The Last of Us Part II’s been in the news of late, following a media event. Out of this event came new gameplay and incredibly impressive details about the game’s story and how it feels to play. While fans have been fawning over advancements in AI, story content, and more, something quite impressive has flown under the radar. For the sequel, Naughty Dog added a host of improvements to its “traversal animation system.” These changes, according to Co-Director Anthony Newman, are spearheaded by “motion matching.” If it’s truly as innovative as Newman described in a GameSpot interview, Naughty Dog may be setting a new bar.
Newman told GameSpot about the “motion matching” system in detail, explaining that animations will now blend together “frame-by-frame.”
It’s this technology for characters moving through a space like running, walking, jumping, and that kind of thing. In all our previous games there’s been this really distinct state machine where we say, ‘Play a run animation. Then play a turn left animation. Then play a turn right animation.’ The way motion matching works is it takes this massive bucket of animation, just hundreds and hundreds of animations, and chops them into little tiny bits.
When you define the path that a player or an enemy wants to take, rather than saying, ‘Play this and then play that and then play that,’ the system actually looks at the bucket of animations, finds the ones that matches the path that you’re already taking, and blends them together frame-by-frame.
This doesn’t merely apply to human characters. Even animals, such as horses and dogs, will supposedly have unbelievably smooth animations. Newman continued,
It’s this totally new way of doing traversal. I think, as you play the game, you must have noticed just how fluid the player feels. With every foot plant, every turn, there’s as little blending as possible. That’s applied to our NPCs. That’s applied to the horses. That’s applied to the dogs. We even have these dogs and horses and mocap suits running around getting the data that we needed for this really intricate system.
On paper, this may not sound like a big deal; however, the implications cannot be understated. In taking a look at some of the gameplay released last week, we see Ellie seamlessly rolling on her back while prone in the grass and aiming a bow. These are all fluid movements, with no awkward shifting animations or bizarre stuttering to trick the eye. Whether or not such animations will be prevalent throughout the whole experience remains to be seen. Still, it sounds as though the team at Naughty Dog is pushing technology forward in an interesting fashion.