The Personality of Movement

A while ago while on vacation I spent a lazy Saturday morning channel-surfing. One of the things I came across was Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, and something about it immediately stuck with me: the iconic movement of its characters. Pooh clumsily waddled, Piglet frantically scurried, Roo playfully hopped, Eeyore paced at a glacial speed, Tigger carelessly bounced on his tail, and Rabbit had a cocksure stride.

Without explicitly stating anything about the characters, these traits imbued them with an instant and very powerful sense of personality. It’s something videogames have been known to do as well, but not that frequently.

visuals - Winnie-the-Pooh, Winnie, Tigger, swirl, sonic the hedgehog, Sly Cooper, run, Roo, Rabbit, Pooh, poco, Piglet, personality, movie, movement, Heffalump, Eeyore, blur, Arc the Lad
Arc the Lad’s Poco is a clumsy, rotund fellow who must hold onto his hat while running.

Of course any character trait can be memorable and evocative as body language is a pretty universal thing. Generic personality quirks, though, tend to be tricky. It’s very easy for quirks to become caricatures, especially if they represent some sort of a cliche, e.g., the gruff loner who always crosses his arms. They also cover a large field with plenty of subtleties that are not always feasible to implement.

Then there’s the issue of plugging them in: do they happen automatically, or are they random, or only initiated by the player?

visuals - Winnie-the-Pooh, Winnie, Tigger, swirl, sonic the hedgehog, Sly Cooper, run, Roo, Rabbit, Pooh, poco, Piglet, personality, movie, movement, Heffalump, Eeyore, blur, Arc the Lad
As Sonic picks up speed, his legs turn into the signature swirling blur.

There’s validity to all these approaches, but movement is unique because it’s pretty much a guarantee. Your characters will move, so why not use that? It worked wonders for Sly Cooper and his fast and soft gait, and for Altair with his weighty, coiled-spring like movements. And hey, sometimes even cliches are preferable to no personality at all…

Supplemental:

A new post on Gamasutra has popped up that deals with body language a bit more in-depth, so I figured I’d add a link to it.

2 Comments

  • Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favorite examples of this. The boy’s bouncing, slightly wild run cycle communicates he is not the typical video game hero full of maturity and confidence. And that ungraceful movement makes his accomplishments seem all the more impressive.

  • I think Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune had a similar vibe. Drake would periodically slip and stumble, which made the game’s pulpy, unrealistic premise easier to swallow.

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