Why anime videogames still just look like videogames

#1 Edited by I_smell (3926 posts) -

A lot of people really like the art style in this Ni no Kuni game, but to me- similar to when you see the CG ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast, or the bird in A Bug's Life- it just looks really outdated. It's in a kind of Uncanny Valley where it ALMOST looks like an anime, but is stil so far away from that goal. So to stop me raining on everyone's parade in every comments section: I'll just make one thread and that can be the home for all my parade-raining.
 

FRAMES PER SECOND

    
Cartoons on television and in movies run at 24fps. Most of the time, an animation team drawing everything by hand will draw 1 new image every 2 or 3 frames- so basically an anime is animated at 12, sometimes 8, sometimes 6 frames per second. The typical Japanese animation studio isn't as well funded as a Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon affiliate, so they've made really good use over the years of adapting to a low framerate. Characters hold their poses a lot, there's way more talking than there is action, etc. This is super clear in anime TV shows, but also informs the low framerate that you can see in this trailer.
So that's my first point: Videogames run at 30 or 60fps none-stop. For as long as they do that: They're not moving like an anime. FUNNILY ENOUGH THOUGH, Shadow of the Colossus actually does have a really low framerate. So that game does stagger and jitter around, and it's subjective whether or not you agree, but I actually think it works. Notable mention: DoubleFine's BRAZEN prototype tried some animation tricks to emulate a different style. It's not anime, but it's a creative idea. Instead of having the computer generate everything inbetween Frame 1 and Frame 100, I'm guessing they had the animator actually go in MAYA and set each frame individually... Anyway next point:
 

POLYGONS

Hand-drawn animation can have as much fidelity in the curves as it likes. It's just pencil on paper, basically. Real-time rendered animation can't do that, each circle and sphere has to be MADE OUT OF STRAIGHT LINES. So the sad reality is that everything in this game is made out of straight lines. Don't get me wrong, it's not just this game- If you made a game out of The Simpsons you'd have the same problem.
 I think games like Catherine and Valkyria Chronicles can get away with this more easily, because those styles are already built on straight lines:
This kind of Ghibli art is not that, and infact most of their mascots are literally just circles, or teardrop shapes, or weird squiggle fairies. You'd think they'd avoid close-ups right? Putting an outline around everything emphasizes this limitation.
A game to check out, on this topic, is Zone of the Enders 2. It's a game about giant robots that goes for an anime style. The giant robots are designed to be really angular, and look great in the game engine because they're not trying to simulate any curves. The HUMAN CHARACTERS are all hand-drawn animation for 100% of the game though. They're never rendered in polygons, because the art director recognized these limitations, and knew that they'd lead to the kind of dissonance that I think Ni no Kuni has.
 

SIMULATION

This is a pretty basic one: on pen and paper you can draw literally anything doing anything. If you wanna have 10 characters who each have a fluid, billowing cape that stretches a mile behind them: go nuts. This game struggles to animate 1 cape for about 3 feet.
Of course that's every game- The guards' long trench-coats in Dishonored are actually pinned to the back of their legs, because they can't simulate air resistance on all of them. It'll take up too much RAM and gigabits and so on. So this character's low-poly cape doesn't really BILLOW so much as it just stretches, skews and waves.
You've got the same problem in just the 3D animator's toolset. Gainax animation (FLCL, Gurren Lagann, Dead Leaves etc) is famous for twisting and ripping their characters to pieces. If you wanna curve a character's arm 20ft behind their body, and twist their face into a skullamungo grimace, then you can draw that:
  
  but if your animation tools in Maya and your game engine can only support moving limbs, moving a jaw up n down, and some morphing of a mouth, then tough shit. You can be the best animator in the world, you can be-- Walt Ghibli himself, comin straight off Steamboat Nanuko, but if a rigid skeleton structure is what's for dinner then that's the whole game.
For games that spend more research and development on animation tools, check out: Team Fortress 2, Heavy Rain.
 

WORK AROUND IT!

Remember how I mentioned Zone of Enders 2 before, how they made a game about pointy, angular robots and only ever showed the humans in 2D? They carved a path out where they wouldn't bump into as many of these limitations. Ni no Kuni has:
A) Chose the Studio Ghibli drawing style, which is as round as it pretty much gets
B) Came up with mascots that would be a huge struggle to recreate polygonaly for basically all of the above reasons:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
C) Included ACTUAL CEL-ANIMATED CUTSCENES just to remind you what it's ACTUALLY SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE at annual checkpoints in the game... It's like showing the amazing cutscenes for Wold of Warcraft next to the actual models.
D) Chose to take the studio famous for animating humanistic life and expression into it's characters, and bring it into the medium that's famously bad at that.
E) Gave their main character a cape... he might as well juts be holding a sign that says "I'm rendering this as best I can, please use liberal suspension of disbelief".
F) Keeps doing close-ups of it's low-poly flat-shaded characters, even though the oil-painting backgrounds actually look great! 
G) They tried to make a game that looks like an anime, knowing full well that you can't get 100% of the way there. At least not yet. I think other games have actually done a better job at that, like I've mentioned.
 and long-story-short: ran straight at everything videogames are typically bad at doing, and smacked right into it. I'm not saying don't try anything ever... I'm just saying there are ways to make your shortcomings less visible.
 

