Video Game Parkour
The best place to begin with this guide is analyzing the difference between realism and fluidity, two commonly misconceived features and implementations of the video game universe. Fluidity and realism work well together, but share little connection that requires either, for an unrealistic game to feel fluid is just as likely as a realistic game to break immersion every minute played. Immersion is the aim of the game, not necessarily realism or fluidity alone, but fluidity plays a huge roll for immersion, and is aided by realism. Over the course of the guideline there will be specifics of each style and explanations of the best and worst ways of leaping off buildings and not dying or looking like you should have.
As humans we have an accurate grasp on basic physics, unlike our feline counterparts. We have a keen eye on velocity and following objects, this is a cardinal rule to come back to, should your character leap up buildings in a single step? Or off? It can be tempting to have characters’ scale grand heights out of their own ability, but without context is just odd. Without momentum and velocity to follow we could get away with a lot crazier tricks. Through reading ask yourself, 'why does my character do that?'. Your character might be enabled by magic, cybernetics, gadgets, lots of testosterone? Your character should live up to their appearance, a thin sly character isn't the strongest, and the mighty Hulk probably doesn't vanish into the shadows of rooftops. Remember that players can see breaks in animations and physics that don't quite work.
Trying to have a separate animation for every single one of these moves in an indie budgeted game isn't likely, so keep to the most important aspects which are not breaking animations or skipping frames. Animations should seamlessly flow into one another without unnatural transitions or dramatic shifts in one’s velocity.
Starting, with a character’s idle stance with relation to their environment. Whereby, the character's idle behavior could change, depending on environment. The character should be made alert and observant of their surroundings, while having an active appearance; being fidgety and ready to move, or will your character be more interested in blending in to the surroundings? Designers can show these attributes, by having the character kick the ground or air with their feet or play with nearby or smaller objects. For example, throwing a ball up and running away without catching it or moving before catching; can be an excellent connotation. While, impatient behavior is more denotive of a characters need to move.
Boxes and Walls-
Your character walks to a box, does said box stop your character moving over its towering foot high dimensions? In short, probably not. People often don't walk around 1-2 foot high objects, we're lazy, presume your character is too. -Is your character actively skipping up-over below waist objects? Or do they drunkenly stumble over? Either way, you wouldn't really need to leap or jump over.
In the same fashion when you walk up to a 6-15 foot high object or wall, do you turn into your favorite vampire and stroll on upwards regardless of gravity? Well Van Helsing says no, no you don't you Twilight loving hipster. When walking up to high objects, sudden leaps upwards can be awkward, usually the best way to tackle this is to require some form of run up or stepped climb. Analyze your building/object you’re scaling and whether there’s anything to grab and foothold, or if there’s sufficient run up for your mechanic. The "cat struggling to get out of the bathtub" isn't a good look unless it’s meant to be funny.
-Lower than 4 inches you shouldn't be worried about, around 1-2 feet is a good object to step over/on and any wall or object in the 6-15-foot range is a good run up or jump, over 12 feet high is should be reserved for trampolines, pogo sticks and climbing.
- Levitation isn't for a normal abled citizen.
-Simply leaning onto the wall or running your hand along can go a long way to increasing the immersion of your character, we are tactile and like to feel surfaces, so your character is probably the same.
-However, an important element to always keep in mind is ensure characters never land flat footed; ideally landing should always be on the balls of the feet.
Hmmmm, does that cliff face look survivable? No you say? Then why does your character jump off like a diving board to the poor unsuspecting ground? Making characters drop of ledges or buildings is difficult in the least, as humans we assess any risk before committing to our action (usually), but that’s boring in a video game. Realistically said, you shouldn't happily jump off anything that causes damage, but how would your character leap down a two story object? To be realistic, it would involve reaching over and hanging down before jumping to minimize the height, but there are some tricks to alleviate this. In real life free runners roll after drops to minimize their inertia from falling, but rolling also tricks our brains into seeing velocity incorrectly and allows your character to fall greater heights without breaking immersion.
-Rolling after jumps (sometimes stumbling) can feel very fluid even if the drop is far from plausible.
Moving to step-downs and small drops, in the real world we happily fall off with both feel ready to plant on the ground with a slight knee bend, if about 3-5 feet leaping off might feel strange, keep this in mind when having a character sprint off a step-down. Your character shouldn't be weightless, and neither should their weapons or armor, it all comes crashing down so don't be worried to place emphasis on the landing just as much as the drop.
-placing one hand on the ledge before dropping down is a god way to make the game feel fluid if the character is in a hurry.
Climbing steep/vertical banks-
You dropped down the bank, about waist high, but you forgot your double size, extra filling Twinkie? We all know that feeling... Back up we go. Climbing small banks can lead to awkward animations, eye height knees, gymnast stands and the dreaded floating stair step. In most games a waist high bank cannot be gotten back up, but in parkour it’s only another feature of the level design. Most people would place both hands on the edge of the bank and get one knee up and over before swinging the next leg up. Remember we're still walking here so we have to pay attention to slow frames and animations.
