Animation system in “God of War” (and other thoughts)

I’ve already wrote about this fantastic game and every time I play it I cannot stop myself from analyzing it in its smallest details to try to figure out what makes it so great.

I’m still convinced about all I wrote. Take this quote for example:

“God of War” is completely designed following that simple rule. All the encounters are almost impossible till you figure out the proper tactics to beat them. Once you have mastered them, the game becomes rather simple even at the highest level of difficulty. The game is never frustrating because it encourages you to master the (wonderful) controls and discover the proper patterns through a continued, varied exploration of your possibilities (types of combos, use of the environment, timing, positioning etc.. You have many, leaving space for a lot of “creativity” in how you decide to face a situation. Another fundamental trait of that game, in fact).

And then read it in the light of what I wrote about Diablo-like gameplay anf the two moments:

Observing it from the perspective I’ve described here the game is addicting because it does both “moments” really well. The first moment requires you to solve the level by “reading” it and then planning a course, the second moment is then about the quite challenging execution and the mastering of the movement.

Both of these together keep the game fun and varied, letting you experiment new solutions and then slowly improving and getting used to the control scheme.

I’m talking about another game in this quote, but the same applies to GoW. You need to find a proper tactics to overcome the various passages of the game. This process allows a lot of experimentation, variance and even some player-driven creativity. That’s the first moment. Then there’s always a second moment, because even when you figured out the proper tactics (the “trick” or “epiphany”), you still have to “master” it and execute it well if you want to succeed.

After the first moment the difficulty of the game goes down and you are supposed to easily succeed. The frustration is kept at the minimum because there’s a lot of space for the experimentation and you never find yourself forced into an abrupt stop. “Try again” is fun because you know there’s a lot of space to improve.

So again, there’s discovery from a side, and then practice and execution from the other. These two together are what make the game fun at a very fundamental level.

Then this time through the game I also started to observe some more technical aspects. For example the camera movement and the “level building”, but what amazed me more is the movement patterns of some of the monsters. For example right at the very beginning of the game there are some undead centurions that are constantly moving around you. I tried to figure out what kind of algorithm was used for their movement but without any luck. I was just impressed and I would be really curious to know how they managed to obtain that. It’s definitely a kind of movement that I wouldn’t know how to design.

I wish there were more places where you could learn about design a technology. Like being able to ask “How you did that?” I think I would never stop with the questions.

And finally the animation system on the main character. It’s impressive. But this time I don’t mean the quality of the single animations, but the technology below that interpolates PERFECTLY all the transitions. It’s fluid to the extreme.

Try to point the character against a wall, then slowly move the D-pad to make it walk against that wall, progressively moving the pad more till it makes it run. It’s simply impossible to notice when the walking animation stops and the character starts to run. What kind of animation system is using this game? How they managed to make it so absolutely fluid?

There are no jerky changes of state. You can press two times the square button and the character would finish with the right foot ahead, which then works as a starting position for a third attack. But if you do not trigger that attack, the character triggers another animation to make it move the foot back in the default position. It’s all planned to match perfectly. Timed perfectly.

Another detail I noticed is about the jumping. Even in WoW the characters have a “landing” animation that triggers only if you aren’t moving at the moment of the landing. So if you jump on the place, or stop moving while on the air, the landing animation triggers, while if you jump and continue to run the character switches suddenly to the running animation bypassing the landing one. You could think this is all normal but for example DAoC didn’t have all this “detail” and the characters just performed the landing animation in all cases, looking quite silly since they slid unrealistically on the terrain (this was fixed in one of the most recent patches). In the case of God of War, the game follows a similar pattern to WoW, but I think it even have a really tiny landing animation (or at least a very good interpolation) that makes the transition from the jumping to the running perfect.

The whole point is that, beside the quality of the animations, the console games just seem to have available a MUCH better technology and tools. Why that kind of technical stuff cannot be leveraged? We aren’t talking about netcode, databases and server programming. That’s work that is limited to the client and we should be able to port those achievements to the mmorpgs.

I think it’s about time. Mmorpgs still PALE compared to console games when it comes to technical execution. And that’s one particular field that with the time should become increasingly accessible. I mean, at least when it comes to these technical aspects THERE WILL BE concrete, unavoidable progresses. We can have faith on the industry from this perspective because “we can have shinier things”. Contrarily to the progresses from the design point of view, that requires a different kind of competence and will to push things to the next level.

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