THE END!

This whole thing could probably be more in-depth, but at a certain point I don't wanna just alienate everyone with a huge garbage-wall. In a nutshell: I hope that was interesting. I swear to fucking god the first person to write a one-word reply, or some snarky fuckinnn "I didn't read any of this I only read the title" comment, I will fucking explode. Oh for anyone wondering, I'm not really a giant anime fan, I'm more interested in just watching the animation than actually following episodes of it.
#2 Posted by ImmortalSaiyan (4655 posts) -

I never thought of this but it is valid. A game will never look exactly like a anime, for it is not anime. I'm a fan of animation as well but don't understand the technicalities of it. Unusaly it is not an issue but here the contrast is evident. Seeing how they are basing the style off a famous animator. Frankly, I find most animes are poorly animated in general. As you said, they have a limited budget to work with.

#3 Posted by Flappy (2034 posts) -

This was a pretty good read.  I learned some things that I didn't know before, and it pointed out things that I overlooked before.  I do, however, find it a bit funny that you don't follow anime for the plot or anything like that, but rather for the animation.  That's pretty different, but totally understandable.

#4 Edited by Doctorchimp (4063 posts) -

I don't know what this is about.

All I know is Level-5 is still one of my favorite developers, even though I haven't played a game from them in awhile, and I'm looking forward to this. Because this game looks amazing and I like me some Ghibli...

It just sucks I don't have a PS3 anymore. Although maybe I'll borrow my brother's for like a month.

#5 Posted by Mendelson9 (366 posts) -

Good point. I hope this game turns out good. Even if it doesn't look like an anime, I still find the art style beautiful. Maybe I should watch some of these Walt Ghibli films...

#6 Edited by I_smell (3926 posts) -

If it makes you feel any better, all of this text also applies to Family Guy: The Game, so you can just pretend I wrote about that.
 

@Flappy

said:

This was a pretty good read.  I learned some things that I didn't know before, and it pointed out things that I overlooked before.  I do, however, find it a bit funny that you don't follow anime for the plot or anything like that, but rather for the animation.  That's pretty different, but totally understandable.

Yea if you watch that punch clip I posted, that's a really fun, amazing animation style. I animate a lot, and anime is usually pretty static and boring, but when it goes all out, it really shines. 
I mean whatever-- Full Metal Alchemist is a tonne o fun, but I'm not about to start watching Death Note or anything. I can't stand Evangellion even though some of the big action scenes look amazing.

@ImmortalSaiyan

said:

I never thought of this but it is valid. A game will never look exactly like a anime, for it is not anime. I'm a fan of animation as well but don't understand the technicalities of it. Unusaly it is not an issue but here the contrast is evident. Seeing how they are basing the style off a famous animator. Frankly, I find most animes are poorly animated in general. As you said, they have a limited budget to work with.

I think there CAN be really amazing-looking anime games, and I think there will be in the future. I thought those Naruto games (never watched an episode in my life) had a really awesome style at the time, and Catherine is pretty impressive. EDIT- I think Asura's Wrath FEELS more like an anime that some games even though it's not going for that flat-shaded  rendering style.
I know what you mean about anime looking bad, but every once in a while they look completely fucking bonkers.
#7 Posted by ImmortalSaiyan (4655 posts) -

@I_smell: The Naruto game that ubisoft made loos great. Have you ever seen Tales of Vesperia? That is a fantasic looking game. Wish the Tales games after it kept that style.

Not the best video but it will do.

#8 Posted by Twinsun (462 posts) -

@I_smell: Very interesting read, thank you.

#9 Posted by Bocam (3551 posts) -

Video games will never look like anime? Tell that to Tokitowa.

#10 Edited by I_smell (3926 posts) -

Oh man, now that's doin' it right.
 
That idea has a lot of clear limitations aswel, but that's really interesting... I guess there's a totally seperate conversation to be had on 2D anime videogames. It's not as interesting a thing to think about because it's not as much of a giant wall to get over.
Not to take away from this, though, which seems like it's right on the bridge between a dialogue-focused 2D game and an action-focused 3D one. Cos that IS ambitious and cool.

#11 Posted by EquitasInvictus (1868 posts) -

@Bocam: Not to derail this thread but I appreciate that your post introduced me to a game with Kana Hanazawa in it. It looks a little awkward (some of KanaHana's character's animations in the battle sequence, for example) and seems stilted/stuttery as heck with the pace of the dialogue and cues for the soundtrack (actually, I did really like the Western-y sounding bits), but I am still very intrigued. I'd play that!

Back on topic: I've never really found any anime-derivative game aesthetic (or in-game departures of said aesthetic) too jarring, but that's just me being used to a lot of different visual styles, I guess. I totally get where the argument is coming from, though; I'd just wait until I have a chance to play the game personally to see how exactly they managed to have aesthetic work out in the round (pun intended?).

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