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.