Combat in Assassin’s Creed is perhaps the largest element outside of Cinematics that requires vast amounts of motion-capture editing, but unlike cinematics, pushes away from the source material the most to make the action larger than life. While the combat has always looked visually stunning in the Assassin’s Creed series, I wanted to bring three new elements that would improve the visual impact and brutality of the fight without simply resorting to more blood and violence. These were:
Dynamic Camera – allowing us to best frame the fight and show finishers in all their glory.
Facial Expressions – a great opportunity to show pain if we were to be going in this close.
Slo-mo – already a staple in much of the AC trailers, allowing us to hold on pained expressions.
The below video is a mock-up of those intentions – as a method of selling ideas to even the most skeptical on the team, animators can and should pre-viz everything from cameras to styles and gameplay proposals. All but the cloth effect made it into the game – looking too much like anime.
Before getting into the combat itself, it should be noted that virtually every camera was overhauled in the game, with 2 designers working on this alone. We replaced all in-game cameras to match the contours of the new organic environment, and most importantly added the “Precision Camera”. Something I always aim for in games, it brought the player character as large on screen as possible. It turns out that adding a new over-shoulder camera is very tricky for a non-shooter, requiring its own rules for every possible situation, but it was worth it when a camera gets its own article on Kotaku.
The improved combat camera would dynamically frame each of the fighters, placing the Assassin roughly towards the centre, and as a result would move closer as more enemies killed – heightening the drama. This only added to the impact of the final kill-cam that would rush in to frame the final blow.
Back to the combat animation, in order to understand the process used by the animators one must go back to the way mocap was first used on Assassin’s Creed. The animation team for AC1 initially used keyframes only, moving to mocap only as a way to speed up the process. With this, the animators themselves got in the suits and acted slower than real life to ensure all their actions were manageable for editing. The primary focus was posing, weight shift and momentum – not timing.