Steve tack­les the mane prob­lem in games: bad horses

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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”

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