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Animation update culling

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Been playing around with the idea of a decently large number of things on screen at a time [like watching a fight in a stratagy game] and was wondering what methods others have tried to limit animation updates. With few things [like in RPG's, of which 90% of my experience is in], it is easy, since if you update the animation of something off the screen, it doesn't really matter, and you can staticly hold all the animation info, since it is so low in volume. But scrolling around in your average RTS should likely take into consideration that one moment there might be 200 things on screen, all animating, and a second later, there could be zero things animating. Also, obviously you can't constantly refresh the animation of everything in the game world, and thus cannot do it staticly. should a graphical instance only be attatched to something once it becomes activly visible? what sort of method should be used to keep track of long animations that the camera may not be focused on all of [start a long animation, look away, and come back to it and have it still be at the correct spot in it's animation]. Or even position updates for things that are off-screen, should they use inflated time deltas but less frequent updates [update once every third frame, for three times the amount]. How about particle generating actions, like a bunch of smoke coming off a gun, should these even be excecuted off screen? if not, should they be deleted the moment they leave view? I've had some ideas on how best to approach these issues, but I'd like some input from people who've actually had to juggle the large fluxuations in animation, since this isn't something i've had a lot of contact with. For completeness, i code in C, even though in this situation it does not matter. Any insight would be appreciated.

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