You can hardly find a person who has never played any video game. Action, adventure, role-playing, strategy… every player has its own favorite video game genre.
Long period has elapsed since the arrival of the first video game. Arcades and home computer games were introduces to the general public in 70s-80s and quickly reached the mainstream popularity. Since that time video games have become one of the most popular entertainment genres and a part of modern culture in most countries of the world.
In those days people were satisfied playing games with two-dimensional characters. Gaming industry today, however, is something absolutely different. Game developers are creating more sophisticated complicated characters that allow the gamer to more fully experience the virtual reality and connect with the game. The majority of video games contain animated characters so now we consider character animation as a standard element of modern entertainment environment.
Professional animators admit that the role of character animators and game developers has increased in the last few years. Character animation in gaming industry is highly specialized and requires definitely higher level of application programming and a very specific set of modeling techniques.
Today, gamers enjoy fully rendered computer graphics worlds and carry out increasingly complex tasks with more believable characters. This is what character animators do: they bring the game characters to life; create the illusion of emotion, personality and thought. This helps to fully involve gamers in the game as they feel greater empathy to the character.
Thanks to increasing technological parameters and new technologies, which become more sophisticated day after day, game developers can create complicated characters that give the impression of reality and let the gamer fully connect with the game.
Game developers are constantly searching for ways to improve the process of character animation creation. Every year there are new game engines, new platforms available, and with these technologies character animators get new possibilities to create artworks that will resemble the reality.
As a result of technological progress in gaming environment you can:
- have more realistic characters on the screen at the same time,
- see increasing number of details in a scenery,
- travel beyond the real world,
- enjoy the sophistication of a game character itself.
The game players want to experience the virtual reality, to feel the character’s thoughts and emotions, to learn his motivations behind the actions. Modern technologies make it possible to create detailed and believable characters, so that the game players could enjoy the game till the last minute.
Storytelling in Video Games
No matter how convincing the game characters look or how good the game is marketed, you will not sell the game if the storyline does not involve the players. Every successful game story has the beginning, the middle and the end (the resolution). It must be thrilling, challenging, making the players feel and think, and must involve the player until he reaches the resolution.
Story writing in gaming industry has significantly improved over the past few decades. There are scriptwriters who develop game characters and concentrate on storytelling. Of course, the latest technologies allow to greatly expand the horizons of scriptwriters’ imagination. The storylines become more sophisticated and involving. After the scenario has been written, this is a character animator to turn it all into reality. So, as mentioned above, the role of character animators has significantly increased.
There are different ways to further involve the gamers in the story. For example, you can use some cinematic techniques to make the players experience real emotions of animated character. Modern game technologies provide mature tools for creation of visually stunning in-game cinematic and cutting scenes.
Sometimes it is called event scene or in-game movie and it is often used in video games to:
- advance the plot,
- introduce characters,
- provide background dialogs, etc.
Use subtext to let the gamer understand what character is thinking, use camera to control the mood of a character.
With these simple advices you can let the audience experience some incredible stories in industry of gaming.
Movie Animation vs. Game Animation
Recently the typical character animation examples could be found in animated movies, but nowadays the role of character animation in gaming environment is rapidly increasing.
But still there are huge differences between creation of animation for featured films and video games.
- The role of a viewer (or a player) in the process. Unlike any video game, the experience of a film viewer is absolutely passive. Video games are designed to interact. So you cannot stay indifferent or passive; you can affect the course of events. Playing a video game you can’t just relate to a hero, you actually become a hero. That’s why creating animation for video games can be much more difficult than the creation of animated movie.
- 3D environment. Unlike featured films, the video game environment should be fully rendering, as there is a complete freedom of motions and the whole environment of a game must be as complete as possible. Such animations can usually be viewed from different angles so the task of an animator is to make it look convincing from all points of view. Featured film animators should care only about the objects visible on screen.
- Rendering engine power. One more issue that makes game animation a more difficult task. When you are moving through a game, a rendering engine creates outputs and it should be able to render as fast as you change the character motions.
- Sequence of actions. In game animation there are certain series of actions: for example the character can run or jump, then he can make a pause and then run again. Another sequence of actions is when the character runs, walks, then stops and lies down. This is one more difficulty for a game animator as he should consider varieties of action series that can be done.
As we can see, animation for gaming environment is much more complex process and it requires deep cooperation of all members of working team.
Body Mechanics in Gaming Environment
In past years the game animators try to involve the gamers into a game by improve the believability of characters and environment. Today the focus is shifting towards improving the character movements in a game, making them more fluent, natural and convincing.
Game studios are looking for talented animators (both for movie and game industry) who have a thorough understanding of principles of body movement. Though the game character has a limited number of actions he can do, all of them should as much as possible resemble the movements of a human. Well prepared animators know how to make the leaps, climbs or sprints look realistic and smooth. It is worth mentioning that fundamental knowledge of weight, force, balance, anticipation and overlapping is a must!
There are several popular techniques that will help you to make the movements of a game character smooth.
- Parenting technique. Every game character has a skeleton – a set of objects connected with each other and moving in relation to each other. There is a well-defined structure of assignments (a target object or child is assigned to a parent object). Make the parent object moves and you will see how the child object follows it according to the assigned attributes.
- Inverse kinematics is an animation technique that reverses the direction of a movement chain. You can first move the child object to where you want, making the parent object and other attached objects follow it.
- Motion capture. Another popular method uses sensors on a real human which help to transmit a set of coordinates to the computer system. These coordinates are further translated into smooth and realistic motion.
With these techniques you can control a character’s position, rotation and other movement parameters as well as breathe life into the animated object.
Character animation helps to achieve more realism in video games. Sometimes it is even difficult to differentiate the game from real-life scenes.
Modern game industry created virtual reality with its own trends and here are some of them:
- games with a thrilling story line and more realistic and believable characters;
- video games tied to the movie release (Avatar, Flashed Away, Monster House, Transformers: The Game, etc.);
- casual games, such as Wii video games. They are highly appreciated for their physical aspect and definitely have promising future;
- open-source games. There is a great number of available free-to-play games in the market today and they continue to gather popularity.
There are also plenty of other trends emerging in the gaming environment every year and we are sure to hear about them soon.
Character Animators in High Demand
Today character animators are highly demanded not only in video games industry but in the feature film production too, because the main objective of a game is still the creation of empathy towards the game character. And it is character animator who brings game characters to life.
In spite of the fact that animators create only the illusion of reality, this virtual reality can involve the gamer to the extent when he actually “becomes” a hero and all that matters for him is the world you have created. And therein lays the power of animator!
One is clear, that the future of gaming industry is promising and the demand on qualified character animators will increase.