[ding ding ding! ding ding ding!] [glass shatters, little pops] Hey everybody, and welcome to New Frame Plus. My name is Dan, and I’ve been a professional animator in both film and games for over eight years. This is gonna be a series all about the animation in video games. Today, I want to look at the gameplay animation in a personal favorite of mine, Punch-Out!! for the Wii. But before we get to that, we should probably go over some game animation basics, specifically, what makes animating a game different from animating a film? You see, creating animation for a video game comes with some unique challenges, and almost all of them have to do with interactivity. When making animation for a film, the animator has the luxury of knowing exactly where the camera’s gonna be. They know where their shot fits into the larger story. I have a kid, you have a kid! Andy! They know what the characters they’re animating need to be doing in the shot, and their goal is to craft performances with as much personality, [small gasp] visual appeal, and emotional sincerity as they can within that relatively controlled space. Tell that to my frying pan! But when making animation for a game, unless you’re working on a cutscene, you’ve gotta factor in the player, and that changes everything. Does the player have control of the camera? If so, you’re gonna have to make sure that your animations read clearly and look good from any angle, and unlike in film, where you’d be crafting, and honing a specific character performance for each shot, in a game, the player is probably controlling that character. So you’ve got to build a large suite of animations, factoring in every single action the character might do. Standing. Walking. Running. Jumping. Rolling. Attacking. Getting hit. Climbing. Falling. And those animations have to seamlessly blend from one to the next, so that the action feels realistic and looks as good as a pre scripted, handcrafted sequence of actions. This is made even more challenging by the fact that game animation also has to feel responsive to the player. Even more important than whether or not the player character’s animation looks good, is whether or not it feels good to control. And those goals usually require different approaches. In an action game, when a player hits the jump or the punch button, they want that action to happen immediately. Which means that the animator often has to truncate, or even completely eliminate, the time it would take the character to realistically wind up for a punch, or a big jump. The longer the delay between pressing the button and seeing the punch happen, the more sluggish the controls will feel to the player. So, proper physicality often has to be sacrificed for responsiveness. [adorable little battle grunts] All of that to say, animating for games is pretty complicated, and making game animation that both looks and feels good is hard. So, with all of that said, let’s talk about Punch-Out!! for the Wii, because the animation in this game is phenomenal. I mean, look at this! I am gonna spend the rest of this video trying to explain what’s so great about this. First off, the animation in this game just looks fantastic. The new 3D versions of these characters are animated with real physicality and weight, but in an exaggerated, cartoony style that reinforces the game’s light-hearted tone. Every fighter in the game just oozes personality. If you look back at the original Punch-Out, even then, on 8-bit hardware, the fighters all had an impressive amount of character to them. Each one felt distinct and memorable. This sequel not only preserves that, but pushes it even further. Each fighter’s old sprite based stance and attack animations have been recreated and fleshed out. And every single one of their gameplay animations reinforces their individual personalities. The way they behave in the menu screens, their facial animations, their little cutscene moments between rounds, [King Hippo noises] the way they fall down when you knock them out, Timber! the way they get back up on their feet, even the way they just stand there in this menu, waiting for you to choose your opponent. Every character is distinct, and every animation is informed by their broad, over-the-top personalities. Super! Macho! MAN! And the thing that I really love about this is that each of those personalities are sold almost exclusively through animation. Sure, everybody’s visual design does communicate a lot, and they do each get a quick slideshow before the fight to give you a general idea of who they are, but everything else is animation. These characters barely ever speak, and when they do most of them speak in their home language. ¿Has visto, hombre, cómo enamoro a las chicas?
(Have you seen how I win the girls’ love, man?) Everything else is sold through their animated performance. Yerim seni lan!
