It Really Is About Movement

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I’ve said before that it is all about the movement in
machinima. So many machinima tools let us down badly when it comes to motion.
Personally, I will forgive any amount of edge effects, texture defects and
lighting issues if an engine will judge render motion in a realistic manner.

It has been the holy grail of games engines. None, so far
really come close to what I have been looking for, but two things recently have
given me cause for hope. You might not be surprised about one of them, but the
other will probably make you raise your eyebrow.

So, what am I looking for?

Smoothness of motion. That is a basic starting point.
Actions ‘swing’, things fall in natural arcs, people turn smoothly, arms raise
along natural catenaries and legs move as if attached to someone with real hips
and some knowledge of the human gait.

Smooth changes between animations. That is the next point.
No jarring discontinuities, no changes in angle or motion that are not implicit
in the previous motion, no bizarre changes of action or direction when walking
around corners or changing gait.

Smooth changes of speed. In fact, any speed would be nice.
So many game engines make people look lumbering, earthbound or pinned to a
frame. Can you imagine ever producing a ballet or martial arts movie in any
game engine you have seen to date? No, nor can I.

Well, what changed? Two things:

Firslty Crytek have released some more Cry Engine 3
previews
.   
There is a tiny bit in the middle
of a girl running on a hill. Watch her limbs and feet all fold and adapt to the
terrain and speed. It really bodes well for machinima in the future, not least
because you can hop onto http://mycryengine.com and since late October 2009 you
can get a free educational license for all that amazing technology. OK, it is
going to take you a while to build up the animation and asset libraries, so you
are also going to want to log into the online community of developers.

Secondly, Ed Bartlett pointed me towards Left 4 Dead 2. It
is based on the Source Engine, which is Valve’s bedrock engine for games like
Half Life 2, and it rocks and rocks and rocks. Just watch those zombies stand
up, walk, run, sprint, twist, turn and jump. They really do appear to run at
you, usually a few milliseconds before you blow their chest out through their
backbone. Watch them hop as you set them on fire. Watch them flail and weave as
they fall off rooftops. They really do move, and this engine really does do
huge moving crowds off unbelievably realistic human characters.

Keep an eye on how things move. You can get jaded with the
glitter and gloss that modern games engines can deliver, but you and your
audience are going to be incredibly intolerant of the way things move.

Games engines are getting better. Soon, all that power will
be available to machinima, and when it is, things are really going to MOVE!

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