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GDC: Making the believable horses of RDR II

cormack12

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Mar 21, 2013
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Source: https://www.pcgamer.com/the-mind-bo...-into-red-dead-2s-incredibly-lifelike-horses/
Source: Full GDC PowerPoint
....lot more at link and interesting read



The team began by unifying what had been disparate movement systems for humans, animals and horses, with the core principle that Red Dead Redemption was a more slower-paced and grounded world than GTA. Kleanthous then showed the team's first cobbled-together animated horse, which amusingly enough already looked better than the finished horses in most other games. He himself posed the question of why Rockstar didn't just ship this, and answered that it was too functional. It had discrete speeds, no range, no variation, a limited range of movement, the turning was stiff, and it had inconsistent transitions.

"It was functional, but missing something," Kleanthous said. "It's not a car, it's not a bike." The question was "how to get livelier performance, and by that I mean the behavioural implications and personality from movement. We wanted to make it more believable."



Rockstar started capturing footage of real horses in Scotland, with a video example showing how a real horse, for example, before turning would side-step and then lean into the turn. Lateral movement became a key part of the horse design from that point, a movement essential for light turning, and, Kleanthous added, one of the most difficult features to get right.

Another video showed a horse pivoting on its front feet, with them positioned under its chest, and turning laterally rather than vertically. There were clips of dressage which would be incorporated into the horses' gaits. Kleanthous talked about how the team had also added input lag to make it feel like Arthur is controlling an animal rather than a vehicle, and how these elements were coming together into the game's "anatomy of drift".



Though the team began thinking about an 'automation' approach to animations, some were sceptical about whether it would work. The idea is essentially that, rather than Red Dead's horses having a load of bespoke one-off animations for each different gait or speed, the team would create thousands of smaller animations which would be assembled on-the-fly in-game. The pool is narrowed-down based on the horse's surroundings, speed, encumbrance, mood, and so on, then stitched-together. This was apparently incredibly tough to get working right but, once they cracked it, ended up being applied across the game much more widely.



Kleanthous showed a clip of a horse walking through the snow, and explained all the variables that were going into that particular animation. The game is using the information of what type of terrain the horse is on, the depth of that terrain, the weather conditions, and from these selects a bunch of bespoke animations that suit those conditions—the examples given here were the addition of a swish to the horse's tail, reflecting the cold and the snow, and Arthur adjusting his hat because of the wind—and 'builds' on-the-fly an animation cycle reflecting all of these inputs.



Kleanthous could not quite contain his rightful pride at the next element of Red Dead 2's horses: how they stop at the edges of cliffs. Rockstar developed a technique it calls 'stop matching' whereby the horse, upon approaching a cliff edge, begins extracting certain animations required, calculating where it wants to go and the best possible place to begin stopping and inserts that animation at the right point into the normal animation cycle. Part of this is that all the cliffs in Red Dead 2's world were manually marked-up by Rockstar's artists (demonstrated in the above image), something that Kleanthous says "in the future" they'd like to rely less on. Red Dead 3 confirmed baby, I knew I watched this for a reason.

Kleanthous said he was delighted to see people at release judging the accuracy of Rockstar's dressage animations, noticing how much some horses pooed, and complaining about the big dumb horses that always seemed to get in the way. He should sit-in on some of our meetings and hear our EIC talk about the musculature of their haunches.

So yeah: the horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 do look absolutely amazing, and all of the above is why. The scale and complexity of the system Rockstar built is awesome and ingenious, and its developers' ability to start from first principles and keep those at the forefront of the process is why it makes some of the best games in the world. Next time you load up Red Dead Redemption 2, maybe just take a minute to chum with your horse, give it a bit of a grooming, show that thing some big love. Because the people who made them sure did.
 
Last edited:

sinnergy

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Jun 16, 2007
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It’s all in the details .. and that’s why RR games take so long to make .. and look this good.
 