(I eat you, man!) And these characters are loaded with personality. Even if those personalities are super broad and super stereotypey. But, like I said at the beginning, it’s not just enough that the animation looks good. It also has to functionally serve the gameplay. So let’s dig into that. First of all, notice the camera. It’s almost always locked behind the player character during the fight, and out of the player’s control. This is pretty standard for a Punch-Out game, but it gives the animator some huge advantages. Because they know where the cameras going to be at any given moment, they have the unique benefit of being able to animate to that camera, making each fighter’s attacks look as appealing and as clear as possible from that one angle. [grunts] Notice also how the camera shifts with Little Mac when he dodges. This not only emphasizes the dodging motion, but that slight change in perspective gives the player the feeling that they’re dodging the enemy punches also, which feels really satisfying. And see how, when you get an opening, and start wailing on your opponent, the camera zooms in a little to reframe the action and really focus on the pummeling you’re dishing out. [grunts] Speaking of, let’s look at Little Mac’s animations. If you actually stop and focus on what he’s doing, you’ll notice that his animation isn’t nearly as visually interesting or impressive as the enemy fighter’s. No frills, just very fast and very basic. And very responsive. The animation on Mac, the character you directly control, is all about function. You hit that punch button, and bam! Mac has already hit them, which makes controlling him feel amazing, and while his punch animations themselves may not be all that impressive to look at, you’re never going to be looking directly at Little Mac when you’re playing. Punch-Out is all about watching your opponent, and reacting to their tells. [King Hippo noises] The enemy fighters are the ones who have to look good. Mac just has to feel good to control. See also how his animations for each different kind of punch are all very clear and distinct. His left and right high punches are direct, the low punches swing his fist way out to the side. With every attack, they are making sure to keep that big colorful glove clear of his body, so you can see where it’s going. And when Mac dodges, he dodges way out to the side, and that camera move I mentioned before exaggerates the dodge even further. Even if the player is completely focused on what the enemy fighter is doing, they can still easily tell what Mac is up to. The simplicity of Mac’s animation serves another purpose, too – it doesn’t attract the eye. Little Mac’s animations don’t pull focus from the character you’re supposed to be watching. When he’s attacking, it’s quick, and sharp. But the rest of the time, his movements are very contained. Complex or hyperactive motion tends to grab people’s attention, and it’s really important that Little Mac doesn’t distract the player, or fight for the player’s attention in the middle of the match, so his idle and his attack animations are built with that in mind. And look at the spacing on the attack animations in this game. [Glass Joe grunts and groans] Every punch is snappy. And there’s this great sense of satisfying impact with every hit. [Glass Joe grunts and groans some more] Let’s frame by frame Mac’s punches. Look at how his attack animations favor the moment right after impact. The swing itself is just a few frames long, but then his fist connects, and it just sticks there for a moment, and the enemy’s reaction to the hit does the same thing, it snaps to that reaction pose and then hangs there for just a brief moment before the character snaps back into his regular stance. Played at full speed, favoring the moment after impact gives each punch this amazing sense of power that is just so satisfying. [Glass Joe is not having a good day] Connecting a string of hits on these guys feel so good. [Don Flamenco grunts] The enemy fighters’ attacks work in a similar way, but even more so. Heavily favoring that moment after the hit to really sell the impact of the punch. On their most devastating attacks, everything in the game will even slow down for a second to really make that hit feel painful. [Bear Hugger snarls] But there’s one very important difference between the timing of their attacks and the timing of Mac’s punches. Mac’s swings are instantaneous on button press, giving only a couple frames to the anticipation wind up before throwing the punch. But the enemy fighter attacks favor the moment after the hit and the moment before throwing the punch. This is super important, because it’s that wind-up moment before the attack that tells the player what their opponent is about to do, and gives them a split-second to react. Look at this attack for Disco Kid, one of the early fighters. Here it comes, oof! He winds up, he holds there for nearly a whole second, he even literally says “here it comes,” and then swings. And if he connects, BAM! Everything slows down to sell the power of that hit. As you get further into the game, those anticipation wind-ups are gonna get shorter and shorter, forcing you to react even faster. Crunch time! Stay down. And some fighters will even start to have wind-ups with significantly different timing to throw you off. [Bald Bull grunts] But they’ll always have that wind-up moment, the tell before the attack itself. Actually, there is one scenario where Little Mac gets that wind-up anticipation for a punch of his own. You know where? Mommy? Star punches. [big impact sound effect] Those are the biggest attacks you have. You take this huge wind-up for almost a full second, the camera zooms in, you get just enough time to see your opponent’s face go all, “oh no!” And then BOOM! huge hit! Mac hangs in that punching pose for another second, your opponent reels with the impact, it feels amazing, like you finally landed one of those devastating power hits your opponent’s keep throwing at you. But there’s another thing that I adore about the animation in this game, It’s not just that it looks fantastic, and feels great to play, the animation in Punch-Out!! for the Wii manages to take the sprite animation that we’re all familiar with from classic 2D Punch-Out, and recreates it in 3D, in a way that is completely recognizable, visually appealing, and physically believable. As an animator, that blows my mind. Every fighter’s classic move set has been recreated and expanded upon, and the new animation gives real physicality and weight to all of those classic attacks, tells, and quirks from each character’s eight or 16-bit incarnation. Piston Hondo’s eyebrow twitch before he jabs? [eyebrow twitch ding] There it is! And his little back-and-forth hop before he comes at you with a flurry of punches? [back-and-forth hop pings] Yep, just like old times. Von Kaiser’s head wobble? [rattling] There he goes. Hey, does Don Flamenco still do that little “ole!” flourish before his uppercuts? ¡Venga, ven a por mí! ¡Toro!
