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3rd Year: Animation in Videogames

Ever since the idea of animation was introduced to video games, there have been a number of ways in which these practices have been used, developed and altered to express a creative outcome. In video game animation there are a couple of things to take into consideration, firstly is that an animation may have to look good from every angle due to your game. Certain traits of animation may need to be exaggerated depending on the art style or activity (Anticipation is used in boss fights traditionally.). How restricted are you with the animation process? If the game is built on a 2D plane, there may not be a requirement for grand, massive actions when all you need to do is move some arms a bit, or alter a face slightly to express an emotion.

I'm going to use old examples and compare them to new examples, show how these principles have been carried over and how they are relevant. Just click on the videos to get a rough idea of what I'm trying to talk about, so you don't have to watch a whole video that's about an hour long! I'm going to start with 2D Animation used in video games, using the example 'Mickeys Wild Adventure' (1996).

Mickeys Wild Adventure (1996)
Credit: silenig (2014)

In this game, it's set on a 2D plane, meaning there needs to be just enough information displayed visually to indicate there is movement or some sort of action is taking place. Now, this principle can be seen throughout the entirety of this game, using the designs of Disney, it can be seen when characters are meant to be moving, when they are attacking or when anything is happening.  

Tricks need to be put in place, so a common tactic for example, is when the player takes damage the either move location and an image like a heart can disappear, showing that damage has been taken. However, a trend with 2D games, if the player takes damage they will become slightly translucent and will flash.

So to just establish this again, the majority of animations in this product are there to inform the player, this will become a common trend within this breakdown post. Now, because this whole game takes place in a 2D space, some elements of animation can be captured quite well here like rubber hosing.

Because the art style is already owned by Disney, the character designs and rough animations have already been worked out. They then get translated into the game itself, or are used are references to use in the game for either an enemy or the player. This game is somewhat basic, but for its time had some seriously clever design choices behind it, but do the majority of these principles stated carry over to later forms of media? Well, let look at a game called 'Cuphead' (2017)

'Cuphead' (2017)
Credit: Kratosworld (2017)

Now Cuphead is unique in a sense in that it is directly inspired the animation style of older cartoons. Cartoon-like Betty Boop and Steam Boat Willy are direct influences here, so when this game was created, a conscious decision was made to make the game in a 2D space rather than a 3D one.

Having this game created in a 2D space means it would need to follow a few key principles, and would you believe that the same principles mentioned earlier can be seen straight away in this game. Enough information is being conveyed, so the player knows an action is taking place, then through the actions, this game follows it can do so many things, just look at its variety! Both of these games are built on 2D layers, so the illusion of depth can only really be conveyed in the artistic depictions of the game, but the animation in these game reinforces their underlying themes/controls.

Now, 2D video games are not the only kind of video game, there is also such a thing as 3D games, that take place with an open space. The animation in this game is far different, because whilst it still carries the rule of "The animation needs to be carrying enough information to inform the player of what is going on with ease.", there are a lot more factors to be taken into consideration when animating in a 3D space. To use as an example or foundation to show I know what I'm talking about, I'm going to use 'The Emperors New Groove PS1' (2000) as an example.

The Emperors New Groove PS1 (2000)
Credit: World of Longplays

The Emperors New Groove PS1 came out in 2000 and was based off the film Emperors New Groove. Now technically this game is not incredibly advanced, but the game does what it needs to do, but the animation in it is so basic that its 'Almost' brilliantly made. What was stated earlier is that how information in animation has to be translated efficiently still applies here, but because this game is set on a 3D plane rather a 2D one there are a lot of other technical challenges. So for things being such low poly, things like speech, actions and more in-depth movements might be more difficult to capture. This game however despite its age is still able to convey its actions with very little animation, speech is conveyed by the bottom jaw moving, actions are simple but clean, enemies have some sort of build-up so that the player can learn their movements and patterns, and overall the animations in this game whilst not very advanced, still carry enough information to get a point across.

As for adding animation to characters, it's important to insert parts of the character into the animation so that that model can be identified as that character. So little quirks like how Kuzco runs and attacks is very important like you wouldn't see him do some sort of punch because he's a Lamma, but also it doesn't suit his character. His attacks being a charging, rolling, kicking his hooves are basic attacks that can be read easily, whereas his mid-air karate kick conveys a little more character than the other attacks. So the rule of 'Enough information in animation needs to be translated for the player so that they can understand an action' can also be seen here, and this applies to character within animation as well.

