IGN has published a new comparison video for Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Forbidden West. The four-minute clip, a rundown of the biggest changes made between the upcoming action-adventure game and 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, showed how similar the two appear to be side-by-side. One particular moment has a subset of Very Online Gamers™ debating the apparent reuse of animations and assets. It’s a tiring conversation.
The moment is incredibly short; all of four seconds in IGN’s comparison video. It depicts Aloy rappelling down from a tall cliff in Forbidden West and Zero Dawn, using her grappling hook to descend onto more stable ground. As evidenced in the side-by-side clip, this rappelling animation appears to be the same across the two games. And it’s that sameness that has ignited gamers to the point of calling developers like Guerrilla Games lazy and uncreative.
There are a lot of folks agreeing with this sentiment, showing games — from Forza Horizon to Gears of War — that use the same code. Many are also using this as a chance to lambast Guerrilla Games and Sony for charging $US70 ($97) for Forbidden West, basically saying there isn’t enough difference for the game to cost that much money. Of course, scale and scope are likely better determining factors of a game’s price, not the amount of reused animations or code.
Still, this discourse rears its head every time a comparison video drops. Folks will watch the video, see that some new game and some old one look very similar in one way or another, then complain about how lazy developers are. But there’s a crucial element missing: Game development is exhausting! You’re damn right studios are going to reuse their animations and assets. Why wouldn’t they? The code was built. It’s there for them to use.
It’s a common practice, anyway. Think of fighting games like Mortal Kombat or Tekken. Compare those franchises’ latest games to previous ones — 2007’s Tekken 6 to 2015’s Tekken 7, for example — and you’ll see that many of the fighters keep their animations as new entries come out. I’m sure there’s a technical term for this in game development, but you can chalk it up to streamlining. Because that’s what developers are doing: reducing the time they spend on short animations that are done and perfectly fine to use.
The conversation also ignores the crunch developers go through just to hit arbitrary deadlines set by publishers and shareholders. Most games take years to put together. Direct sequels may be a little easier at times, but still, game development is long. Reusing prior work is not about cutting corners. It’s about priorities, honing in on specific areas — like combat or the world — to flesh out, rather than worrying about redoing perfectly fine animations that are quite insignificant in the grand scheme of gameplay.
That’s what this is really about: priorities. It shouldn’t matter if a game and its sequel use the same animations as long as the two are functionally different, either by way of gameplay or just pure size of the world. I don’t think anyone minded when Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games had very similar grappling hook animations, so folks shouldn’t mind now with Forbidden West. Guerrilla Games’ upcoming open-world adventure seems to be so much bigger than its predecessor anyway. Developers are allowed to make their lives easier by judiciously reusing assets where it makes sense. It gives them more time to focus on and polish other aspects of their games, and that’s what will ultimately make their final product shine.
Kotaku has reached out to Guerrilla Games for comment.