Steve tackles the mane problem in games: bad horses
Have you ever seen a horse? I mean really got up close and inspected one. They are noble beasts, like cars with hooves instead of wheels, and a luxurious mane instead of a handbrake, and huge flat teeth instead of a steering wheel, and a beating heart around about where the clutch should be. Unlike cars however, horses don’t eat petrol, and get really dramatic about it if you try to feed them some through a funnel. But besides that one difference, they’re basically hairy Citroens for olden days people.
I’ve never ridden a real horse. I have far too much respect for them to sit on top of one and make it take me to the disco by squeezing my thighs and pointing towards the horizon, or however it is that steering a horse works. But I feel I have a decent grounding in the mechanics of horse piloting, thanks to our old friend videogames. Horses have been clopping around in games since we could first muster enough pixels to render them. The first game to feature a horse was Linda
Robson’s Horse Tamer for the Amstrad, a little known and entirely made up puzzle game that saw the beloved star of Birds
Of A Feather attempting to calm a furious horse by offering it one of three different geometric shapes. It was a rudimentary first effort. Once you figured out that the horse exclusively likes triangles, and kicks Linda Robson to death if you attempt to feed it a parallelogram, the game lost all of its replay value. But at the time it was regarded as the yardstick by which all other horse games were measured, from Magnavox Odyssey classic Pong But With Horses, to more tactical titles like Total Dressage.
Since then it’s been downhill. Horses in modern games are rubbish facsimiles of the real thing. Ask any jockey or French butcher and they’ll tell you that games developers get almost everything about horses wrong. From the way they wilfully canter over cliff edges to how they’ll occasionally become embedded inside a cactus while your back is turned. The Problem Most games developers are unfamiliar with how horses work and think. To a developer a horse is just a fancier version of a cow, or a very large dog. As a result, horses in games like Oblivion and
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are unrealistic portrayals of the real thing. They handle like bumper cars, turning on the spot, galloping at top speed into walls and reversing arse-first into saloons in ways that a real horse would find laughable, if horses could laugh.
Videogame horses also differ from their real world counterparts in that they exist between dimensions and can be summoned into existence with a whistle, or by selecting a juicy carrot in your inventory. They either appear out of thin air like Al in Quantum Leap, or trot out from behind a boulder like the horse has just lost a game of hide and seek. Transporting a real horse over long distances involves putting them in a metal shed on wheels and driving them down the M1, while hoping they don’t get spooked by a plastic bag, leap out at 90mph and cause a massive pile-up that gets on the news. The Solution As of 26 October 2018, gaming’s acrimonious relationship with horses has finally been solved. The steeds of
Red Dead Redemption 2 are the most believable and anatomically correct yet, a feat Rockstar achieved by sacking all of its staff, replacing them with professional showjumpers and teaching
them how to code. It was a bold tactic, but one that paid off. Under the leadership of John McCririck, the new development team was at long last able to capture the raw, unfettered majesty of horses, from their painstakingly animated testicles to their glorious dynamic pooping. Truly, these beautiful beasts now have the representation they have long deserved. n Steve writes for City A.M where he’s sometimes only paid in sugar cubes.
“To a developer a horse is just a fancier version of a cow”