Animation System Development Update
I'm Chuc, Lead Animator on Squad. You might know me from my previous work for Project Reality (where I was also Lead Animator), but also all the Squad updates and news forum posts that just so happened to be in my area of responsibility, though now is taken over by our community manager, Gatzby.
I wanted to provide an update on where we're at with the Animation System, as well as the road we've had to take since beginning this system overhaul.
Back in September 2015, even before we released in Early Access, we were starting to see a lot of flaws and shortcomings with our animation system. Which was severely hamstringing us not only performance-wise, but our ability to expand it and add new features in a stable and reliable manner. In reality what you, the player, are playing with now on the current Release version 9 is something that was built from the very early days of Unreal Engine, in order to get something working, with little regard for architecture and expandability. Over the months of development and Early Access release feedback, weve made some minor incremental improvements to it in terms of performance and some additional visual fidelity, but nothing major in terms of features.
Fast forward to January 2016, when we had laid plans to rework the animation system with one of our Senior Programmers, Kory, in charge of learning and in essence building the system. At the same time, me and another animator Kab (recently hired at the time) were in charge of reanimating and re-rigging all of our weapon and character assets (over 1800 individual assets) as even the standards we were using with the old system were incorrect. We made significant progress with the creative side of development, where we had managed to re-animate almost 70% of all Squad content by September 2016, by which vehicles had been released. However due to prioritising of vehicles and the stress of having to learn a completely new system, we hadn't made as much progress on the animation programming side.
Fortunately, Kab in his resourcefulness had managed to learn a great deal about how animations work within the engine (a lot of the visual improvements with the old system were thanks to him). And so we began giving a lot of the reins over to him as we dove head first back into creating a working prototype of the new animation system, complete with the features detailed in previous animation-related monthly recaps and videos.
Come March 2017, after months of hard work, Kab and myself have managed to create a prototype that reworks the following items: 1. Visual Fidelity of Character movement, 2. Clear Separation of First and Third Person models, 3. Weapons Handling and aesthetics. In addition, a lot of the features requested from the outset, including vaulting, climbing, free-look and bipods, were included in the prototype, and what was previewed at the start of the year was the prototype version of the system.
If we had released the system in its prototype stage, it would have been completely bug-ridden and performing worse than what the old system did. And so the next step involved the all-star programming team (Kory, Motherdear, Abdel, Kevin and Joe) taking this prototype, basically a vision of the system created by the artists, and turn it into a working system that can operate in harmony with everything else in the game. We are currently well into this delicate stage of development, working with a team of more than 9 people trying to see this process through as quickly and as bug-free as possible.
While the programming team has been busy with their work on the system, we decided that I would look into motion capture as a way to vastly improve the visual fidelity of our characters. This was happening in tandem with the programming work, and included the motion capture session in July and its subsequent integration over the following month. The motion capture studio was in charge of taking the raw capture data and converting them into loops, a format which we can drop directly into the working animation system and literally see the results instantly. Working with Animatrik was an extremely valuable learning experience for the animation team, as I felt that I graduated from a hobbyist animator to a professional in my field.
Every stage has been hard, and there is still work left to be done. What is remaining is converting the underlying code to C++, making architectural changes to how weapons and animations interact; networking key features; optimising the code; and setting the weapons up by our game designers in order to give flavour to the system. Once we're past those stages, ongoing optimisations, quality assurance evaluation and bug-fixing are what's left before players can get their hands on it.
In the meantime, there has been a lot of polish done between August's Monthly Recap and now, so please enjoy a peek below.
Back to the grind!