Thrilled to Death

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The element of low gravity in LawBreakers provides a multi-layered setting where our players can experience the joys and challenges of battle they can’t find anywhere else. Things like blindfiring through the low gravity to catch up to an enemy you are eager to make pay for killing a teammate or jumping in to mosh in a full blown battle where your enemies are in constant flux are just a couple of examples.  But here at Boss Key we want to make all aspects of gameplay fun, so we decided to also apply our low gravity physics when players say hello to the Deadzo.

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That’s right, not only are you rewarded for kills on the scoreboard, you also receive those amazing visual perks.  I sat down with the man responsible for these delightful kills, Nathan Wulf, Sr. Gameplay Programmer, to delve into the creation process of the LawBreakers death system.

Was the implementation of these death animations something that was planned from the beginning or was this your own vision?

Nathan: Back in the day, there were a ton of systems that needed to be implemented.  I don’t remember if this is something I took on voluntarily or if it was requested, but we needed death animations hooked up as well as improved ragdolls, so I did everything I could to make kills/deaths as satisfying as possible.

Did you have any inspiration?

Nathan: I hadn’t actually played it (since I’m exclusively a PC gamer), but I had heard that Killzone 2 had really cool powered ragdolls, so I was inspired by the description of how their deaths were handled.

Is this something you’ve done before?

Nathan: I’ve done some stuff related to combat and death on previous projects, but nothing to this extent.

What features did you want to make sure were present in the final product?

Nathan: The key thing I wanted to do was make sure killing people (as morbid as it sounds) was extremely satisfying just from a visual perspective. I wanted to make it so much fun to watch the character deaths that you’ll want to kill people over and over again just to see how the ragdolls react.

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How long did this system take to create?

Nathan: It’s difficult to say exactly.  I work on lots of things simultaneously.  I think the first prototype may have been done in a week or 2, but there was constant iteration, tweaks, adding more robust data driven systems that were added as time went on.  Also fun little tweaks like adding acceleration to the ragdoll when a flying vanguard was killed.  It probably took about a month to create.

Were there multiple iterations?

Nathan: There almost always are with anything game development related.  First pass I think was just to play death animations then cut to ragdoll, which had a lot of issues (anim could send players through walls, they didn’t look right in zero gravaity, etc.), then I tried a motor driven approach where the character immediately went into ragdoll and the animation drove the movement of the ragdoll (sometimes called a powered ragdoll).  This showed a lot of promise.  After that, it was a matter of setting things up so that the strength of the animation influence could be controlled over time in data, then gravity influence and lots of little polish things like tweaking the physics settings on the ragdolls to look good with the system.

Did you alone come up with this or was this a collaborative effort?

Nathan: I worked with the animators a bit, but I took on most of the system by myself.

What pieces of the puzzle needed to work in conjunction with one another to achieve the final product you were looking for?

Nathan: Here are some of the key things that make this system work:

– Each character has to be rigged with physics bodies (capsules that cover the arms, legs, head, etc.) for the ragdoll to work.  These are used for the PhysX engine that Unreal Engine 4 uses.

– Death animations help make the ragdolls more dramatic.  We have different animations for damage categories (bullets, electricity, explosions, etc.) and the direction the damage came from.

– Curves drive the animation influence over time, so we can do fancy stuff like have the animation drive the movement, go limp, then spasm a second later.

– Different gravity volumes apply different acceleration so the ragdolls can float and fall appropriately.

– We have thresholds for damage so we can trigger juicy gib effects if somebody really gets destroyed.

-Impulses are applied to the location damage was dealt, so you could, for example, shoot somebody in the legs and watch their legs fly out from under them and their body could flip around and land on its face.  Things like the titan’s rocket also apply a strong impulse to the whole character so it could result in the body flying across the room, splatting against the wall and slumping down.

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The movement of the character is inherited, so if you catch somebody in full sprint you get to see them flail as their body skids across the room in the direction they were running.  Of course, killing somebody in zero gravity is a lot of fun, too.  Even more fun if the body crosses multiple gravity zones: ex, killed out of gravity, falls down into zero G, bounces up, cartwheels a few times, then plops back down after exiting the zero gravity area.

Thanks for such great insight, Nathan!  During the Beta next year you can now all say, “Thanks, Nathan”, when you see those amazing death animations.  If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for the Beta right now over on LawBreakers.com.  If you have any questions, you can feel free to fire them over to our social, but also take the time to look over our FAQ to get in the know.

Britt over and out.

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