An Animation Development Diary at the Halfway Mark
Apparently, I was at least semi-coherent in my bio earlier this year since I was asked to contribute something meaningful for the newsletter. This time around, I’ll be going into a bit more detail about what we're doing and where we currently are in the process of birthing this MMO.
I'd like to start off by thanking the fans that have been vocal and constructive both before and after seeing evidence that we're actually making anything playable out here in Virginia. Even though you might not hear from developers but once in a blue moon, we're always watching. (Well... not ALWAYS... that would just be creepy!) There have been a fair number of questions and assumptions made on various venues on the 'net, many of which will be answered or clarified (however vaguely) below if you read carefully.
So for the lack of a better literary device: "Let's get started."
On Technology and Philosophy
WAR is a new game with a new animation system. I'm really excited about how far we've gotten with it, and how much further we can take it. This one doesn't even require DOS! It's all crazy point-and-click new-fangledness. Aside from the performance improvements we'll be seeing, it's got a lot of really nifty features that let us blend motions together in very cool ways.
It's important to me your character in the game be more aware of its surroundings than you are. After all, it’s the one who's actually in the world, and you're just looking at the back of its head. There are so many things that I’d love to do that would really plant your character solidly in a tangible world. Alas, time, money, and resources.
Since our focus is on RvR, it's more crucial that we focus on combat than my nifty-keen system for... well, I’ve got a lot of nifty-keen systems for a lot of things that I’m not going to talk about because they are not going to be in the game. That being said, we're already leveraging a lot of the new tech. Animation, audio, and special effects are also working more closely than ever, and we're now able to define an exact frame within an animation that triggers a particular effect. We are making sure that if you attack while you're running that you keep running for the duration of the swing and don't skid across the ground. We are making sure that when your character looks at a friend or an enemy, he turns his head and spine to keep them in view. This can make even the most mundane actions look great, such as sitting on horseback and waving to someone without popping up and down awkwardly. Using the weapon tech and additional code support, I’m hoping to be able to make innkeepers actually wash dishes (by equipping a mug and a rag) or sweep the floor (by equipping a broom).
On warriors and weaponry
For WAR, I want characters to really feel like they know how to use their weapons. The one thing I don’t want is for everyone to idle, fidget, flinch, and run around with a weapon in their hand in the same manner they would do when unarmed. People just run differently holding an axe than they do with a sword. It's an attention to detail issue. The problem with details though, is that details are expensive. And this being an MMO, with a wide variety of weapons, the expenses add up pretty quickly. We walk the fine balance of being fiscally responsible and artistically stylized.
As much as I’d love to have support for 20 weapon types (and weights) per gender per race, it’s just not going to happen if we ever want to release this game. Even if we did, we have to consider the impact to performance all those extra animations loaded into memory would have on a giant RvR raid.
What we do have, is access to as many as 5 different weapon set animations (we call them Grips) per race. Each of those has its own unique movement set, fidgets, and combat. Each draws and holsters differently. We are hoping to implement custom Stun/Knockdown/Death animations to each of these grips as well. We’ve just got the rest of the animations for Empire/Chaos, the Elves, more creatures and bosses, interactions (emotes), and fixes/polish to get through before we even think about getting that fancy. (I’m going to remain ambiguous as to whether I’m talking to the readers or the animation team on that bit).
The difficult thing about working with a license is that you have to be true to the spirit of the property you're attempting to bring to life. From the onset, we've been attempting to hit the Heroic mark, to convey more Power than Pizzazz. Warhammer isn't flashy, it's brutal. As such, we've been trying to make the characters in the game look more concerned with hurting the other guy than showing off. Early on, I put my foot down and said that Orcs and Dwarfs don't have any business doing dumb gamey stuff. They should just get stuck in and hit hard.
The problem is, we're making a game, and more often than not, you'll find that the Design department wears bigger boots. Like steel-toed, lead-lined soccer-cleat boots. Like Mel Gibson in Payback, it really only takes so many digits before you just finally come to grips with the fact that a certain career needs an AOE attack, and that the best way for a guy to convincingly hurt everyone around him is to whip around in a circle (no, Jeremy... you can't just use "stomp" AGAIN). That decided, the biggest concern then is making sure that there's power and weight behind the attack and that he's not just standing on his toe and spinning around like a top. Thus, my goal is to get each race fighting like you'd imagine they'd fight, without being gratuitously vogue or out of character.
As far as abilities in particular are concerned, rest assured that Design and Animation will be balancing both the math and the motions from here to ship (and beyond?). Even though we're "finished" with a lot of stuff, have no illusions that we’ll just be kicking back. Not by a long shot. We'll be continually modifying what's there as things get ironed out across the board.
Speaking of changes...
There’s a lot of potential for time loss and frustration in animation. On the world art side, if someone comes along and says a certain rock texture in the game has too much moss on it, an artist will go and repaint part of it and check it back in. Then every building, wall, fountain, etc. in the game that's using that texture just looks less mossy. If someone decides late in the process that the female Dwarf’s butt sticks out too far when she’s just standing around, an animator (similarly) has to change that motion and check it back in. Then he has to make the exact same change to every other motion in the game that starts and/or ends with that pose. This could easily link into hundreds of motions. This is why we've set up our pipeline so that each Grip has a file. If there's a skeleton issue, a pose change, or any number of things that have been overlooked, that change only has to be made in a few files, instead of hundreds, and re-exported with the (overly-simplified-for-effect) push of a button.
Thanks for reading! Now I’d better go do some preliminary work on the Witch Hunter and make sure I’m not missing any Black-Orc-with-great-axe anims before the next beta stamp.
Until next time,
2006 Aug 24 21:03 GMT