Mo­tion passed


Re­mem­ber Eu­pho­ria? Nat­u­ralMo­tion’s an­i­ma­tion tech was, par­don the pun, a step change for videogame mo­tion. Sud­denly, feet were mak­ing con­tact with the ground and in­di­vid­ual steps in a stair­case, and char­ac­ters were re­cov­er­ing from gen­tle shoves in more or­ganic ways. But since its ap­pear­ance in Rock­star’s Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Re­demp­tion, the en­thu­si­asm for AI-driven Dy­namic Mo­tion Syn­the­sis and even much sim­pler rag­doll physics seems to have tailed off. Pri­or­i­ties have changed: th­ese days, Nat­u­ralMo­tion is bet­ter known for pub­lish­ing the phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful free-to-play iOS money-spin­ner CSR Rac­ing.

Almost seven years ago, GTAIV used Eu­pho­ria to set a new stan­dard for more de­tailed, more cred­i­ble game worlds. Why, then, in a game as tech­no­log­i­cally am­bi­tious as The Or­der: 1886 (p34), do ob­jects sim­ply dis­ap­pear as your hand sweeps over them when picked up? Worse still, the as­ton­ish­ing fidelity on show in the game’s steam­punk Vic­to­ri­ana, life­like cloth physics and ex­trav­a­gant mous­taches is un­der­mined by clunky tran­si­tional an­i­ma­tions as character mod­els strug­gle to ap­pease the awk­ward re­quire­ments of the per­son hold­ing the con­troller.

Thank­fully, else­where this month we find wel­come ev­i­dence of de­vel­op­ers mov­ing things for­ward. In Street Fighter V (p48), Cap­com is throw­ing out 20 years of genre con­ven­tion by over­haul­ing its an­i­ma­tion sys­tem. Whereas in the past, char­ac­ters would reel from all hits in ex­actly the same way, no mat­ter their strength, now light, medium or heavy at­tacks will re­sult in dif­fer­ent an­i­ma­tions. It makes for a more be­liev­able fight, cer­tainly, but cru­cially also a more leg­i­ble one for play­ers. The Or­der might not hinge as much on frame count­ing, and Cap­com has 25 years of ex­pe­ri­ence to draw on while Ready At Dawn is mak­ing its first home con­sole game. But there’s lit­tle point in drag­ging the way games look into the fu­ture while leav­ing how they move in the past.

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