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Anticipation in Games
by Christiaan Moleman on 03/19/09 07:08:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.



Instant response ≠ good control

There are many things that set apart Shadow of the Colossus, but there is one that's rarely mentioned: This game has anticipation, one of the key principles of animation so often deliberately ignored in games.

It is interesting that Ueda chooses not to sacrifice a sense of weight and realism for the sake of responsiveness - his team specifically makes a point of this in a 2006 GDC lecture. When you press “jump”, your avatar anticipates, crouching down, then leaping into the air. When you attack, he lifts his sword before he brings it down upon his enemies…

Most game designers will tell you all control must be instantaneous, a press of a button sending your avatar flying into the air as if pulled by invisible hands, anticipation non-existent… often this is fine, but I would argue *sometimes* this immediacy can be provided just as strongly by anticipation before action.

Seeing the character prepare the movement is enough response for the player to know his command has been obeyed. It changes timing, yes, but if we can get our heads around this in reality, we can in games.

Mario doesn’t need to obey the laws of physics, but when you have a game that purports to be ‘realistic’, movement should be believable, lest it shatter the illusion.

Again I find it interesting that Colossus dares go against this conventional wisdom, yet never feels unresponsive…

 (this is a recent post from my personal blog... going forward, I will be posting some of my games-related writings in parallel here)

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Reid Kimball
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Good call. This can also help with combat. I have yet to find a one vs. one sword fighting game, like a Prince of Persia, that features large amounts of anticipation in the animations. My reflexes aren't as fast as they were. I think with animations that take longer to play out would help.

Christiaan Moleman
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Right. Personally the games I find most satisfying at the core level usually have a believable physicality to the movement, whether simplified or simulated. Think Gish, or Mirror's Edge... even Mario! There's a sense of momentum that players intuitively understand and anticipation is, or at least can be, part of this. In many (if not most) cases it's unjustly dismissed as fundamentally at odds with player control...

And you're right, having anticipation telegraph intention (in combat or elsewhere) can help a player react to NPCs' or other players' actions...

Jeff Beaudoin
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The anticipation in SotC also served to steer gameplay towards a more exciting experience.

If you are just doing a standing jump, the anticipation is there, as described in the post, but if you are doing a running leap, the response is basically immediate. The character launches himself directly from the run into a soaring jump.

The running leap is advantageous for the player when attempting to jump onto something, because it is easier to time and propels you further. This gives the game more parity with real life (running jumps are more effective than standing jumps) and gives it a greater sense of adventure and excitement because you are encouraged to keep your avatar active. The most memorable experiences I had with that game came about because I was sort of running around and jumping recklessly and it payed off with exactly the result I wanted. I would have been less likely to do this if the standing jump happened as immediately as the running jump.

Without the anticipation included in the regular jump the excitement added by using the running leap would not have been as apparent.

Good post on something that animators should definitely be thinking about.

Christiaan Moleman
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Here it's a question of balance. You can get away with little to no antic in a running jump because most of the force comes from the forward momentum...

The trick I suppose is knowing when to compromise one way or the other, but not to go with either by default.

Erin Hoffman
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Interesting point I hadn't thought of explicitly, Christiaan, thanks for posting this. :)

From a game design standpoint I can see the 'purist' perspective of immediately responsive controls, but if you want immersion, things like gravity and resistance (which create anticipation, I'd say?) contribute to that sense of being in the world. So as with most artistic elements there is no one true way, and depending on the kind of environment you want to create, you might have more or less anticipation and environmental resistance. Reminds me a bit of the Ecco the Dolphin games, which have always been some of my favorites -- without the control mechanics of flow and speed and momentum, that virtual sensation that was ultimately the heart of that game experience would not have existed.