Animation & Input Queue System Programming,
Animation, Technical Animation, Camera Design, Scrum Master, Product Owner, Project Manager, Audio Design
ENGINE: Unreal Engine 4
DEVELOPMENT TIME: 6 weeks
TEAM SIZE: 8
“Imagine John Wick… but it’s a nun, and she’s a battlemage…”
Finding New Ground by Combining the Best of Fighting Games and the Souls-Like Genre
There is a lot to say about a complex, combat focused game such as Sister. Here are some of my thoughts as Game Director, Lead Designer and Animation Director.
A sandbox experience with a visually striking and tactical combat system. The player progresses through a linear level with complex, varied enemy encounters and a unique narrative undertone.
Gameplay & Creative Direction
The game loop is the combat loop, just like the dog is the ridiculous excuse for John Wick to kick ass.
My vision was to create combat with tactical depth and responsiveness — rewarding the player with choreographic & cinematic experiences without removing control.
Liberation of Identity through
Combat - A Nun on a Revenge Spree
Design & Combat Pillars
GROUNDED RESPONSIVE INTUITIVE TACTICAL CHOREOGRAPHY
we call it:
The GRITTY combat system
The Player Should Seek out ‘Action Time’
Action Time is a core mechanic in Sister. It is constructed to reward the player with visually striking and powerful outcomes.
That way, players will seek it out, promoting what is fundamental to the gameplay. Using what we call ‘initiator’ attacks, the player enters a time dilated space of three choices per action tree, with both benefits and drawbacks depending on the situation. This allows for fast, fun, and intuitive tactical choices — resulting in a beautiful mix between the weighty and tactical inducing style of a Souls-Like and the responsiveness of a fighting game.
click to zoom
‘Syncopation’ to Promote Strategy
Syncopation is a compositional tool in music that deals with off beat accents. Using that as a methodology, we created an enemy that would clearly telegraph actions off tandem and teach the player its patterns while still being complex enough to simulate responsivity, team work, and an intelligence.
The enemies’ choices are a response to its squad members’ current engagement, as well as the players actions such as distance, damage, and specific attacks.
Midway through the project and after careful playtesting I realized good animation and combat design was not enough to achieve the responsiveness desired. We needed an input queue system and thorough frame schedules for attacks. I set out to design and implement both systems.
Using Frame Schedules
Here you can see my design and analysis for combat and input queueing using frame schedules. The complexity in the combat system blossomed through this.
This allowed our team to refine the combat system and work with precision to create the desired experience.
click to zoom
Animation Programming & Locomotion
Sister is a game that is both very animation heavy and this type of game needs to feel good when moving the character. The player should feel empowered and in control.
Sister uses a mix of Animation Montages and Capsule Driven state machines for locomotion and combat. Great emphasis was placed on responsivity and being able to fluidly blend between it all while integrating the input queuing.
Animation Direction with Gameplay Priority
There are over 50 original and key framed animations in Sister, 80% of which I created while directing our second animator.
When Animating, Gameplay takes Priority.
I divided our Process into 3 Stages:
- Stage 1: Only start pose + end pose - that way
we could immediately implement and test timings according to the frame
schedule for gameplay viability.
- Stage 2: We tweak timings and movement feel,
adding some in-betweens.
- Stage 3: Gameplay and animation becomes fully integrated with beautiful and responsive movement.
Intuitive Button Mapping and Layered Animations
It was clear that the button mapping needed to have additional functionality based on feedback during playtesting. It should fit our system but still be intuitive.
click to zoom
Reworking with the Goal to Improve
Feedback from playtesting guided me and the other Game Director to re-work the combat system mid process.
We merged 3 Action Trees into 2 to give players a clearer overview
- We re-worked the button mapping by merging functionality through hold/tap
- Reviewed the stamina system to balance the new long range attack functionality
- Made sure the changes still supported our close quarter favoured combat system
We also wanted to emphasize that the non Action Time attacks had a tactical purpose of quickly being able to engage in combat while waiting for the right moment to use more power.
For example we added a ranged attack for handling proximity in other ways than just dodging but with a heavy stamina penalty. We also started to look at the interplay between basic attacks and Action Time to create even more dynamic playstyles. By combining basic attacks and Action Time, the more well versed player could dish out a lot of damage while managing spatial and tactical advantage.
What I Learned
Good communication is key in good Game Design.
As a team we luckily had the same desired end goal. When I pitched the game concept, everyone was eager to run with it, and we started working within an hour of discussing it. On top of my many design, animation, and programming tasksI worked as the bridge between the design team, programming, and art team.As a Game Director, Lead Designer, Project Manager and Scrum Master, I was reconfirmed in my belief that communication is everything for a project to be successful. It is vital to both see others and let yourself be seen in your hard work and be very clear when transmitting ideas. Establishing this in our work culture and seeing it lead to great results was beautiful.
Teamwork flourishes when you involve rather than exclude others in your process.
Making exciting and intuitive combat design is complex. For our design pillars to permeate through the game consistently, it was paramount to not isolate ourselves into solitary camps of different skills. We made sure everyone was on board all the time, ensuring that everyone feels passionate about what is being made. For example, we involved the artists in playtesting and feedbacking the systems and gameplay, and gameplay was in turn influencing art decisions. I believe this cross-pollination between design and art was a big factor in making the whole concept “gel”. Everyone felt that what we made mattered to them personally.