Adding Weight to Your Game Design Part 5: Follow Through & Overlap

Applying the animation principle of follow through & overlapping action 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

Follow Through & Overlapping Action 

Applied to Animation

Whenever you have an action, it must always carry through to the next, and different parts of a body or performance move and stop at different times.  How and when they stop shows their weight in direct relation to one another.  Often times these two terms are used interchangeably but there is a subtle difference between them. Follow through means that separate parts of an object will continue moving after it has stopped. Overlapping action is the tendency for parts of the body to move at different rates and how that can be used to fluidly lead from one action to the next. 

Let's start with Follow Through.  Think of energy.  It can't just stop.  It has to transfer through, and past its destination.  This follow through is what gives a sense of weight and connectivity through the body and performance as well as showing the player where the action originated from. In animation, lets again refer back to the jump.  When you land, your body doesn't just stop, even if you appear to.   Even as your hips land first then rise back up, you compress your spine and your head begins to arch down.  Your arms also drag behind, continuing the stretch into the squash.  Those movements are the natural follow through of each body part.  Now imagine as the character is landing, he goes into an uppercut.  As his arms are falling, dragging behind and up above the rest of the body with the fingers open, they arc down, ball into a fist and then slam into the action of the uppercut.  They don’t actually stop at any point in the action, but flow seamlessly from one action into the next, from trailing the body towards helping propel it into the punch.  And that linking motion is the overlapping action. 

"It is not necessary for an animator to take a character to one point, complete that action completely, and then turn to the following action as if he had never given it a thought until after completing the first action. When a character knows what he is going to do he doesn't have to stop before each individual action and think to do it. He has it planned in advance in his mind." – Walt Disney


Overlap of movement and performance is what brings a character to life and makes them look and feel alive.  Without this, they are just a machine, going from one task to the next, losing all sense of emotional weight or soul. 

Applied to Game Design

In game design, this means whatever the player does, or whatever happens in the world, it must have repercussions.  It must go beyond just what was completed and towards what is going to happen next.  Actions should link up, and what you just did affects what you are about to do.  It doesn't always have to be in the players face, but it must be felt, if you want the completed action to have any weight.  And it is the repercussions of those players actions that is follow through. You shoot and your actions follow through into the world through either bullet holes, injuring an enemy, or blowing up a propane tank.  In fact, this is the ultimate key to immersion.  And while crafting a world with player freedom in which every action and decision has the same follow through as physic objects is a Herculean task, like every principle, the key is to feel it, not just see it.  It can be in a simple audio cue.  It can be in a slight head nod.  Because like other principles, the follow through must match weight of the action.  Heavier parts lag further and stop slower that something that is light.  This is what defines weight and truth in actions.

Destruction is one of the most common forms of follow through in games

Destruction is one of the most common forms of follow through in games


Follow through is how everything reacts to what just happened, but it doesn’t always have to overlap into something else.  In fact if everything is overlapping it becomes chaos.  The overlap is reserved for what will be driving the next mission or action, to help the player feel what is essential to the experience.  Without overlap, actions are hollow.  Overlapping the outcome of one mission and how it leads into the next can make something as silly as going from an amusement park to the moon feel legit.  It is especially important with NPC AI if you want to create a living, breathing world.  It is the transitions, turns and look at commands that give the appearance of a thought process in a character.  Unfortunately too often those are the first parts to be scraped or rushed when working on a character because they are boring to animate and are treated merely as a service to the progammers.  But without the overlap of those transitions, NPC's really become nothing more than pathing AI bots, which are hard to believe as actually moving around the world with any purpose.  When designing an area, be aware of what your NPC characters could be doing there.  When requesting a change in attack state, think about WHY they would do such a thing.  This starts with anticipation, but without having that follow through, the anticipation will fall flat.  Follow through is the squash to anticipation's stretch.  And if there is ever a time you can’t anticipate something, follow through is your golden parachute.  If you want to move something very big very fast, you can cheat the sensation of weight by skipping the anticipation but making sure there is a lot of follow through to accommodate moving something of such a large mass so quickly.  So even if it takes off like a bullet, give it the follow through of a train to maintain that sense of weight with all its other actions.

Overlap and follow through are what transform player interactions from being a mere skinner box into a deeply rewarding experience.  If the use of achievements, trophies or badges are the only form of follow through we give out as developers, then we are not holding up our end of the conversation with the player.  Follow through and overlap is how we answer a player’s question of with a sense of purpose and weight.


Next : Part 6 - Slow In, Slow Out

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