Now moving onto the second bit of breakdown with the animation in this game that's important to note is anticipation. Now all of the principles in animation can be inserted into any kind of animation in some way shape or form, but out of all of the anticipation is one that is usually used quite heavily, especially when a game is combat related. Anticipation can show the wind-up of an attack that is incoming, whats important to notes is the amount of time it takes the enemy to attack, and the amount of time the player has to react. We know Yzma is about to throw a potion because she pulls her shoulder back and then extends herself forward to show that she is throwing something, we know a guard is going to attack us because he is chasing after us whilst showing us his trident, just these details to indicate there is a danger incoming. Now using anticipation, let's have a look at a much more current game, Monster Hunter World (2018).

Monster Hunter World

Credit: Boss Fight Database

Monster Hunter has always been a rather smart game, the creatures within the universe are created with a lot of love time and care. Whilst other elements of animation can be seen in this game like Follow through, Arcs and Exaggeration can be seen, the game itself has a heavy emphasis on anticipation. Every other aspect of animation the game relies on this aspect, so simply put, Anticipation leads to exaggeration which could influence the arc and the follow through comes after the action has taken place. So this principle has been around for a long time and is still a big pillar of animation in games.

Finally where now going to look at two more games when anticipation plays a big part in the animations in this game, but has a very clever principle added, to give a player an extra level of challenge, this principle is also anticipation, but its done in a very different way, because you have to anticipate the movements of another human.

Halo Combat Evolved
Credit: Reclaimer

In Halo CE, the animation in the game isn't exactly top-notch, but like the other forms of media shown it gives enough information to let the player know what is going on. Now two things to note in this game are the animation applied to the players, and the animations applied to the weapons. The animation of the character is meant to indicate movement and their attacks, if you look closely you can anticipate your opponent's movements which indicated a level of learning. However, this game also has a level of stylization to it, meaning the animations of the weapons need to follow the boundaries of that stylization.

If a game has a particular art style then its rules of animation may need to be altered due to the design of the game, and Halo is no different. If a pistol is picked up you show easily be able to work out the mechanics of the weapon and it can then be refined and learned. Then there is adding the characteristics of the weapon into the animation, so you would see a tiny pistol have a massive blowback or recoil due to its size, whereas a rocket launcher would have much more kick to it. Now, these tools have had a level of character put into them so they can be read easily and identified easily. This is also where creativity comes into play a little, as a really specific example the pistol in Halo CE had a unique flip animation that stood out from all of the other weapons, this indicated it was the main weapon and it was somewhat special.

This rule can be applied to anything in-game animation, the level of character put into an object/tool can indicate its function and its role. So the traits of anticipation and character can be put into the weapons and the characters within the game, so does this still carry over to later games?

Halo 5: Guardians
Credit: IGN

The answer quite simply is yes, because technology has advanced these games are able to have a much higher level of quality, but the rule of enough information being translated whilst still keeping a good amount of character. The animations in the game are helped by the visual design, so anticipation in your opponent's movements can be seen, you know what a tool does just by looking at it and the way it's animated, that's the information carried with every animation. Overall in video games, their animations can have a level of creativity so that the game is visually impressive, they just help the game entertain their audience in their own interactive and creative way. Films are meant to be observed up close, whereas a game you identify what is happening and you react to the circumstance you're presented with.

Some games have a level of realism in their animation, in a game that focuses on its story the animations need to be tweaked to be observed and just observed, rather than be reacted to, like 'La Noire' (2011).

L.A. Noire HD Edition (2017)
Credit: Rockstar Games

Now La Noire is one of a few exceptions in video games where the high level of detail in its animations, is a rare sight of using visuals in cinematic storytelling to be reacted upon like a game. You play as a detective who is tasked with solving a mystery, you run around the city gathering clues, getting into firefights and car chases to solve this mystery. However, being the detective inst just about running and gunning, you have to observe the people as well when you interview them and see if you can identify if they are lying through their animations. The facial animation in this game is given a level of realism to show whether or not someone is lying, using techniques used in films like staging, we can then watch the game as if it is a movie, react to this movie and tell apart the fact from the fiction, so again, information translated to get your audience to react.

L.A. Noire: The Technology
Credit: Rockstar Games

So the main pillars in video game animation are:

  • Conveying your information simply and efficiently
  • Adding Animation principles to define an action
  • Inserting a level of creativity to match the product you are making and give character.

All of these points are meant to garner a reaction from the player so that they may keep informed, and enjoy what they are looking at.