Climbing higher banks, about shoulder height may be different to walls or boxes, usually both elbows over followed by a leg is a natural way to scale a taller bank. The reason banks are different from boxes or walls is due to their inherent use of travelling from A to B locations, making a more vertical landscape can make banks up building sides more fun, but also create a more realistic environment for your character to abuse.
Congratulations! You've hopefully picked up some good tips for walking around in your immersive and fluid virtual level. Now up is the exact same thing but a lot faster, running is the main reason we want parkour. Getting from A to B quickly and stylishly is important in games, who wants to walk 'around' that building? Not you, evidently if you're reading this far.
Running isn't only faster than walking, you have more momentum, more weight, and most of all, more action! Over this part of the guide, pay attention to how your own character will run, leap and stride without stopping, and more importantly without breaking animations or key frames.
Here we are back at stance, yes I’m sure you're really good and have learnt from the finest stock animations, but time to go back to the drawing board. With your own character in mind, make sure their weight, height, build, strength and weapons/gear/armor complement each other, pirates and ninjas are different for a reason, one is nimble and one is strong, neither is both in normal circumstances. If your character has a battle axe and iron armor, is running an effortless 100m dash or a mission of stamina? These decisions should outline the way your character interacts with the world around them.
Boxes and low height objects should be leapt over or used as a kick off, we don't halt for a small 1-2-foot-high box, but how your character interacts with it is up to the personality and gear you give it. Pay attention when creating the boxes in the levels to not places them in awkward parts, logically small boxes would reside at the sides or walls and carts, since we’re running here these boxes don’t always look good if they’re everywhere.
What about waist high boxes or fences? Whilst running usually a well-timed leap or hand-over-vault to get over the object is sufficient. If your level has boxes to be leapt over while running, keep in mind the dimensions of the box, too wide or long can make the animation too long and like he’s gliding above and over.
Walls and very high objects can cause some confusion when a player runs into the way and the character magically runs up the side. The easiest way to tackle this is to either keep uniform heights or roofs, or have obvious cues as to whether a player can jump up or not if ran towards. The transition from running to scaling the height should usually happen 1-2 strides before the character reaches the wall, a curve of momentum from horizontal force to vertical.
-Sliding on top of the box (like an 80s cop scene over the car hood) can work well.
-keep in mind with weapons as they're not weightless (loaded AK47 is around 3.7kg)
Striding is important in parkour, it is the build up to jumps, tricks, leaps and hospital visits. Your character’s stride should be based on their height and length of their legs, as gliding through the air every stride can look odd. Striding is also a good way to transition animations as you can change over during the step. A big mistake is to have your character change strides while changing animations (double stepping the left foot for example) and not fall flat on their face. Never try to have your character change strides while moving, an easy way to combat this is to allow the animation to jump from either foot.
Striding is a simple mechanic in terms of hopping along single foot area objects (Posts out of the ground etc) and this can make for some great paths that are out of the way visually. If you want to stop during striding across small posts for example, then having your character carry momentum and wobble can look realistic, they aren’t just going to stand still and balance perfectly on such a small surface.
Why would outcropping ledges be their own category? Well most games you’ve played will have probably had some instance where you were required to slowly shuffle along a ledge, only enough to hang from. This is a very big mechanic and level feature that can be used in many ways, from getting to another location via an outcrop to hiding a partial scene for the player to see slowly pan onto their screen. Ledges play a large part in our favorite games but that doesn’t mean all games get it perfect.
The first mechanic to note is the way your character would climb along a ledge; do they hang by their fingertips or do they side step their way? This may be decided by your character’s dimensions or clothes. Next up is the way you might transition from ledge to ledge, another common mechanic that can be timeless if implemented correctly, try to keep ledges a one-way affair instead of going both ways to and from a level or area. Transitioning from ledge to ledge usually results in some superhuman upper body leap, this can look fine in some cases, but in reality the legs and feet can aid the animation to look far more real and fluid. Natural rock climbing is an excellent way to base this off as ideally ledges should be within outer reach of an arm-length, not so much a sideways jump.
Combining some form of small box or object can allow for some great fluidity to getting to a higher up ledge, this can start an area in your level design very nicely, and compliment other features well, just make sure to not break any of the issues of run ups and momentum covered earlier with boxes. The way your character swings from ledge to ledge is also necessary, momentum requires build up and swinging from ledge to ledge sideways can compensate for having a larger gap. Whether you choose to require the player to build that momentum themselves or include it in the animation is up to the way you wish your players to enjoy your game.
Jumping as a standalone animation can go either very well or be an absolute mess. Perfecting your character’s jump should be primarily based still on their personality and who they are. How we decide to maneuver ourselves is dependent on our emotion, so your characters’ emotion might sometimes come out most while jumping. There are many different animations that will work well, but the main issue that arises is jumping into something when a new animation starts, this can lead to cut animations and severely removing the player from your immersive environment and back to reality.
Back to velocity and momentum here, jumping from stand still will never get you the distance in air relative to if you were running, players may find that a character instantly jumping from a standstill can cover a large distance. Consider having two jump distances for your character, one from still and one from running, this can also cut down on those horrible half-finished animations.
-Make sure your velocity doesn’t change too much when switching to or from jumping.
