Attack Animations - Part 3 by Eric Williams

This was originally written by our good friend Eric Williams for his blog Pushing Buttons. With his permission I've decided to start archiving a lot of these posts.

What's more important than the attack animation, simple the reaction animation! I find that more times than not the reaction animations are the difference between a great game and a good game. I mean it's a pretty simple concept if the attack has terrible payoff then the attack becomes less attractive but if the payoff is great then super duper attractive.

Attack animation should trigger a matching reaction or as close as possible if you have a generic sort of reaction system. This means if you have say an overhead attack, it would be nice to knock the opponent to a kneeling pose. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I do an attack that looks like it would cause one type of reaction but instead if causes something off the wall to happen just because the designer had to work in some extra functionality at the last minute. Try to plan the attack functionality of your game ahead of time so you can build a generic set of reactions to match.

When building combos try to think about how the opponent is still reacting from the previous hit to setup the hit area of the next hit. By doing this, the opponent is always in the right place when the next hit of the combo lands. A common problem with reactions is that they look repetitive so if you build the attack animations in the combo to change levels this can be avoided. This also allows the attacks to build one upon the other in terms of violence and the reactions enhance this escalation for maximum presentation.

Take this example for instance, I have a shotgun for a weapon!

Gut Buster

  • Attack = Smash the opponent in the stomach with the stock
  • Reaction = Doubles over holding stomach while vomiting

Tooth Fairy

  • Attack = Uppercut the opponent in the face with the stock
  • Reaction = Stumbles backward teeth flying from mouth

Head Trauma

  • Attack = Crack the opponent over the head with the stock
  • Reaction = Drops to a kneeling position spitting up blood

Death Sentence

  • Attack = Pump then aim downward now fire the shotgun point blank
  • Reaction = Flies backward slamming into the ground lots of gore

As you can see the attacks change levels, which cause the reactions to dramatically change levels. Also you will notice that the player's weapon position is always right in line with the head of the opponent so the next attack can strike easily strike the focal point. The overhead reaction is the best part since the opponent is completely immobilized and spitting up blood thus begging to be finished. Here comes the stylish pump to point blank fire, all execution style to finish the job (for better or worse, violence sells so know how to do it right).

Attack animations translate and by default so do the reaction animations. I hope you are already seeing the problem; it is easy to make the next move in the combo not translate far enough to hit. Lots of games fail to do this and you miss combos for no reason other than they did not think about it until it was too late. At the same time be sure to displace the opponent far enough that the next attack does not collide early and rub on the opponent until the hit collision becomes active.

On a similar note, the time between attack animations is important because if it is longer than the time of the previous reaction the opponent will recover and ruin your combo. In a single player action game all you need to calculate is the time between each hit in a combo and make sure that the reaction animation is greater than that time, problem solved. Please do this because I have played a lot of games recently that do not do this and it frustrating to get screwed out of combos. More importantly if you do it for the player then you will obviously make the leap that you should do it for the enemies against the player to avoid infinite lock down loops which are even more frustrating… Conan final boss black tar minions = GUILTY!!!

Finally when you animate reaction animations I feel it is important to start the animation in the pain pose, not the idle pose. By doing this, the first frame you see of the hit is powerful thus feels good. Also do not use any blend or tween on reaction animations because it will make them feel soft and sluggish instead of hard and crisp.

I am going to close this topic with something I firmly believe in…

Animators have three jobs:

  1. Animate
  2. Export
  3. Meetings

If an animator is implementing moves, writing mel scripts, making effects, or anything else then they are not creating assets which designers need to build the game. Worst those distractions are causing the assets they are creating to be lesser quality. For some that may be too harsh but animators tend to agree rather quickly to the surprise of the production staff.

Well hope this was helpful?!? New topic early next week!