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Animations in 'good' and 'bad' games

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Let me begin to say that im new to game development, but I have a question that Ive been thinking about for a while. If you look at big games like Call of duty, World of Warcraft and Assassins Creed etc. All of those games have really good and smooth character animations and effects when your fighting (using spells, abilities and movements during combat).

I play a lot of action games, including indie games. But one thing that really seperates the good from the bad games is the way your character fights and moves. I would never have guessed that the effects and animations of fighting would be one of the more difficult or more demanding part of the game development?

For example:

Mortal Online is a MMORPG and they had a budget of about 1 million USD and about 10 employees working on the game. But the animations and effects when your fighting is really bad, just like 100s of other action indie games i played. I recognize that time is a problem for indie productions. But not even the most basic anmiations and effects like swinging a sword comes close in quality to the big titles.

Shouldnt a good animator/(effect artist?) be able to quite easily make the same animation that for example World of Warcraft has when their characters are swinging a sword? Based on the 100s of games i played it doesn't seem like it, but why? Edited by Astr0

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Animation is a vast domain with not a lot of focus put into it, it's often a sidenote to rendering or AI. For example, there isn't even an animation specific forum on gamedev, which I find odd.

I've worked on animation as a programmer for a few years now on a couple of AAA titles, and I think that it would be VERY hard (maybe not impossible) for a 10 man team to compete with the big boys for the following reasons:

-Access to motion capture: Without access to motion capture or without a pipeline to process motion captured data into a game usable format, animators will have to hand code their animations which is painstaking. Even then, it's hard to capture subtle, realistic movements by hand. Big inhuman movements (i.e. a dragon flying spewing fire) are more forgiving.

-Animation tools: big studios have sophisticated animation solutions that have been built up over time and can be shared across games with tons of animation assets that can be re-used.

-Manpower: 10 people for an entire game is probably slightly bigger than the size of a dedicated animation team for a AAA title. There is likely one or two people dedicated to animation at most on a 10 man team, and even then they are likely split between AI and animation work (or perhaps even more domains). For smaller teams to be able to compete with bigger teams, you need better people, which can happen, but it is probably the exception rather than the rule.

Even big games often get lazy with animation. The Elder Scrolls titles look decent from a first person perspective, but switching to 3rd person view, you can see how terrible the locomotion of the player's avatar is. The reason this is ok is that few people actually play from this view, so it makes sense to not spend too much time or money on that particular feature when the visible characters can be constrained to always move in ways that look good.

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