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
Slow In, Slow Out
Applied to Animation
There is nothing worse than a jarring stop, or sudden change in direction to quickly take you out of a performance or action. Nothing ever truly comes to a complete rest, (unless it is dead) it is just moving at different speeds between one action and another. This principle also shows how heavy something is by how fast it starts or stops. In every action, there is some settle after something happens, or before it is about to happen. The first exercise every animator learns to illustrate this point is a pendulum. Throughout the middle of its trajectory, it moves very rapidly. But as it nears the apex of its arc, it slows down a bit. There is some friction there as gravity begins to pull it back down. And both before and after the apex, it loses some momentum. Until again, it begins to fall, at which point it picks back up. And while the word slow is in the name, it also defines how quickly an object moves to and from a state of rest.
Adding more frames of the pendulum at the apex of the arcs slows it down, easing it into the momentum change. Less frames in the middle means it moves faster
This principle again builds upon squash and stretch, but beyond that it is what allows the player some time to feel and see the pose without it becoming static. It gives the animator time to transition from one pose to another and makes sure that the important poses are seen without them coming to a complete stop. This allows the action to read clearly and still feel alive. Depending on the action, animators can either ease in or cushion in. Ease in is just slowing into the pose like the pendulum shown above. Cushion in slows in, but then overshoots a bit before it settles back into the pose, like a car coming to a stop. Depending on the weight of the object depends on which is used, and the difference of both can be felt.
The weight and feel of each ball bounce changes based solely on where in the arc the slowing in and out is used
Applied to Game Design
In game design, it is easy to see the translation. With goals, the player should be gradually eased in and out of each task they are asked to complete. The complexity of each puzzle should be eased into. But a new gameplay mechanic can be a great way to cushion in. Give the player a new enemy to fight, by building up and slowing into that first encounter, then slightly stretching the next encounter to up the challenge, and then settle back so that they can feel a sense of mastery. The same can be done with a new power, as a way to let the player feel like they are exploring it a fair amount on initial discovery without overloading them with too much information. Just remember, weight matters. When you slow in and out a great deal, the player will assume that it is something of importance, because you are keeping their focus on it. If you give it only a little ease in and out the player won’t have enough time to truly become attached.
The level to which you slow in and out is the hard part to master, and that is what play testing is all about. Is this action too sudden and confusing? Then you need to slow out of the last action. Is the player lost because we didn't give them enough time to digest what is happening at this moment? Then they need to be slowed into it so they can take it all in. Is this part not explosive enough because it is too slow and taking too long to get to the action? Slowing in and out is what gives each action weight, and what dictates their importance. If either are off, then the weight and truth of the game will be lost.
And when the slowing in and out becomes too obvious or slows down the overall gameplay, use some overlap, because remember, everything is connected. Slowing in and out allows you the time build in the overlap without everything becoming too hectic and disconnected.
Slowing in and out is the moment when the character is devising a plan. It hasn’t entirely anticipated the next action yet because it hasn’t decided what that next action is. It is what is going on as the overlap and follow through are taking place. And that is an important moment. That is the moment when things begin to stew. That is the moment when the pieces are being put together. That is the moment and sensation we are developing for the player with almost everything we do. We want them to think about what they are doing, what they are going to do, what they want to do because that is when they are fully invested and part of the game. And when they ultimately respond to what the game has asked of them, they will have had time to truly feel like they made a decision, and not just an action. That is the moment when both the game and player are occupying the same space and sharing each others weight.
Next : Part 7 - Arcs