February 19, 2009

Attack Animations: Part 3

What’s more important than the attack animation, simple the reaction animation! I find that more times than not the reaction animations are the difference between a great game and a good game. I mean it’s a pretty simple concept if the attack has terrible payoff then the attack becomes less attractive but if the payoff is great then super duper attractive.

Attack animation should trigger a matching reaction or as close as possible if you have a generic sort of reaction system. This means if you have say an overhead attack, it would be nice to knock the opponent to a kneeling pose. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I do an attack that looks like it would cause one type of reaction but instead if causes something off the wall to happen just because the designer had to work in some extra functionality at the last minute. Try to plan the attack functionality of your game ahead of time so you can build a generic set of reactions to match.

When building combos try to think about how the opponent is still reacting from the previous hit to setup the hit area of the next hit. By doing this, the opponent is always in the right place when the next hit of the combo lands. A common problem with reactions is that they look repetitive so if you build the attack animations in the combo to change levels this can be avoided. This also allows the attacks to build one upon the other in terms of violence and the reactions enhance this escalation for maximum presentation.

Take this example for instance, I have a shotgun for a weapon!

1. Gut Buster
• Attack = Smash the opponent in the stomach with the stock
• Reaction = Doubles over holding stomach while vomiting

2. Tooth Fairy
• Attack = Uppercut the opponent in the face with the stock
• Reaction = Stumbles backward teeth flying from mouth

3. Head Trauma
• Attack = Crack the opponent over the head with the stock
• Reaction = Drops to a kneeling position spitting up blood

4. Death Sentence
• Attack = Pump then aim downward now fire the shotgun point blank
• Reaction = Flies backward slamming into the ground lots of gore

As you can see the attacks change levels, which cause the reactions to dramatically change levels. Also you will notice that the player’s weapon position is always right in line with the head of the opponent so the next attack can strike easily strike the focal point. The overhead reaction is the best part since the opponent is completely immobilized and spitting up blood thus begging to be finished. Here comes the stylish pump to point blank fire, all execution style to finish the job (for better or worse, violence sells so know how to do it right).

Attack animations translate and by default so do the reaction animations. I hope you are already seeing the problem; it is easy to make the next move in the combo not translate far enough to hit. Lots of games fail to do this and you miss combos for no reason other than they did not think about it until it was too late. At the same time be sure to displace the opponent far enough that the next attack does not collide early and rub on the opponent until the hit collision becomes active.

On a similar note, the time between attack animations is important because if it is longer than the time of the previous reaction the opponent will recover and ruin your combo. In a single player action game all you need to calculate is the time between each hit in a combo and make sure that the reaction animation is greater than that time, problem solved. Please do this because I have played a lot of games recently that do not do this and it frustrating to get screwed out of combos. More importantly if you do it for the player then you will obviously make the leap that you should do it for the enemies against the player to avoid infinite lock down loops which are even more frustrating… Conan final boss black tar minions = GUILTY!!!

Finally when you animate reaction animations I feel it is important to start the animation in the pain pose, not the idle pose. By doing this, the first frame you see of the hit is powerful thus feels good. Also do not use any blend or tween on reaction animations because it will make them feel soft and sluggish instead of hard and crisp.

I am going to close this topic with something I firmly believe in…

Animators have three jobs:

1. Animate
2. Export
3. Meetings

If an animator is implementing moves, writing mel scripts, making effects, or anything else then they are not creating assets which designers need to build the game. Worst those distractions are causing the assets they are creating to be lesser quality. For some that may be too harsh but animators tend to agree rather quickly to the surprise of the production staff.

Well hope this was helpful?!? New topic early next week!

February 13, 2009

Street Fighter 4 Launch Party!

Tonight was the big night that was 20 years in the making, the rebirth of a legend STREET FIGHTER!!! The event was amazingly put together and the MOCA was the perfect location for a game that has spawned so much memorable art. They even had cabinets made into pieces of art, one machine was literally an Akuma (Gouki) with beads and smoke or you might think the machine just got raging demon'ed, it's art and thus up for interpretation right?!?

I played a bunch of the new characters that were not available in the earlier versions I played at GDC last year and the fight club night earlier this year. Rose was fun but a felt a little odd, I was hoping she would have her friends super but no such luck. Cammy has a lot of crazy motion going on in her animation and her attacks seemed crisp. I got a nice win streak with Zangief, loving the range on the SPD and his focus attack is the perfect new setup. Overall I want this to be the next big thing and it might just be that but there is something odd about it that I cannot put my finger on yet, hopefully that will go away the more time I spend with it. Oh yeah, lots of game developers were there along with some lower level celebrities if you care about that stuff, like Bai Ling mashing her little heart out and doing it with a smile.
A few stray copies of the game were thrown into a crowd which then caused an avalanche of humans to smother poor by standers that did not understand what getting a copy now meant to some people. Those lucky enough to score a copy will surely not be sleeping tonight for sure!

