There's a lot of reasons to be impressed by Horizon Forbidden West, but one of the most technically difficult moments in the game is when Aloy hugs another character.
In an interview with IGN, Guerrilla animation director Richard Oud discussed the intricacies of letting Aloy hug someone in Horizon Forbidden West's Burning Shores DLC. The discussion surrounding this sweet moment in the game started after Strange Scaffolding studio head Xalavier Nelson Jr. pointed out on Twitter that Aloy's hug in the DLC's trailer "is a technical flex."
If you're not clued up on game development, it may seem like a weird thing to marvel at, especially considering Burning Shores has a lot of other incredibly impressive moments in it - like the too-good-to-be-real clouds. However, as Oud explains in the IGN story, hugs are actually really difficult to pull off when using mocap performers.
that hug at 0:45 is a technical flex like YOU HAVE NO IDEA https://t.co/h0dmivkOplApril 19, 2023
As many will already know, motion capture requires actors to perform scenes wearing suits that are covered in sensors, which can be picked up by special cameras and converted into data for animators to use. According to Oud, when two actors hug, the sensors vanish from the camera's view, meaning it doesn't pick up the movement from the actors. To fix this, Oud says developers need to manually go in and correct the mocap data captured during a hug.
This is a time-consuming task and is just one of the reasons why it's so hard to animate hugs in games. Another reason, Oud explains, comes down to what the characters are wearing. The movement captured during the mocap stage is essentially just the character's bodies - meaning things like hair, armor, or any other appendages aren't taken into account.
"Even with the solved data, you only have the base," Oud says, "So you still need to go in there and start addressing everything towards the fact that somebody's actually reaching around a piece of armor, for example. So the whole animation after that point needs to be addressed so it doesn't intersect with the cloth that that person is wearing that they're hugging."
There's still so much work that goes into animating this simple action in Horizon Forbidden West, so we suggest reading IGN's story to get the full technical rundown. Why does Guerrilla go to such an effort for such a small moment in its game, though? Wouldn't it just be easier to remove the hug from the script? "If we just bail out of those hugs or those intimate moments," Oud explains, "the story just doesn't come across."
"So we have to find a way to actually do these things and still make sure the emotion and the connection is delivered to the player and they don't really have to think about it," the Guerrilla developer continues, "but as long as [the players] feel it, then I'm already blessed that we actually hit our target."
There was a similar debate online recently featuring a t-shirt in The Last of Us 2 and bread in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.