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Variation in animation

Posted by Michael on June 21st, 2006, in Development

One of the interesting things that came out of the Drama Princess Symposium was the fact that it was perfectly acceptable for an autonomous character to be stupid, as long as it was believable. One of the things that made The Sims less believable was the fact that all Sims play the same animation to achieve the same goal. The fact that they had an enormous amount of opportunities to choose as their goal (=intelligent) did not make up for this.

We have already defined opportunities as things that are offered by the environment. The idea is that this will lead to surprising behaviour. Instead of equipping the actor with a “pickup and throw” behaviour that it can apply to many different objects, you will never see a Drama Princess actor pick up and throw something until it finds a ball. The same is true for other characters. Drama Princess characters offer unique ways to the actors of interacting with them.

One thing that can aid this is to use our conditions to help the actor make a decision. There could be an opportunity that says “show you love me” and there could be several conditions like “if you’re younger then me, do this” and “if you’re my lover, do that” and “if you’re a dog do this other thing”. If the conditions are not there, the variation would depend on the actor: each actor may express “show you love me” in their own way(s).

But to get back to the opening paragraph, it would seem like a large number of opportunities to choose from an object as a goal, is not as important as a multitude of ways of achieving this goal. Some of this variety could be moved to the opportunities list where an object could advertise both “run to me and pick me up” and “summersault, fall, land next to me and pick me up”. But it seems like it would be advantageous to just have one opportunity “come to me and pick me up” and to let the actor pick one of several of his own ways in which to do this. If only because a shorter list of opportunities will require less processing when making the decision.

For the sake of variety, which way to “come” and which way to “pick up”, should be chosen randomly by the actor. But since certain ways of moving express emotions, we should take into account the actor’s intimacy level with the pertaining object when making the choice. If they dislike the object deeply, they shouldn’t be summersaulting towards it.

So rather than inventing a large number of interactions, it seems like it would be aid believability more to create a large number of animations to perform the same interaction.

This means that a ball would only advertise, e.g. “kick me”, “throw me” and “pick me up” and that an actor would have several ways of kicking, throwing and picking up. As a basis, all actors could share the same animations for this. But if time and budget permit, unique animations could be added for each character.

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