All in all the night was pretty amazing even though it was a pain to get everyone inside, I mean the fire marshal showed up at one point. The people love this franchise and showed up, let's hope they show up to buy it so it won't fade away again.

Can't wait to learn this game all over again next week! The challenge mode is going to U N B E L I E V A B L E!

Finally big thanks go out to Seth Killian for getting me on the VIP list to avoid that awful line.

February 10, 2009

One of my Dream Games

Best book ever for a kid and still a lot of fun as a grown up. When I travel I make it a point to search out a book store and buy a copy in the native language. So far I have the standard english version, italian, spanish, and japanese. I was bummed when it was not available when I was in Korea :(

I love this book, moreover I love what it does... it takes a simple thing such as being a brat about not eating dinner and turns it into an adventure in a magical place with crazy monsters. One of my favorite things in entertainment is the ability to create another world that is full of wonder. Pixar has a knack for being able to create these worlds and Monsters Inc. is my favorite film because of the world they created. The doors, the scream as power supply, the monsters, everything about it feels real, perhaps mundane yet fantastical at the same time. Oddly enough this whole other world creation thing is what I love about games and probably the number one reason I love making them so much!

Anyhow, if anyone knows anything about this being in development as a game or if a developer reads this and wants to make this into a game, PLEASE CONTACT ME!!!

The movie has been caught in limbo for what seems like an eternity but there is hope it will come out this year, Spike Jonze do me proud sir... Oh wait now they might reshoot the entire movie. Bummer, this image will have to do for now.

February 1, 2009

Attack Animations: Part 2

Have you ever heard the phrase "Sculpting Time"? Well Cory Barlog uttered that gem during an interview while he was still an animator, we all gave him shit about this quote because it sounds so ridiculously high brow. The truth is animators are doing exactly that, sculpting a chunk of time into an amazing animation based on some design. Design has to think of time as a material such as marble or stone because if the artist has too much material to begin with the sculpture may be too big and take far longer to complete than originally anticipated. Herein lies my first piece of advice, ALWAYS give the animators a frame range.

Frame range can be as general as the total amount of frames or can be as detailed as to break the animation up into four pieces; the anticipation, connection, follow through, and recovery. Design should have a good idea of what frame ranges will work best but if there is any doubt do some testing. Generally three test animations (fast, medium, slow) can determine the speed that seems acceptable for the character. The attack hitting is really important because more than anything else it will determine how fast the game plays, so spend a lot of time testing all sorts of hit ranges. Typically in 3D fighting games the jab hits around 8-10 and if I remember correctly the first strike of Kratos's Square combo hits around frame 12.

If you have no idea what sort of frame ranges may work best for the game you are working on then I suggest buying some of the top notch fighting games and doing some research. Find some moves in the game you like then seek out the frame data to remove a lot of the guess work from the process. If no frame data is available you can always video capture the move and dissect it frame by frame. Heck you can even go old school Jordan Mechner! A few frame data links below...

Street Fighter:

Tekken Tag
Tekken 4
Tekken 5

Once we have the frame ranges down its time to move onto the translation of our attack animations. The translation of an attack animation serves two purposes: 1.) It makes the player feel like they are mobile and 2.) it closes ground on the enemy to increase the chance of a successful hit. Many games completely fail when it comes to creating good translation for attacks, hell some games have none at all... these games tend to score very poorly on the Metacritic so get down with the translation!

So how do we create good translation, well it comes down to the acceleration and deceleration curves. If the curve is too smooth if feels boring, if it has too harsh of a fall off it feels stilted so again we need to test a lot of motion to determine what kind of curves will work best for the game. Another question is should we translate pre-hit, on hit, or post-hit??? Again this is different for all kinds of attacks, but asking the question ahead of time means you are considering it instead of guessing in the dark. Below are a few types of translations commonly used for attack animations...

Plant - a simple foot planting walk from one attack to another, usually covers short distances and is considered high in fidelity but unresponsive and bland in terms of player feeling.

Slide - hit a pose and slide forward propelled by some amazing force, usually covers long distances and feels really good if the accel/decel curves are on the money.

Shuffle - sort of an split between slide and walk, move the feet but slide along, usually covers medium distances and halts upon connection pose transferring all the translation into the hit.

Other notable variations: Hop, Leap, Dash, Sprint, etc...

The translation of an attack animation is very important because not only does it serve to make the player feel mobile when attacking but it also plays a huge role in determining the size of the combat spaces. Honestly a lot of testing and metric work will be required to figure out what sizes work best with the attack translations. I tend to start with a small space being half the distance of the combo length and the large space being four times the combo length... just get with the level designer and TEST!

Well now we have an animation in the ballpark for timing and translation, check back soon for Part 3!