(Come on, come for me! Bull!) Oh he totally does! What about Soda Popinski’s uppercuts? Look, there they are! Bald Bull’s fist rolls? [fist roll sounds] Same as always. And his little “come at me” fist pump right before that uppercut. Oh, look out. It’s the bull rush, here he comes and boom, down he goes. Does he still do that? Uh, yep. Yep, there it is. He’s gonna do the bull charge. [teapot whistling] Look out. He’s coming. He’s coming. Look out. Look out here he comes boom! [laughter] Down he goes again. And King Hippo, just look at everything about him. [King Hippo roars] He’s just great. And those are all the same punches he used to throw. [King Hippo growls] Almost all of the characters attack animations are the same as before, so if you knew how to fight these guys back in the day, you’ve got a big head start on learning how to beat them now. They even managed to realistically animate some of the most absurd sprite animations there are in the original game. On the NES, if you hit Glass Joe in the gut right after he does his little taunt – [taunt sound effect] yeah, that’s the one – he falls to the ground like this. [fall sound effect] It looks and feels really satisfying in 2D sprite form, but that’s a super weird way to fall, right? What would that even look like if you had to animate it realistically? Hé hé! Vive la France!
(Hey hey! Long live France!) [fall sound effect] Oh. Yeah, that was the weird fall! They actually did it! But that’s not even the weirdest Glass Joe fall from the original Punch-Out, no, no, that prize goes to this. [fall sound effect] What is even happening here? I mean, I love it, but that is a physically impossible fall if ever I saw one. And yet… [fall sound effect] Look at that. These guys are good. Now, I realize that a lot of games have to do this, taking a classic title and updating it with modern visual fidelity, but rarely do I see a game do it so well in terms of animation, in a way that not only preserves everything great about the original sprites, but excels on its own merit. In some cases, they even improve on the old sprite animations to add even more personality or entertainment value. Look at what used to happen when you knocked Great Tiger down. [fall sound effect] BAM! he flies through the air, lands on his back. That is a pretty entertaining fall. Now look at the new one. [Great Tiger grunts, fall sound effect] Same basic idea, but that little spin adds so much and it makes his fall even more distinct from the rest of the fighters in the game. And look at King Hippo’s old defeat animation. [fall sound effects] That is pretty good. Very distinct. Great reward for figuring out how to beat him. Well, they didn’t exactly recreate it in the new game, but I think they did improve on it. [King Hippo grunts and groans] Look at that. Knock Out! Awesome. There are so many of these great little touches. Look at how when you dodge a punch you can actually see a progression of thoughts crossing your opponent’s face. He goes from “alright, I’m gonna get you” to “yah, what? Oh, no! Ow ow ow ow ow!” It all happens so quickly, but you can still see all of these expressions crossing their face, even when you’re in the middle of a bout, and it just adds so much personality to these guys. [eyebrow twitch ding, Piston Hondo grunting] Look at how expressive King Hippo’s face is all the time. Look at him! Look at how his little crown bounces around on his head when you hit him in the gut Look at how, wait this move’s different. Oh, no that – oof. [King Hippo snarl] Rarely do I see a game with character animation that looks this good, with so much personality, which at the same time functions so well for the gameplay. This is a success that other games should aspire to. Next Level Games animation team, my hat is off to you. You folks created something exceptional. Well, I hope this has given you a general idea of how game animation works, and I really hope that you’ve enjoyed this bit of animation nerdery, because there’s a lot more of it coming. If that sounds good to you, then hit this button to subscribe, or click here to check out my video on the first-person animation in Overwatch. Now, I’ve got a lot of episodes in the works already, but if there’s a particular game with animation that you would like me to analyze on the show sometime, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time.