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Zardoz

Relationship between programmers and animators

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Zardoz    122
I have no skills in game development. I am simply trying to understand the challenges of modern game development. What goes wrong in the relationship between animators and programmers in a project such as Fallout 3. The animations and interactions between the character and his/her world are incredibly flawed in Fallout 3. The way the character model interacts with the environment is sloppy. Could anybody speculate on what causes these poor results. In contrast COD4 models interact with the environment very naturally. What is required of the dev team to get the most realistic and natural results in regards to character model environment interaction? -Mike

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Codeka    1239
What do you mean by "sloppy"? Are you talking about the phsyics (like when you knock a chair over or something)? Or are you talking about how characters move and are affected by being shot, etc?

Anyway, it's simply a matter of scope. In COD4, all the characters are basically human - you can define an animation for one character and it can be immediately applied to all characters. In Fallout, characters are not all the same. An animation that works for a human is going to look funny on a Super Mutant, and it's flat out not going to work on a Mirelurk.

So the animators in COD4 can spend more time tweaking each animation to look more "natural", but for Fallout 3, they simply had too many different animations on too many different models to spend the same amount of time tweaking each one.

That's just a guess, of course...

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kyoryu    224
More limited interactions.

Less overall content, so more time can be spent polishing what's there.

Simpler overall game mechanics.

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Zardoz    122
Thanks for the insights. So the consensus seems to be that it was a time issue in regards to the scope of the game that resulted in the lack of polish for Fallout 3 when compared to COD4.

Could there also be a talent issue or do most individuals employed by mainstream developers have the necessary talent and experience to polish up character animations and make them feel natural?

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ddn3    1610
Animation is an incredibly complex problem. Even a simple character to move smoothly and naturally will need multiple blended keyframed and procedural animations. Couple this with the requirement that the limbs (arms,hands) and head have to naturally interact with a dynamic environment and you can see not just the technical challenge but also the programming challenge of how do you represent all those states? Game entities are simple things with few well defined states, but how do you represent something as fluid and transitory as animation states which usually are not just a simple binary state. People have carried animation engines over multiple console generations constantly refining and tweaking them, since they are too valuable and difficult to write just from scratch.

There is a move in the industry toward higher level procedural animations ( ie NaturalMotion, etc.. ) which is a combination of high level AI technology coupled with physics based modeling. More and more animation is moving away from keyframmed animation to a more dynamic procedural scheme as the processing power becomes available and new techniques are discovered.

-ddn

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Hodgman    51226
Quote:
Original post by Zardoz
Could there also be a talent issue or do most individuals employed by mainstream developers have the necessary talent and experience to polish up character animations and make them feel natural?
If you look at any of Bethesda's 3D games, they all have relatively poor animations in them. It's just not their specialty it would seem.

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Kaze    948
Quote:
Original post by Hodgman
Quote:
Original post by Zardoz
Could there also be a talent issue or do most individuals employed by mainstream developers have the necessary talent and experience to polish up character animations and make them feel natural?
If you look at any of Bethesda's 3D games, they all have relatively poor animations in them. It's just not their specialty it would seem.


Theirs always going to be trade offs between content quality and quantity and bethesda goes about as far in the quantity direction as you can and still be marketable.

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Zardoz    122
Thanks for all the input. I now have some clarity on this subject. I definitely appreciate NaturalMotion used in GTA4 (correct?) If character animation is becoming a licensed third party technology which requires little input from the game developer it will allow the devs to focus on content and quality in other areas.

Now I wonder how affordable it is to license NaturalMotion tech since the budget and profit targets of GTA4 were unusual in comparison to most games. Will this tech only be available to the big players in the future?

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Hodgman    51226
AFAIK, NaturalMotion tech was only used for 'dynamic' animations in GTA4 - such as when a character is hit by a car and falls down.
Running, jumping, aiming, etc were still all hand-crafted (often based from mo-cap data). A related point is that mo-cap is getting cheaper and cheaper all the time - many studios can now afford to build their own set-ups instead of renting time in a professional mo-cap studio.

I know Team Bondi now does much of their own mo-cap using an array of regular video cameras (no mo-cap suits / reflective markers) and fancy software to extract the 3d motions from the film.

Also, any part of game development can be outsourced to allow a dev team to focus on other areas ;)
My old company outsourced animation on some games and programming or art or sound on others, depending on which resources were available internally and what the deadline was.

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Kylotan    9860
Quote:
Original post by Zardoz
Thanks for the insights. So the consensus seems to be that it was a time issue in regards to the scope of the game that resulted in the lack of polish for Fallout 3 when compared to COD4.

All games have parts which are not perfect due to time issues. Time is money.

Quote:
Original post by Zardoz
Thanks for all the input. I now have some clarity on this subject. I definitely appreciate NaturalMotion used in GTA4 (correct?) If character animation is becoming a licensed third party technology which requires little input from the game developer it will allow the devs to focus on content and quality in other areas.

Not really, it just raises the bar for quality. You still have to do a lot of work to integrate middleware into your game and sometimes your game has to be altered significantly to fit the technology. Sometimes that means it's not worth the money and effort to improve a certain feature with such external technology if it's not crucial to your game's aesthetic.

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ddn3    1610
Time is money in every industry but as technology improves what once took 5 hours of mo-cap can be done by tweaking 20 sliders in a procedural scheme, with better results and faster turn around time, it doesn't take long for there to be a paradigm shift. It won't happen now but in a few years probably. The technology is too lucrative since it has broad application to many industry ( movies, games, locomotion research ie. robotics ) and there are enough people researching it that it will eventually happen.

-ddn



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vchile    122
Yeah that will be great. I think Kylotan is right though that nothing is absolutely perfect, at least, not when games are pushing the envelope anyway. I suppose you could make a seemingly flawless game if it had very limited scope, but then the lack of scope means that it is in fact flawed in that respect. Really though, the bar is set so high for games these days, that they have so much to do to really be 'special', that they are inevitably going to fall short somewhere or other.

So there will be a point eventually where most big games can easily perfect animation thanks to their own, or bought in technologies, but there will be something else that gamers expect and these companies will still struggle to deliver on that as well.

For example, I loved COD4, the graphics astounded me, fantastic environments and animations, and the gunfights were extremely fun, and I loved the variety of the sniper missions etc, and I loved being able to place land mines and things. Great stuff. And yet, it still wasn't a perfect game for me, because it was just a simple shooter really. Compared to even old games like System Shock, there wasn't much depth. The areas were pretty linear, there were no real RPG elements like inventory, customisable stats, etc. There were an extremely limited number of usable objects in the game, just a few guns and rifles compared to an RPG which might have a hundred or more weapons, swords, bows, staffs, daggers, wands, etc. There was barely any story at all, very little dialogue and no choices, unlike many RPG's which have a book's worth of dialogue, and dialogue options that can trigger completely different dialogue chains.

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Kest    547
I think Fallout 3 animation was hurt a lot by having very little dynamic biped walking routines. Characters don't walk sideways as they turn to move, they don't blend between turning and walking, they don't rotate smoothly to face directions, they don't step up onto things, they just kind of trot forward, like a train car.

It doesn't cost much to add this stuff. My game has many non-humanoid characters, but my humanoids still have three speeds of animated movement, with four directions per speed (including unique animations for strut/drunk/injured/etc). It's all blended together with a pretty simple engine that mixes any number of animated states together at once. For example, a character can start walking backward/sideways as they turn left and transition into full run, all at the same time. During the turn, they'll lean right and lift their left arm to balance themselves. Etc. I'm only one guy, here. If Bethesda has any good reason for not improving these things, it's most likely that they just didn't see it as an important issue.

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