A creative talks about the amazing process of creating these animals to make them feel alive.
The great Red Dead Redemption 2 is remembered for its history, for its graphics and the thrill of its shootings, but also for the realism with which it Rockstar captured the movements and actions of the horses. It was a crazy job, and thanks to the latest edition of the Game Developers Conference, we can finally get a better idea not only of how difficult it was to give life to these animals, but also of the mind-blowing level of detail with which they were recreated. The title of the presentation starring Tobias Kleanthous could not be more descriptive: “Designing credible horses in Red Dead Redemption 2”.
They are not a car, they are not a motorcycle. We wanted them to feel aliveTobias KleanthousThe obsession to give life to these creatures of the form as realistic as possible is amazing. The Rockstar designer showed a first version of the horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 whose animations were already superior to the majority of animals seen in other video games, but even so, his work was rejected because “it was too functional,” according to him. PC Gamer in an extensive report dedicated to reeling off Kleanthous’ intervention at GDC 2021.
“They lacked something. They are not a car, they are not a motorcycle,” he says, referring to Grand Theft Auto; title from which they sought to distinguish themselves as much as possible when exploring this gigantic open world. “We wanted him to feel alive, and I mean the behavioral and personality implications of his movement. We wanted to make it as credible as possible.” And to achieve it the details were important, that’s why Rockstar traveled to Scotland to record the horses in their natural environment before trying to translate their movements into the video game. It was then that they noticed the importance of the side steps.
Thousands of small animations were created that were linked on the flyIt was something subtle, a gesture that was difficult to capture, but that was essential for the animals to feel more alive when turning. There were other gestures of the style, barely perceptible, that were added to the “list of things to do” to achieve the final goal: to make the horses look real. During this process we thought about “automating” the animations, but we chose a path that sounds crazy, which seems very difficult, and in fact it was very difficult. Instead of using a few realistic animations tied together, we opted for create thousands of small animations that would be linked based on parameters as disparate as speed, the terrain on which we moved, weight or even the horse’s state of mind.
Kleanthous emphasizes that it was incredibly difficult make this possible, but once they succeeded, they were able to use the system in other animations in the game. Another of those surprising details has to do with the way the horses start their march. The usual thing is to alternate between specific movements: walking, running or stopping; but it was difficult to control the movement and it did not seem to link the animations well. That’s why Rockstar opted for a acceleration and deceleration: the horse would begin to move little by little until it gains speed and ends up galloping. All this, of course, reacting with a certain delay to the orders of Arthur Morgan, so that he did not feel like a vehicle but as what he is, an animal that responds to the player’s orders.
There are 19 breeds of horses grouped into four categories, and with differences according to their weightThis fascinating obsession with small details led Rockstar to also create specific animations for horsemen, which react based on the animal’s own movements, although not with a 1: 1 reproduction. Does it seem little to you? Let’s talk about land. If the horse moves through an area of snow, when it is very cold, specific animations for that environment begin to link: the movement of the tail is different, the speed is different, etc. When they walk on water, more of the same: if there is little water their speed decreases slightly, but as the liquid element rises in level, the speed decreases drastically. Not only that. It will cost the animal more to move because of the player, to reflect the effort your mount is makingYou will need to take a more active role in supporting your animal and guiding it with more consistent instructions.
Finally, although you may not notice it, the horse also has emotions and shows them with subtle movements that arise spontaneously, based on the player’s actions and the dangers that surround him. If there are predators nearby, the horse will sense it and begin to move nervously, to the point of refusing to obey the rider’s orders, or to “force” him to change the route. If we hit the horse or are unkind to them, they may kick us, or move incessantly to make it more difficult to get on their rump. Now think that each race has its own ways of acting, and there are 19 !, grouped into four categories and with differences according to their size.
What Rockstar accomplished with the horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 is commendable. A masterful job that made these virtual animals feel absolutely realistic. This is not the first time that the realism achieved by this video game has been extolled, to the point that a university applauded that Red Dead Redemption 2 teaches players about the wildlife, fauna and flora of the United States.
More about: Red Dead Redemption 2 and Rockstar.