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09.16.2011

Studio Insider: Combat Animation

Introduction

With each Studio Insider, members of the Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ development team take you behind the scenes to give you an inside look at the work that goes in to making the game. This week, Principal Lead Animator Mark How discusses the work that goes in to creating the animations for combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Combat Animation in The Old Republic

Hi. My name is Mark How and I am the Principal Lead Animator at BioWare Austin. Many ideas have been dreamt up since the inception of this extraordinary game and the animation team has been hard at work since the very beginning. While we see each project as a challenge, we have a lot of fun imagining all sorts of unique, action-packed scenarios that can play out in The Old Republic. Of course, the main purpose of animation is to produce characters that adhere to the basic laws of physics, but good animation also ties into many other facets of game design. Today, I’ll tell you about our experiences and techniques that go in to our creating the animations that compliment the exciting and visceral combat in The Old Republic!

We start out like any other game that has big ideas for combat: at first we thought about the classic battle between Jedi and Sith. When you picture these powerful Force users meeting, you think of how they Force Leap into battle! You think of their Lightsabers clashing, and how they use the Force to push and pull each other around the battlefield. We wanted to be able to replicate this sense of action and exhilaration in the way we capture the combat animations. We wanted to show Force Lightning exploding from your fingertips and have your character show their raw mastery of the Force by hurling large objects at your enemies. We also had many ideas about ranged combat; about ducking behind cover and blasting your way through a pack of enemy troops. Knowing that many of you who will play the game are going to be playing as non-Force users, we wanted to capture that feeling as well.

Lightsaber Clashing

One of the most iconic images in the Star Wars™ universe is the Lightsaber. Making the Lightsaber come to life in The Old Republic requires a collection of all the correct elements falling into place at the same time through visual effects, sound design and animation. Our challenge was to make the iconic Lightsaber battles from the movies come to life within the design confines of an MMO. We worked closely with the combat programmers and designers to ensure that the combat visuals do not detract from the gameplay experience. A key aspect we learned early in development was that players do not enjoy having character control taken away from them because of an action or animation. Similarly, we realized that any action a player takes in the game needs to be visually represented in a way that is consistent with the player’s expectations. Combining these two things, it was particularly challenging to develop animations that allowed for visually appealing combat while still allowing the players complete control over their characters.

Here is a progression clip of just a few of the animations in our game, from the initial design to its implementation in-game.

Once we knew what our rules were for combat, the programmers and animators were able to create a Lightsaber clashing system that could predict the volleys of weapons fire and other attacks being thrown at the player from all directions, and have the player dynamically react to ‘block’ these attacks. Not only that, but we were able to keep this system active while players were deflecting directed attacks, engaged in melee combat or even running. Players may not even realize all the factors that are coming into play to visually represent the combat experience, but we believe it’s critical for making the player really feel fully engaged in the fight. Without these dynamics, the players would wind up locked in certain animations when they go to engage in a “Stock strike” or “Project,” and then the combat would really be failing to capture the feel of Star Wars; it would give the player the impression that they are watching the action rather than taking part in it for themselves.

We’ve iterated on the mechanics for a long time, and I think the Lightsaber combat system that the programmers and animators ultimately devised has really gone beyond expectations. Even in a battle scene with multiple players and multiple targets, each Lightsaber wielder can be seen attacking opponents with varied tactics while deflecting, parrying or dodging the attacks of the other enemies. It gives the whole experience a really dynamic, visceral feel, making the player feel like they’re taking part in an intense battle where their character has the heroic qualities expected of a Star Wars icon.

Combat Cover

“How could Han Solo possibly compete directly with Darth Vader?”

This was one of the situations our designers found themselves thinking about when balancing the character classes. Though armed with many brilliant blaster attacks, tactical abilities and cheap tricks, one of the most challenging tasks for the entire team was in designing a cover system that was useful to the player while keeping them feeling like they were part of the action. Some might argue that you don’t even need a cover system in an MMO, but the benefits provided to the classes and the overall visual dynamic of the combat system is incredible. This all comes back to the expectation that the player has. If you were a Smuggler in the Star Wars universe and there was a crate available for you to roll behind to deflect enemy fire, wouldn't you want to do that? Of course you would. The cover element has provided a tactical way for the Smuggler and Imperial Agent classes to be competitive against their Force wielding and gadget-toting opponents. Deciding we were going to create a cover system was one thing; creating it was something else. It took many hours of research, play-acting and experimentation to nail down the animations for ducking into, rolling into, or just dodging into cover. As you can imagine, with the variety of places where these characters can take cover in the game, that created an additional layer of complexity which had to be addressed. In the end however, cover looks, feels and functions like the real thing, and we think it bring an entirely new dynamic to ranged combat in the MMO genre.

Here we see a breakdown of the Imperial Agent rolling into cover behind a barrier.

Once it was established that melee-based player characters wouldn’t be locked into doing certain animations, we wanted to make sure that ranged classes worked the same way. The unique challenge with the ranged classes was that we wanted them to always keep their blasters pointed at their target until they were damaged, downed, or until the player chose to manually change targets. This needed to be true while standing still as well as when the player was moving. In an MMO, players don’t usually stand still and fight mobs of static NPCs. Consider PVP: as smart as NPC AI can be, it cannot compare to the intelligence, skill and intuitive reactions of a real human player. This means that when two human players duel each other, they can adeptly circle one another and jump to get in and out of range. They can’t be stuck in long, static animations when they attack. We had to work closely with the programmers to devise an aiming system that could account for numerous gameplay possibilities. I think what we achieved allows players to play the way they want and does not lock them into a combat system that only obeys a limited set of rules. As pretty as it could look, who wants to play a game where you run and then have to stop each time you want to fire your blaster? "Not I," says the Smuggler.

