I was just thinking about animations for characters and NPCs in MMOs and I realized the more successful ones (or at least the ones that feel right when playing) tend to have idle animations. Some are subtle (such as frosty breath in cold areas or actual chest movement from breathing) while others are somewhat more obvious and come with easy gains (such as head following nearby targets or people). Without some of these (and even with some of these done wrong) the character seems more a like a doll than a character.
When thinking about WoW; I can easily visualize a dwarf running in it’s awkward manner over the snow and leaving foot prints behind. The arms move back and forth over top its girth while the legs almost scamper quickly underneath. When they jump, I see their comical jump filled with start and finishing motions that are smooth and fluid.
I an also easily imagine the Night Elf female idle bounce and ears flopping when they run. The twirl when they jump or the mid-air somersault that is sometimes there. I can see the combat stance and strikes easily and without extra effects.
Thinking about other games, there is nothing really positive that stands out.
For EQ2 the models are very doll-like. They do seem plastic and lifeless – lifeless being the bigger turn off. This is further worsened by their use of the head tracking targets to the point you’d almost think they were owls. In some cases this makes them look like marionettes controlled by someone that forgets they have to control the head too. The system of morphing the armor to the models and the similarities in the majority of the models means they all run and jump pretty close to the same. The females look like they’re in a rush to get to the washroom while the males look like they walk on their heels and flap their feet down.
In LOTRO the models don’t really fit the world. They seem far more removed because the game world is just that good but also because they don’t impact the world in small ways – like leaving footprints in the snow (maybe that’s something only Elves do as the lore suggests – but I can’t recall my dwarf characters leaving footprints either). The run animations are nothing exciting or memorable and the jump animation… it has to be the worst I’ve seen so far. The combat animations might stand on their own, but it’s hard to tell because of the white flashes that accompany an attack or ability (these are really jarring and unnecessary).
Very disappointing but also true to Turbine’s other games. I don’t think they quite get this.
DDO seemed somewhat lifeless as far as characters go. They only got a part of it and didn’t follow through with Tumbling (or Acrobatics) – higher points in that skill made things look a little different. They seemed to stand about and do little else.
Some of the NPC actions are nice. I give them credit in LOTRO for that guy in the first town whot sweeps the dirt but I have to take it away when I head up the road and see the NPCs standing around at a farm gate with no animation. They just stand there doing nothing despite the quest they want to give you.
Vanguard suffered from this (among other things) as well. The models, short of the heads, were much the same and followed the same animations making the animations seem quite bland. At first you might not have noticed as much because most of the class ability animations seemed different (though some of it was reused with some different colored sparkles), but then if you saw more of the same class, you realized the animations were much the same (if not the same) no matter the race.
WoW isn’t perfect but they made the decision to make the races attack different giving the races more separation and personality. You get more of a feel for playing them. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Eviscerate finisher for a Rogue; try it on different races and then try it on the same race with different genders. Watch the attack animations of a Blood Elf (female with a two-handed weapon is pretty cool) or a Tauren or a Dwarf. All really different.
Rift also had an element of this. I noticed the facial expressions, eyes blinking and some of the idle attitude the characters had. But a lot of it was too subtle and you were more likely to notice it on the character select screen rather than in game where the character’s back is to you. I don’t remember as much about the combat animations but I do remember a different feel for the classes (so far as animations went). The casters seemed to have animations that drew on magic, the rogues felt sneaky and the warrior types seemed to stand taller.
These weren’t dead characters.