There’s much to be said for subtle animations. They serve no functional purpose, and yet they immerse the player in the world and make it feel full of life and vibrant. One of the shortcomings of the base game is that many non-functional, ‘ambient’ animations consist of only a single frame. Walk into any bar in the game and its patrons will sit idle, lifeless for all time.
There’s much that can be done to address this. Any piece of furniture with a ‘use’ function – cages, chairs, beds, crafting benches – allows for an animation to play while in use. What’s more, these functions can manifest a tool. The title image has a character kneeling in a warrior’s prayer. Now, I can’t force him to draw his weapon while doing so, but I can give him a prop to use while he’s doing it.
Let’s delve into the many uses of idle animation.
Above, I’ve replaced the default standing animation with a more interesting variant. Combined with a little movement and shuffling about, this hapless prisoner suddenly appears aware of his situation. He’s in a cage, he’s looking about, he shuffles from foot to foot now and then. Alive.
What about unique or special characters I want to draw particular attention to?
To prevent a follower from playing the same animation, I can repurpose a throne into a hidden node. By ordering specific (i.e. important) characters to wander around their building using these nodes, I thus force them to call specific animations, such as the map study animation seen here:
This animation is a prime example of special use events that add both flair to an important NPC (here, General Tycho of the Empire), and helps to highlight them to the player. Guards stand around idle, vigilant for threats. Important NPCs and leaders should not. By spreading out multiple instances of special furniture, they’ll periodically wander around doing different things appropriate to their purpose in the game, and to the world-building. Remember that warrior’s prayer? Wordlessly, your understanding of this character deepens – how do they think; what sort of personality do they possess?
Now for something more advanced.
It’s possible (though a headache to animate) to have props leave a character’s hand. On the skeleton, the bone that a prop is linked to follows the hand bone, meaning every frame has to be manually adjusted. Yet by doing so, neat animations like this coin or knife toss are possible:
So, what animations are finished? In total, around twenty. At the moment, they’re centred around important NPCs, and bars patrons. Barkeepers will pour drinks, mop the floor and wipe down surfaces. Patrons use a variety of drinking animations to sip from a cup, will study books and peruse maps. Overall, while far less complicated than combat animation, there are still minor details to pay attention to; robots, for instance, who shouldn’t drink in bars owing to the fact that they’re (wait for it) … robots. In this case their cup is hidden inside their chest, and they sit with an override animation to prevent them from drinking anything.
I have much more scrawled on a to-do list. I’ll probably publish a comprehensive overview of these somewhere, though for now the rest is shelved while I work on more critical things. That being said, here’s a quick rundown:
- Lively, in-depth crafting
- Machinery repair; generator re-filling
- Shelf stacking
- Perusing of wares
- Scribe work
- Sword drills
Interestingly, the method of using animation described here doesn’t force a character to stay rooted to one spot. In technical terms, this means that the ‘root’ bone is free to move around. So, with care and attention, I can handle complex events, such as characters carrying boxes around a short distance. You know, actually acting as labourers and craftsmen.
What can you expect to see in the next update?
For now, the animation is used sparingly, much of it hand-placed. However, when I’m further down the pipeline with this feature I’ll implement this stuff more randomly so that building layouts and their associated animations are distributed more naturally.