Monday, 23 April 2007

I'm not looking down on you dear, I'm just built that way

It made a nice change a few days ago to log onto our beta test forums and find that one of the users had started a thread on "things I like about Moviestorm", instead of the usual bug reports, problems, and suggestions. One of the things they mentioned was "the men and women are different heights".

It's one of those design decisions that gave me sleepless nights for months. I mean, it's obvious that men and women should be different heights, because that's the way people are - isn't it? But there's a hidden cost to this. Different heights means different skeletons, and different skeletons means different animations. And having two skeletons hasn't just doubled the animation load, it's quadrupled it in places. (Take two-person animations like tapping someone on the shoulder - we need separate anims for M+M, M+F, F+M and F+F.) It also means all sorts of issues with the code - if we change a character from male to female, the engine has to fire up the same animations, but for a different gender. More headaches. And, of course, the animations have to match precisely, so that your timing doesn't get thrown out of whack. And with all the added complexity, that gives the QA team a hell of a lot of extra work.

It would have been easy to take the approach made by Another Well Known Machinima Tool, and make all the characters the same height, regardless of gender. That would have freed up a lot of budget for making more costumes, more sets, and more animations, and made the developers' lives a lot easier, but, to my eyes at least, the end result just wouldn't have been so satisfying. I like the composition you get from different eye heights - it just feels wrong otherwise.

So, thanks to whoever posted that small comment on our forums, thank you. I can sleep again now.


Hugh said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Men and women being different heights solves a whole host of filming problems. I've never, thank goodness, tried to film in an engine where the characters were the same height, but I can imagine it'd be a nightmare.

There's simply no way to shoot a kiss, for example, in a way that maps directly to the kisses viewers are used to seeing, without women being shorter than men.

Good call, that man.

Although, of course, I will now be asking for characters of all sorts of different heights, from giants to midgets...

Anonymous said...

Dumb question perhaps - but does it have to be male+taller and female+shorter - can't it be short+gender m/f and tall+gender m/f - you still have to code the same range of interactions, but it might open up the possibilities for multiple height/shape options later?