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Christiaan Moleman, Blogger

October 26, 2010

6 Min Read

This is a compilation of a series of posts from my other blog discussing the interactive use of animation in a number of notable games…



There have been a few games recently (and not so recently) that stood out for their inventive use of character animation... giving the player feedback through movement, adding not just aesthetic value but expanding gameplay. These are some good examples:


 Let’s start with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted 2

Uncharted 2

It has been much lauded for its use of animation and there’s definitely a few interesting things going on in-game. Nathan Drake adapts to his surroundings by layering together different contextual animations like shielding himself from fire, clutching a gunshot wound, losing balance, taking cover and so on.

Of particular interest is the game’s use of what I’m going to call “contextual anticipation”…

When Drake is climbing around he will extend his free hand towards reachable areas, indicating to the player it’s safe to jump as well as where this will take him.

A more subtle example is when you’re hiding behind cover and a guard comes around the corner. There is a short window of time where Drake can surprise the guard and disable him without making a noise. At just the right moment (the window within which the player can stealth-attack), Drake ducks down, arms ready, anticipating the grabbing action. The sudden change of posture communicates that now is the time to strike, and it’s all you need.

We spend much of our time staring at our avatars in 3rd person games. Not a bad place to put your gameplay feedback…


Now for an older game: Piranha Bytes' Gothic.



I suggested recently that games could show skill progression in the movement of the player, making the animation more elegant as you level up, but some games are already doing this, Piranha Bytes’ action-RPG among them. Set in a medieval prison colony; the player picks up skills from various allies.

As in most RPGs you start out pretty helpless and your general incompetence is reflected in how you hold and swing a blade. Get some training though and you start showing a little more control in your movements, different slashing moves are unlocked and you can now use timing to your advantage…

The player becomes visibly more skilled.

The game both adds new moves and makes existing ones more effective.


And how about Assassin’s Creed 2?

Assassin's Creed 2

Assassin's Creed 2

I’ve talked about this series before, but the sequel takes things a step further…

Where AC1 had you tagging along automatically with groups of monks at the press of a button, AC2 is all about proximity*. ANY gathering of NPCs can shield you from the eyes of the guards. Just standing close enough to or walking with a small group will make you effectively disappear. Your enemies are looking for a lone assassin. Blend into the crowd and you can travel freely.

Straying too close to the guards when they’re on edge will blow your cover. Like AC1, their state of alertness is communicated through posture.

Moving from group to group, pretending to chat with random pedestrians, weaving through the crowd, you can approach unseen – strike – and be gone…

[Incidentally, there was an interesting talk at the Paris AI Conference about how groups form in conversation, adapting to new arrivals, etc. They don't go quite that far here, but you could layer these systems on top of each other to great effect.]

Hiding in plain sight and adhering to social norms to avoid drawing attention to yourself is not something games experiment with a lot and it’s good to see someone taking this on.

Speaking of which, Spy Party continues to look interesting as well…

* more AI than animation, but it is body language.


And finally... Red Dead Redemption 

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead is another game that does some interesting things with proximity…

I was somewhere in Mexico doing odd jobs for The Resistance, when ‘man of the people’ Reyes asks me to ride shotgun on a stagecoach. Now, you can choose to sit down next to him, OR if you happen to think he’s kind of a hypocrite, you can ride alongside on your own horse instead, to which Reyes responds:

“I guess my company is not good enough for you anymore, hm?”

You could argue the only gameplay consequence is missing some exposition… but it’s a great step towards making social cues matter in how your interactions with NPCs pan out.

You can also greet people as you walk or ride by. If you press the interact button when close to another character your avatar, Marston, tips his hat and says “hello”, or replies if the other has already spoken.

The game is full of little touches like this. NPCs call out and gesture to you when they want to ask you something and wave excitedly when you come back. If they’d implemented “He went THAT way!”-gestures as well, the mini-map would’ve been rendered all but obsolete.

[Personally, I found playing with the mini-map off a lot more enjoyable as it made the game less about riding from mission to mission and more about really exploring]

Of course, you can’t talk about Red Dead Redemption without mentioning the horses. While you could argue they are like the cars from GTA, there’s a believability and life to them that goes beyond that…

Like Agro from Shadow of the Colossus, they are characters you come to care about and this is in no small part thanks to the fluid animation and all the little details in their behavior, from the head-shaking when you push them too hard, to the intricate interaction with the terrain.

If you whistle anywhere in the world your horse comes to find you. It’s possible to keep the same horse throughout the game so you can get quite attached to the creature, to the point where some players felt compelled to mourn the loss of their horse when a stray bullet, or cougar took it…

To me this is the whole point of game animation: creating interactive characters you can believe in

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Christiaan Moleman


Christiaan Moleman has worked on a number of unannounced titles at Arkane Studios and assisted on titles at Darkworks and Widescreen Games. Prior to that he worked on in-house development at Streamline Studios.

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