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Wander, The Original Hanger-On

July 7, 2012

Nowadays, you’ll have obviously noticed that a lot of work goes into making the characters in video games react to the world that is built around them. This can be achieved through scripted animations, random strings of short animations that are created on the fly, rag doll animations and dynamic AI that make your enemies act like they actually want to survive, and other little touches to convince you that the character you are controlling is reacting as a person would to the environment they inhabit.

Altair and Ezio lose their grips momentarily when catching distant ledges. They take a beat when they accidentally run full tilt into a wall before them. They react and stumble back from heavy blows.

Nathan Drake stumbles and twists as his body weight shifts, dodging bullets and other obstacles. He shifts his feet as the boats rock under his feet on the ferocious tides.

Max Payne slams to the floor from a bullet dodge and you can almost see him groan and suffer from the impact.

 The Assassins Creed series, Uncharted series and Max Payne 3 are only a few select games where you can notice how long and hard developers work to make their characters feel real, as if they have weight, momentum and struggle. Recently, all this work has become apparent, but the technology of the time really helps to drive this realism, such as the Havok Physics Engine (Havok), Euphoria (Natural Motion), Digital Molecular Matter (Pixelux Entertainment)and also in-house developed engines such as the R.A.G.E Engine (Rockstar). But for me, this detail to realistic weight and motion started back on the PS2 with Shadow of the Colossus by Team Ico.

Wander, the protagonist in Shadow of the Colossus, was the first game character to me that felt like he was really reacting to what he was doing. In this case, Wander climbs up gigantic behemoths as they try to crush him under their foot, squish him with giant hammers, hit him with deadly bolts of lightning and, as he clambers around the Colossi, shake him loose by violently swinging him side to side.

Wander stumbles when the Colossi slam their titanic feet to the ground and flinches as he gets thrown back by the sheer force of the Colossi’s strikes. When his life or grip bar is too low, he breathes deeply, with his sword held limply at his side. It is perhaps some of the most beautiful and realistic movement I ever experienced.

And to say Wander is the pinnacle of this reactiveness is being ignorant to the hard work of newer franchises, and limitations of the Playstation 2. Replaying Shadow of the Colossus nowadays can be nostalgic but increasingly frustrating as when Wander reacts almost all control seems lost to you. He’ll flinch too easily as you go in for the killer strike, but if anything it gives you a sense of the enormous difficulty of Wander’s task. To newcomers, it would definitely be feel more frustrating compared to those who watched Wander tumble and fall again and again and again and again a few years ago.

Image Link: “shadow of the colossus” by Aletsander: DeviantArt

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