of the most powerful performances ever captured. The actor becomes the character, both on screen and off. They live their life as if they ARE the person they are pretending to be. And while taking it to the extreme can be dangerous to the health or emotional well being of yourself and those around you, the results of method acting can bring about some of the most honest depictions of life ever seen.
Sure it is extreme, but in both cases you entirely BELIEVE Chrisitan Bale is the character he plays.
Applied to Game Design
So I believe we should become method game developers. Act out your scenes. Become the character you want the player to control. Try and wield a tool or weapon in real life to get a tactile feel of that object. Try and recreate the scenarios for yourself, in a room somewhere, and see how you would react. See what you would want to do when presented with a similar problem. Do this before you even take the time to design the full level or game. Because when YOU are in the thick of it, you will see what the character would want to do in game. That in turn will translate to what the player wants to do. And that is where you will get a beautiful harmony of character, player, and narrative.
If you are creating a war game, get the entire team together and stage airsoft or paintball scenarios, so that they can feel what it is like to be in the thick of it, whether they would be running full steam or crouching and walking slowly. Find out what it feels like to be ambushed and shot. Go to a shooting range to understand the weight and feel of a real weapon. If you have a character with a big backpack, wear a giant backpack to see how you react with it on. If you are creating a tense, horror game, go to a haunted house and see how you react and move. Observe the actions of those around you to see how they move through the rooms. All of these moments and experiences will add to your understanding of the situation, and while they might not be 1 to 1, you can at least sympathize with the characters in the world. Everything you create you should try to have some touchstone in real world experience. Because that is when you will bring your own personal touches, which will make it feel unique and honest.
Not being comfortable or knowing your scene can quickly lead to losing believability.
If you do this alongside playing early prototype, greyblock levels, you will know the form and the character of the level to its very core. You will be aware of how it feels both digitally and physically. And that is going to be felt by the player. So get out of your chair when trying to solve a problem or devise a new action. Experience as much of the digital world as you can in real life, because it is those experiences that will give you something of your own to say. Something with some real weight behind it.
Next : Part 12 - Appeal