Sunday 25 November 2018

Dimensional Knight Animation Anarchy

Remember this guy?

He is one of two Knight models which I customized into my Unstable Dimensional Knight enemies all the way back in summer (summer now a distant memory as I hundle under a blankie whilst freezing rain peppers the external windows). Dimensional Knights suffer from "instability", something most RPG and fantasy wargamers know affects inter-dimensional beings, and that's why parts of them kinda of warp in and out of existence. Whilst the models were good quality and rather (too) detailed - way more polygons than I need - I found that their animations were a bit lacklustre having not been based from motion capture footage. Not particularly seeing any mocap which I liked for a reasonable price commercially, to get some decent custom animations I decided to amalgamate their stock animations with some free mocap and rotoscoping - the latter being a horrbily time consuming animation but more exact than "best guess manual animation", at least for positioning large items like limbs.

And this is where total chaos ensued.

It didn't help that was now using three seperate armature rigs (skeletons and bones), what with the bvh format mocap files being different structure from the models' source files which were different from my generic animation rig. Now it's not too difficult to rename bones, animations and mesh vertex groups, except at some point quite early on, I changed the basic non-animated root pose - thus throwing all the rotations for animations off. Annoyingly I only realised my mistake towards the end, and with four variants of two models, ended up having to manually repose all eight enemy models individually by a mixture of copying coordinates and using the judgement of the old fashioned Mark 1 Eyeball. Between this and manually merging different animations together along with rotoscoping over other animated meshes and video stills created a huge gravity well which sucked in vast amounts of time and effort.

Eventually I had a two spawning animations were our Demonic Knight salutes or issues a challenge to the player, two idle animations with some weapon flexing, three attack animations, one leaping overhead special attack animation and various jump, fall, land and other animations.

 2 models, 2 idle animation poses, 4 colours

Then there was the slight issue of how to get this enemy type to move. If you are an "Inter-Dimensional Being" then walking seems like a rather mundane method of traversing the game world. Having them just ski along in their root animation made it look like I couldn't be bothered doing a movement animation so instead I created a floating animation. This also looked a bit unexciting at first, initially because the animation resembled the "T-Pose" that many models revert to when they are not animated. I changed this to create two seperate movement animations, one were the enemy holds their weapon in front of them a little like the holy pose that sculptures on the stone coffins of dead knights have, and the other were they are reaching out towards their target with one hand and raising their sword as a sort of challenge in the other.

To the models I added some extra effects to give them more of an other-worldly feel and an intimidating presence of power. One of these is a simple translucent cloud which looks like a particle effect but is actually just three rotating textures of differing intensity and colour. The other is an aura of power on the ground which is connected to the enemy's animations. This gently pulses when they are not moving, spreads and rises during their attacks, and shoots up to envelop the model when they move, making for a much more interesting floating animation. They model also elongates slightly when they move which makes them more intimidating. To the Knight's textures I added a bright animated outline to help with a shimmering glow around the edges and dropped the actual glow shader I had been using on the materials. This reduced drawcalls by a couple whilst reducing the need to draw an extra 27K mesh triangles. As one of the models was a 16K triangles, I decimated it automatically down to a more manageable 12K with no visual impact.

I created a new special attack for this enemy type which involves them teleporting close to a clear area near the player. They start their special attack animation of a jumping overhead axe swing and particle effects surround them and the position that they will teleport into to complete their attack. This gives the player 1 second of warning to get out of the way. Initially I also created an invisble collision shape into the area to block the player and other enemies from occupying that space but realized that it would interfere with how decals are positioned, so I swapped the collision mesh for a physics zone which keeps other enemies out of the area but can slow the player down if they enter it. This seemed to work rather nicely. Originally all of the Dimensional Knights had this special attack but as I based it off the movement phase rather than just the attack phase I realized that would cancel out directly hunting the player as an option to the enemy AI's thought cycle. Now only half the Knights have this teleportation attack whilst the others move as normal, either heading for the player's last position or following directly as a hunter.

Here's an early look at the Dimensional Knights in action before I had finalized their animations.

So that was the Unstable Dimensional Knights of level 7 completed. A tough slog which took far more time than I wanted ... but I say that every month when I write these blogs ...

So, what left? There are a few more enemy types I want to make. Going back to the old Monstrous Morris Men Wendigo style enemies, I want to add a nymph-liek character with a special attack that includes a dash through the player, however as they will share various animation characteristics with player characters, that is something to leave until the more monstrous monsters are done (rather than constantly going back and forth between things). So next up on the list of over nine thousand things to tick off are those of a more Cosmic Horror motif. Cue tentacles and Lovecraftian madness ... and Lovecraftian madness seems to be a good description of indie game development ...