Even if we can’t see out character’s face and body, animation tells us a lot about characters in first person games. Heather takes a look in this critical video.
Transcript: I was playing Destiny 2 and running public events for my weekly. After a while, I decided to punch every enemy I came across and it was awesome. Smacking enemies in Destiny 2 is a lot of fun. I wanted to look at why I still felt like a badass Guardian even without my cool guns. Most of it comes down to animation.
First person games place players right in the body of their avatars. First person games like Overwatch and Destiny show how small touches in character animation say a lot about the characters we play as, even if we can’t see their faces.
To examine how first person animation can express personality and character, let’s start with Destiny 2‘s melee animations. First, let’s break down the animations into their parts. The time it takes for the character to extend their attack, how long they hold it and how long it takes to retract the attack all have something to tell us about a character.
In general, Guardians strike fast, hold their animations for dramatic effect then take some time to reset. Each animation takes a slightly over one second. There’s little flourish; Guardians are honed warriors of the Light, ready to burst out at any minute to strike their enemies.
Each class functions a bit differently, although they all have about twenty frames of animation:
- Hunters are quick and eager to strike again. They take six frames to stab their knife, then hold it for around four frames before retracting with a dramatic yanking motion that takes about eight to ten frames.
- Warlocks blast their energy out slightly faster. They take only five frames to strike, but they hold their pose for nearly ten whole frames before retracting and resetting in eight.
- Titans are brutal. Their punch connects in three frames, snapping out and holding for nine more before retracting in about ten frames.
What do these melee animations tell us about each class? Hunters are noteworthy for holding their animation the shortest amount of time; they attack and quickly retract. They are swift and precise, which fits the mould of a sneaky rogue class. There’s a bit of extra movement on the retraction that’s not quite playful but shows a lot of control. These Guardians move like assassins and the animation matches up.
Warlocks are arguably the clumsiest of the bunch, which is ironic since the lore paints them as mystical masters of the Light. Part of this is because their attack is held longer than Hunters, but it mostly has to do with how the animation looks. Hunters twists their arms out before extending to strike with their knife; Warlocks launch their palm directly in front of them. There’s a flash of energy that showcases their magical power, but the straight line is a less dynamic action.
It’s actually a little boring, but it’s also no-nonsense. Warlocks are basically warrior-monks; they don’t waste time with anything too flashy.
Titans end up feeling the most powerful out of the three classes, due to how quickly their animation extends the arm. On the second frame, they have just drawn back their punch, but on the third it is completely thrown. It’s straightforward like the Warlock but bends ever so slightly on the follow through to give a more attractive arc. Titans are noted for their heavy armour, and their quick animation doubles down on their lack of refinement to create a wrecking ball of a punch that has a lot of impact.
Destiny 2 isn’t the only first-person game that uses its animations to show character. Overwatch uses Tracer’s animation to showcase her personality. Tracer’s animation takes about eight frames each for the extension and hold on her melee animation. Her retraction is roughly double that, closer to twenty frames, as she spends a moment to twirl her guns before resetting.
It’s a dynamic, flashy animation; she’s showing it off in the middle of battle like a parlor trick. Tracer takes a lot more time before resetting her attack than Destiny 2‘s Guardians. Compared to Guardians, she’s much more cocky. Ironically, she’s not nearly in as much of a rush as they are. She’s in control of the fight, maybe a bit arrogantly, and is taking extra time to grandstand.
The melee animations of Titanfall 2‘s Jack Cooper show that he has a lot to prove. When he punches, there’s four whole frames where he braces with his offhand before a snappy seven frame punch that has a ton of curve. It’s showy and unrestrained. Cooper plays everything fast and loose; his animation is brash, bold, and even a little bit excessive. He’s not highly trained, so he lacks a degree of control.
By analysing characters’ animations, we don’t just get a sense of how they fight but also a snapshot of who they are. Tracer is cocky and flashy, while Destiny‘s Guardians are focused and stern. Discerning character personality through animations often comes down to a few spare frames, but those small differences have drastic effects.