For The Old Republic, we are committed to giving you a great combat experience through aesthetic movement, strong character and great design. These elements come together thanks to the efforts of many different departments that are all working hard and working together to reach a common goal. Our combat has unique concepts that set it apart from other MMOs and help deliver another BioWare-quality Star Wars™ experience that we hope fans will find incredibly enjoyable and will want to continue as they progress in their stories and create new experiences of their own.

We'll see you online!

 

Community Q&A

With each Studio Insider a member of the development team takes the time to answer some of the questions that are put forward by the community. The next Community Q&A will center on the many aspects of socialization in Star Wars: The Old Republic. If you have a burning question, ask us via our Forums or on Facebook. Make sure to get your questions in no later than September 30th if you want it to be considered for the next Community Q&A.

Today, Principal Lead PvP Designer Gabe Amatangelo answers a few of your questions about Player-vs-Player Combat in The Old Republic.

Q: How important is the PvP community to BioWare? – Kryptorchid

A: Very important. The Old Republic’s PvP developers are avid gamers and active, long-time members of the MMO PvP community. We hold preservation and growth of the The Old Republic PvP community near and dear to our hearts.

Q: Will there be any kind of arena system? If so, which brackets will it support? - Inquiescent

A: ‘Arena System’ has come to mean two different things depending on the context: Single Elimination PvP game mode and Ranking/Tournament Systems. Whether or not we add that game mode to The Old Republic’s current lineup (domination, assault and bombing run) is TBD. However, one of the top things on our list for post launch is a rated Warzone system where players can form teams, earn team ratings, earn individual ratings, as well as participate in tournaments, etc.

Q: Are there any plans for non-combat forms of PvP, such as Pazaak or Swoop Racing? - RizzoRatchet

A: We are considering, testing and/or developing several things like that. We’ll let you know as soon as we are sure about what we’re going to add.

Q: Will we see a “Criminal” or “Bounty” mechanic so that we can persistently hunt down and torment those who hinder our progression? – Gryffin

A: Haha. Nice way of phrasing ‘how do you guys plan to deal with griefers!’ We are currently testing and iterating on a system to ensure player progression cannot be blocked by griefers on a PvP server, while still allowing for the thrill of spontaneous open world PvP conflicts.

Q: Will there be safe zones on PvP servers outside of faction-specific planets? – Zepplin

A: There are very few, but some do exist. For example, the promenade on the neutral planet of Nar’Shadda is a sanctuary.

Q: What incentives will there be for players to focus on targets outside of the typical “gank the healer” strategy; and how will factors such as burst damage, crowd control and “PvP tanking” play a role in accomplishing this? – Marsobot

A: Winning will be the incentive. Attacking the healer will be the right decision sometimes, but not always. A key contributor in ensuring this is the tanks’ Guard and Taunt abilities. Guard will redirect half of the damage through the Tank’s mitigation and avoidance. A taunted target will deliver less damage to everyone but the tauntee. Players will be able to easily visualize which Tanks are guarding and taunting, who their targets are, and when damage is deflected through clear animations and effects. This adds to the dynamics of a skirmish as players of varying skill levels can easily react to and be on their toes about who the real targets of opportunity are and when. Additionally, Tanks will be recognized and rewarded for how much damage they deflect in this fashion on Warzone scoreboards.

We have a fairly large health pool to burst damage potential ratio. This allows for burst damage to be useful when the time is right, while not letting it dictate the outcome of all skirmishes.

And as far as crowd control goes, there is ‘Resolve.’ Every time a player is crowd controlled they build up Resolve, which is pictured as a bar over the characters head (below the health bar). Once a player’s Resolve Bar is full it changes colors and starts to decay over time, during this they are immune to crowd control. The visual element helps with PvP accessibility, and tuning the Resolve values allows us to achieve a fun tempo ensuring crowd control as its place but isn’t the end all be all of PvP.

Q: Since it has been clearly stated that there will not be dual specs for characters in the game, can you explain your philosophy behind the skill trees and how you are taking into account players that want to be able to play PvP and PvE content on the same character? - illumineart

A: Dual Speccing is something we want to add soon after launch. Also, features like Guard, PvP Taunt, Resolve, etc. work to narrow the gap between PvP and PvE specialized skills (i.e. a +Block skill would be helpful in both PvE and PvP).

Q: Are waiting queues cross-server and, if so, also cross-language? - Kisskill

A: No. We believe that fostering rivalries and memorable encounters with recognizable players are important in building a good PvP community on a server. We suspect cross-server queuing compromises these key tenets. Additionally, systems like bolster and same faction vs same faction Warzones (like Hutball) help matches pop frequently and regularly.

That being said we will be keeping a close eye on the communities and re-examine the system as necessary.

Q: Are there rewards for PvP, such as Titles, Badges, Grades, etc.? – Xenthor

A: Yes. Players will earn currency for PvP Gear, Valor Ranks, titles and other privileges through PvP accomplishments, such as winning Warzone matches, claiming Open World PvP objectives, finding hidden caches in PvP areas, etc.

Q: How will the Bolster system work? – Kelremar

A: If after a time the Warzone matchmaking system has not found a match of players of the same level range, then it will start up a ‘bolstered match’ where players of varying levels will have their stats bolstered to within 20% of each other. Therefore, player skill disparity withstanding, the lowest level player will be 80% as effective as the highest level player in the match.

Thanks for checking out this month’s Studio Insider. We hope you enjoyed taking a look at what goes into creating animations in The Old Republic, as well as our Q&A on PvP. We know you have a lot of questions, so we’ve opened new Community Q&A threads in the forums and on Facebook which center on the topic of socializing in The Old Republic. Post your questions before September 30th and they may get answered in our next Studio Insider!

 


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