-Double jumps are covered down in the ‘Assisted Mechanics’ section.
Bar to Bar-
Also covering here is bar to bar jumps, another classic mechanic from 2D and 3D platformers alike. The way you treat and animate momentum will come into play here, as there is no way to create a fluid or realistic jump from bar to bar without either swinging or assistance. As said in the ledge section, whether you animate or require the player to interact with building momentum is up to you. The best way to use this mechanic is to require the player to be swinging in the direction of the next bar/ledge/ground to jump, being able to jump forward while swinging backwards really breaks immersion.
-Ideal bar to bar gap is around the length of your character.
-Adding a spin to jumping from bar to bard (backflips) can help stop our brains from telling whether the jump is too far to be plausible.
Gapping is jumping a large distance and landing on another object, usually roof to roof and so on. When jumping say, from one roof to another, your character won’t look so great if they leap inhuman distances without reason. In terms of animation, leg and arm flails look quite good, but the run up and landing are just as needed. The run up and jump should build momentum for at least 6-10 feet, when jumping this far it’s natural to swing your arms forward. Landing also brings all this momentum back to earth, gapping will usually have the character continue running forward so emphasizing the land is good to shorten the stride and bend the knees while still moving, in real life your arms would usually fall backwards and then forwards as momentum carries in the same direction you jumped from.
-Changing direction midair doesn’t look natural or fluid.
Here we have our own category for the directors, developers and artists who want their character to have some pizazz! Assisted mechanics covers the ability to use magic, cybernetics or gadgets to help your character traverse the levels you create. Using assisted mechanics allows your character to perform super human feats which can be fluid even though very unrealistic because our brains can identify the moves with the assistance of abilities. Using assistance your character can jump farther, climb higher, fall greater heights and run faster, but this is at the expense of animation, this is where it counts the most. Having an ability needs to be focused on, not a skimmed topic that isn’t reflected in the animation or level design.
-Jumping higher & Double Jumps
Think about how your ability can assist your character, for jumping it’s important to place emphasis on the ability that allows for greater jumps. Double jumping can make your character jump almost twice its normal height, but for the purpose of this read, let’s use rocket boots. Someone with rocket boots could make a perfectly normal jump without any assistance, but to double jump the rockets could thrust the character upwards or across distances that the player can excuse because ‘the rockets did it’, not the physics. Spinning around for a double jump also works well as it breaks our ability to focus on the velocity of the character.
Continuing with the rocket boots theme, they could also enable a character to traverse across or up a vertical wall or surface. Animation is important for abilities like wall running as you need to carry the momentum, and show why your character effectively glues themselves to the wall.
Tools can work really well in video games if done correctly, think of your favorite video game tool. These allow assistance to a normal character without any certain magical or futuristic feeling. Hooks, canes, hidden blades and other gadgets can be a sturdy fallback for strange mechanics that are implemented. Your level design should complement the way your character traverses and abuses with said tool. You can expand on the many mechanics covered and increase distances by using tools, but this is up to the way you want your game to play, so get creative!
- Assassin's creed syndicate (PS4) [Video game]. (2015). Ubisoft
- Assassin's creed I (PS3) [Video game]. (2007).
- Assassin's creed II (PS3) [Video game]. (2009).
- Assassin's creed III (PS3) [Video game]. (2012).
- Assassin's creed IV: Black flag (PS3) [Video game]. (2013).
- Dyling Light (PS4) [Video game]. (2015).
- Mirror's edge (PS3) [Video game]. (2013).
- Dishonoured (PC) [Video game]. (2012).
- Theif (PC) [Video game]. (2013).
- Sly Racoon 2 (PS2) [Video Game]. (2004).
- Sly Racoon 3 (PS2) [Video Game]. (2005).
- Sly racoon 4 (PS3) [Video game]. (2013).
The project required us to write an article about parkour mechanics in video games, and how to keep them fluid and immersive. My games to research were Dishonoured and mirrors edge, I had a great time doing this assignment and enjoyed helping write the article. I’m pretty excited with the outcome, we could have done a better job with the characters we used to show the mechanics, but due to one of our team members Sujay needing to gain a large amount of skills just to move the characters we were caught for time. Other developers will find our article a good read and the funny side of it makes it easy to read.
Hillard, K. (2016, May 30). 65daysofstatic On Creating No Man's Sky's Generative Soundtrack. Retrieved May 31, 2016 Used for reference in terms of design. Looking at the layout of pictures/text. Miller, M. (2016, May 30). Comixology Unlimited – Is It Worth It? Retrieved May 31, 2016. Used to analyze the style of language. Fowler, M. (2016, May 29). Game of Thrones: Blood of My Blood Review - IGN. Retrieved May 30, 2016. Used to analyse the language structure. Reiner, A. (2015, November 17). Star Wars Battlefront Review – A Little Short For A Stormtrooper. Retrieved April 25, 2016. Used to analyse the language used. Tack, D. (2015, November 23). Bloodborne: The Old Hunters Review - Greater Challenges, Darker Dreams. Retrieved April 20, 2016. Used to analyse the language used in an online article