Bartski

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Jan 15, 2020
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amazing tech. But I'm curious why they didn't add additional pathfinding to make horses omit some obstacles on their own more effectively and slam into trees less in a gallop like real animals would behave I guess...
 

sinnergy

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Jun 16, 2007
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amazing tech. But I'm curious why they didn't add additional pathfinding to make horses omit some obstacles on their own more effectively and slam into trees less in a gallop like real animals would behave I guess...
Jaguar cores ? Time and budget ? Went on vacation?
 

Bartski

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Jan 15, 2020
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Jaguar cores ? Time and budget ? Went on vacation?
definitely neither, as this seems like a basic feature of how mounts behave in other, much technologically inferior games.
The first question that comes to my mind for the Q&A segment if they didn't talk about it.
 

Rodolink

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Aug 19, 2013
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rodolink.wordpress.com
Source: https://www.pcgamer.com/the-mind-bo...-into-red-dead-2s-incredibly-lifelike-horses/
....lot more at link and interesting read



The team began by unifying what had been disparate movement systems for humans, animals and horses, with the core principle that Red Dead Redemption was a more slower-paced and grounded world than GTA. Kleanthous then showed the team's first cobbled-together animated horse, which amusingly enough already looked better than the finished horses in most other games. He himself posed the question of why Rockstar didn't just ship this, and answered that it was too functional. It had discrete speeds, no range, no variation, a limited range of movement, the turning was stiff, and it had inconsistent transitions.

"It was functional, but missing something," Kleanthous said. "It's not a car, it's not a bike." The question was "how to get livelier performance, and by that I mean the behavioural implications and personality from movement. We wanted to make it more believable."



Rockstar started capturing footage of real horses in Scotland, with a video example showing how a real horse, for example, before turning would side-step and then lean into the turn. Lateral movement became a key part of the horse design from that point, a movement essential for light turning, and, Kleanthous added, one of the most difficult features to get right.

Another video showed a horse pivoting on its front feet, with them positioned under its chest, and turning laterally rather than vertically. There were clips of dressage which would be incorporated into the horses' gaits. Kleanthous talked about how the team had also added input lag to make it feel like Arthur is controlling an animal rather than a vehicle, and how these elements were coming together into the game's "anatomy of drift".



Though the team began thinking about an 'automation' approach to animations, some were sceptical about whether it would work. The idea is essentially that, rather than Red Dead's horses having a load of bespoke one-off animations for each different gait or speed, the team would create thousands of smaller animations which would be assembled on-the-fly in-game. The pool is narrowed-down based on the horse's surroundings, speed, encumbrance, mood, and so on, then stitched-together. This was apparently incredibly tough to get working right but, once they cracked it, ended up being applied across the game much more widely.



Kleanthous showed a clip of a horse walking through the snow, and explained all the variables that were going into that particular animation. The game is using the information of what type of terrain the horse is on, the depth of that terrain, the weather conditions, and from these selects a bunch of bespoke animations that suit those conditions—the examples given here were the addition of a swish to the horse's tail, reflecting the cold and the snow, and Arthur adjusting his hat because of the wind—and 'builds' on-the-fly an animation cycle reflecting all of these inputs.



Kleanthous could not quite contain his rightful pride at the next element of Red Dead 2's horses: how they stop at the edges of cliffs. Rockstar developed a technique it calls 'stop matching' whereby the horse, upon approaching a cliff edge, begins extracting certain animations required, calculating where it wants to go and the best possible place to begin stopping and inserts that animation at the right point into the normal animation cycle. Part of this is that all the cliffs in Red Dead 2's world were manually marked-up by Rockstar's artists (demonstrated in the above image), something that Kleanthous says "in the future" they'd like to rely less on. Red Dead 3 confirmed baby, I knew I watched this for a reason.

Kleanthous said he was delighted to see people at release judging the accuracy of Rockstar's dressage animations, noticing how much some horses pooed, and complaining about the big dumb horses that always seemed to get in the way. He should sit-in on some of our meetings and hear our EIC talk about the musculature of their haunches.

So yeah: the horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 do look absolutely amazing, and all of the above is why. The scale and complexity of the system Rockstar built is awesome and ingenious, and its developers' ability to start from first principles and keep those at the forefront of the process is why it makes some of the best games in the world. Next time you load up Red Dead Redemption 2, maybe just take a minute to chum with your horse, give it a bit of a grooming, show that thing some big love. Because the people who made them sure did.
OP man thanks so much for summarizing the gdc talk.
Its sad many gamers never stop one bit to appreciate the love placed in development.
 

