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Adding Weight to Your Game Design Part 4: Straight Ahead & Pose to Pose

Applying the animation principle of straight ahead & pose to pose to game design.

Part 1 - Squash and Stretch : Part 2 - Anticipation : Part 3 - Staging

Part 4 - Straight Ahead & Pose to Pose : Part 5 - Follow Through & Overlapping Action

Part 6 - Slow In, Slow Out : Part 7 - Arcs : Part 8 - Secondary Action : Part 9 - Timing

Part 10 - Exaggeration : Part 11 - Solid Drawing : Part 12 - Appeal


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

Straight Ahead & Pose to Pose

Applied to Animation

This principle is all about process.  It is two different methods used for finding and creating the character and purpose in a performance.

In animation terms, straight ahead means just starting at the beginning, and fleshing it out as you go along.  You don't have much of a road map & you are allowing it to come out organically.  It means staying in character throughout and keeping the purpose at the front of your mind at all times.  It is the ultimate juggling act.  Because if you aren’t careful, your timing can quickly fall apart, your actions become inconsistent, and your character loses its truth… its digital weight.

Pose to pose means you are figuring out the major beats of the performance or action up front, and roughing out all the parts at once.  This means the poses you focus on are very strong and you can quickly see how the whole thing plays out. Once you get those nailed down, you can then focus on making sure everything in-between links up smoothly.  You make sure each pose & each expression you create and time out hit the marks you want. Where you have to be careful is keeping it from becoming so planned that it becomes mechanical and loses the energy of the performance.  And once something becomes mechanical, its weight will be questioned. 

As you can see, neither are the magic bullet but both offer great solutions when creating something with true weight. 

Applied to Game Design

In game design, the two methods translate almost perfectly.  What it really comes down to is known vs. unknown, and much like animation, the best results come from using both methods, as the case demands.  

The production map of Uncharted 2 is a perfect example of using pose to pose

The production map of Uncharted 2 is a perfect example of using pose to pose


Planning on paper is pose to pose.  You try to identify the major systems and solutions on the page so that you can get the core in quickly, fleshing out what comes in-between after it is firmly established.  This works great when you have a larger team coming online, as it is easier to show everyone the big picture when you have it mapped out.  You can keep that map out for everyone to see, and everyone knows where their piece fits.  Having those core beats, moments and mechanics instantly keeps the vision alive for everyone involved. But when something can't be worked out on paper, it can be best just diving in and organically working it out along the way.  This is using straight ahead, so that you can play test the unknowns to find out which work.  This requires a lot of communication, overall understanding of the creations purpose and trust amongst all the disciplines as no one person can create everything on their own.  This is the ultimate jam session, and everyone involved needs to understand the other band members.  This is where the most ownership comes from, and where some truly energetic and organic creations can come from.  But also where the most chance for failure can happen.  It's essentially performing without a net.  You never feel more alive, but if you make a big mistake, you will feel it.

When straight ahead works it is like a master Jazz band jam session

When straight ahead works it is like an amazing Jazz band jam session


Knowing when to use which method and the strengths and weaknesses of both is the true fundamental.  And in both cases, it takes a great leader to identify which method works best and that the vision remains consistent throughout.  If you only use pose to pose in your development, the team can feel like a cog in the machine.  But if you only have a straight ahead development, you can quickly find that the parts don’t match, and you have mixed visions.  But beyond managing teams, this can go for designing a level, upgrading player’s moves, or building more complex puzzles through out the game.  Any time you have to create something, you will be somewhere between these two options.  

And it really is a mixture of both that yields the best results.  When you encounter the unknown it is best to think from pose to pose, so that you can figure out how to make it work.  This gives you a chance to learn and experiment on the key aspects, until you feel completely sure of their strength.  Then go to town and do some straight ahead game design to link those posed out actions or features.  This is the point where you know your tools, you know your intent, and you just let it flow and allow your subconscious to come out and play.  When scrum is working as is intended, it embodies this idea perfectly of merging the two methods. 

Innovation can be found in both though.  For large innovations, it is usually something that tries to be harnessed first by thinking and talking about to grasp the initial kinks.  You try to pose it out as best you can to answer your questions.  And it is through straight ahead that you can find meaningful iterative innovation.  It is those small surprises that appear when you just let yourself go that just feel really good.  But it is through using both that you will focus on maintaining the weight of your creations.


Next : Part 5 - Follow Through & Overlapping Action

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