The look of locomotion: animation’s role in immersion

The aesthetic and feel of locomotion in video games plays an important role in how the player feels about the pawn they control. Too repetitive and rigid, and it may become boring to watch. Too dynamic and artistic and it may encounter trouble with the responsiveness of the controls. Finding a happy mediums between responsiveness and visually gratifying movement  has been a tricky problem the industry has faced for a long time.

(Pitfall for the Atari 2600)

As video games transitioned from 2D sprites to 3D models animations began to have a more pronounced role in immersion. With 3 dimensions of space to analyze the character model, believable locomotion became a much more challenging feat. A few pixels shifting weight was no longer enough to engage the player.

(Aladdin as seen on SNES)

What had been developed as techniques for displaying fluid animation in 2D was undone by the rough, polygonal 3D character models. The earliest attempts at 3D animation produced pawns which rigidly and mechanically navigated their way through 3D space.

(Final Fantasy VII for Sony PlayStation)

Many of today’s game franchises which feature visually impressive traversal mechanics such as Assaain’s Creed, have done so by marrying simplistic controls with advanced dynamic animation systems. In Assassin’s Creed, sprinting modifies the pawn’s locomotion state and makes the character calculate its surroundings to seek out opportunities to smoothly transition past them. The jump button modifies this auto-run / leap mechanic with manual transitions which can increase fidelity and flow. Yet the intricate running the pawn is doing is, for the most part, a series of dynamic animations triggering automatically. While the player uses the simple combination of two inputs; their direction of navigation and the run state modifier.

( Assasin’s Creed: Unity on PlayStation 4)

By providing reactive, dynamic, and fluid traversal animations a game’s pawn’s movements suddenly becomes a balletic expression of the player. Since traversal; walking, running, jumping, climbing, etc. are such an enourmous part of what players spend their time doing in games; establishing a connection with their in game pawn can do wonders for player immersion.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

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