GuinGuin

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May 18, 2021
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I don't "believe" a horse will run directly into a tree in purpose. Agro > RDR 2 horses
 
Last edited:

elliot5

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Apr 22, 2021
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It's quite fascinating tech. These games are so detailed and high budget that these tech artists are basically working on a PhD level thesis research project just for one "small" part of a massive game. Dedication of likely years of work to get it correct.
 
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Kuranghi

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Apr 17, 2015
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Rockstar started capturing footage of real horses in Scotland, with a video example showing how a real horse, for example, before turning would side-step and then lean into the turn. Lateral movement became a key part of the horse design from that point, a movement essential for light turning, and, Kleanthous added, one of the most difficult features to get right.

Another video showed a horse pivoting on its front feet, with them positioned under its chest, and turning laterally rather than vertically. There were clips of dressage which would be incorporated into the horses' gaits. Kleanthous talked about how the team had also added input lag to make it feel like Arthur is controlling an animal rather than a vehicle, and how these elements were coming together into the game's "anatomy of drift".

This explains the feeling of sluggishness, all the horses they studied were drunk. Makes sense now.

Serious: That does explain why lag is so high in the game, "even for a cinematic 3rd person game", blending so often between small animations will do that. I absolutely adore the quality of animation in this game and its a sight to behold, but since RDR 1 is in my top games of all time and I just had to put down RDR 2 after 12-15 hours purely due to frustrations with controls and some of the systems in the game I'd say they went too far with the realism, they should have found a better middle ground.

I'm not joking I really wanted to love this game but it just wasted my time and annoyed me so much that I had to give up on it and its still frustrating to this day, I'm a stoner who makes every game take twice as long as it needs to be because I take my time so much and enjoy looking at everything but even I couldn't do that in this game the realism got in the way of the fun too often.

I'd probably enjoy the game a lot more if I went back and just mainlined the story, but I'm incapable of doing that in an open world game, I just need to explore the world and do it at my own pace, if I try to rush things I just dont get the same connection with the game and become disinterested, the I don't really give a shit about actual story and narrative in a game, just everything else. If I rush it feels like I'm skipping the actual part I enjoy to get to the imo, worst part of the game, I think to fully enjoy the game and not get that frustrating feeling my time is being wasted I'd need to play with a guide open next to me and that completely sucks the joy out of a first run of a game for me, fine on subsequent runs where I want to see everything the game has to offer but not the initial one.
 
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sinnergy

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Jun 16, 2007
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This explains the feeling of sluggishness, all the horses they studied were drunk. Makes sense now.

Serious: That does explain why lag is so high in the game, "even for a cinematic 3rd person game", blending so often between small animations will do that. I absolutely adore the quality of animation in this game and its a sight to behold, but since RDR 1 is in my top games of all time and I just had to put down RDR 2 after 12-15 hours purely due to frustrations with controls and some of the systems in the game I'd say they went too far with the realism, they should have found a better middle ground.

I'm not joking I really wanted to love this game but it just wasted my time and annoyed me so much that I had to give up on it and its still frustrating to this day, I'm a stoner who makes every game take twice as long as it needs to be because I take my time so much and enjoy looking at everything but even I couldn't do that in this game the realism got in the way of the fun too often.

I'd probably enjoy the game a lot more if I went back and just mainlined the story, but I'm incapable of doing that in an open world game, I just need to explore the world and do it at my own pace, if I try to rush things I just dont get the same connection with the game and become disinterested, the I don't really give a shit about actual story and narrative in a game, just everything else. If I rush it feels like I'm skipping the actual part I enjoy to get to the imo, worst part of the game, I think to fully enjoy the game and not get that frustrating feeling my time is being wasted I'd need to play with a guide open next to me and that completely sucks the joy out of a first run of a game for me, fine on subsequent runs where I want to see everything the game has to offer but not the initial one.
It’s probably build as a engine feature for current gen ( Ps5 / Series )