25.2 C
New York
Thursday, May 23, 2024

Buy now

What video games get wrong about horses

A character on the back of half-goat, half-horse, Torrent, in Elden Ring. It's a misty day and there are pointy wooden anti-horse posts jutting out nearby.

Alice Ruppert has been speaking out about how horses are represented in games ever since Assassins Creed 3. Shed had such high hopes for it after Red Dead Redemption 1, a game and series she really rates. But when AC3 came along and horses were nothing more than disposable taxis you could pick up at every outpost, she was sorely disappointed. The game didnt even save your horse choice through loading screens. Shes been speaking out about horses in games ever since.

She does it on the wonderfully named website The Mane Quest, where her in-depth reviews – she records horse movement and analyses it frame by frame – have earnt her a loyal following. Her work, and her background in game design, eventually even got her a job making a horse game called Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch, which is out really soon on PC and Switch.

So how bad are horses in games today? Read on, dear reader. Ill deal with a few famous games before broadening into more general mistakes, and what they can do about them. All of this is taken from my podcast interview with Alice Ruppert, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts (look for “Eurogamer Podcasts”).

To see this content please enable targeting cookies.

Alice is very entertaining to talk to. I highly recommend you listen to the full chat!

Torrent in Elden Ring

“So first of all, because this always comes up when I mention Torrent: I know hes a fantasy horse,” Ruppert says. “I know hes half goat. I know he can double jump. Thats fine with me. Im not going to point the realism finger at that. I know.

“What bothers me about Torrent is that he has very bendy legs, and its just a very common issue where horses walk on bent legs – they walk in a constant squat and it just looks really stupid, because horses cant walk on four bent legs. This applies to goats too, by the way, so that excuse doesnt even apply.

“It just looks very wobbly,” she goes on. “He walks like a spider over uneven ground. And it doesnt give you a very horsey feeling and not a very goat feeling either.”

However, she does really like how, in Elden Ring, you can feed raisins to Torrent. Its something that a lot of games dont let you do, feed the horses. “The feeding animations are so cute,” she says. “Thats such a detail Im not even sure every player sees because you can also just heal him with your healing bottles. Its one such detail that I think is super, super cute.”

A top down shot of half-goat, half-horse mount Torrent walking over some rocks in Elden Ring.
The best I could do capturing Torrent spidering around in Elden Ring. He often straightens up after he crouch-walks across things.

Roach in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Ruppert hasnt done a full review of The Witcher 3 but she has played the game. “Theres definitely some stuff that I like,” she tells me. “For example, I like that Roach is like a character, a named horse, instead of just you find a new horse at every corner. I like that.”

She also likes how, in the colder Skellige region of the game, there are horses that look like Mongolian Przewalski (“chevalski”) wild horses, in terms of their colouring and how theyre a bit furrier than regular horses. “[Its] this implication that these are horses suited to a cold environment, which is just a detail that I super appreciate.”

And again, she doesnt particularly care about how Roach was infamously buggy. “Bugs happen,” she says. “Im way more happy to have a few bugs in the game but have functionality that fits, like fitting animations and everything – thats more important to me. So I dont care that Roach does push ups – sometimes thats fine.”

But she does think The Witcher 3 missed a trick. “I do also think it also squandered some potential,” she says, “because in The Witcher books, which Im also a fan of, Geralt has a lot more interaction with his horses, his Roaches – he names every horse Roach.

“I think it would have been an opportunity that Geralt rides a different Roach in Skellige, for example, rather than just the one that he always has teleporting to him. And I also think it would have been fun to have: sometimes Gerlat rides a Roach that doesnt listen to him in the books and hes frustrated by the horse not doing what he said.

“I think the books very much understand horses while the games just feature it as a way of transport,” she adds. “But thats also understandable; I mean, I know this isnt a priority for others.” And with that, she laughs.

Watch on YouTube

Ah, happy memories! Cmon Roach – one more go?

Jins horse in Ghost of Tsushima

Theres one game Alice Ruppert has been asked to cover a lot, and its Ghost of Tsushima. “Last time some of my content went a bit outside of my usual audience, I got a ton of people saying, Oh, you should play Ghost of Tsushima, the horse is so good in that. You definitely need to play it.

“And Im not done with the game so Im not going to do any final judgement, and I think people also want me to play the story, which as far as I know also has some horse-relevant bits that Im not trying to get spoiled.

“But,” and theres a slight pause, “the movement is so bad,” she says, almost wincing. “It moves so weird. The animation is so strange.

“And I know its hard. I know that combining quadrupeds and inverse kinematics (IK) is a very complex technical subject, so thats not something that I think is easy to do at all, and I dont blame, for example, indie game developers for using asset packs that take IK off their hands while getting basic gaits or postures wrong on the horse.

“But it also just tells me that a lot of people dont know how a horse moves,” she says. “Thats why they keep saying, like, this is a really good horse. Yes, in some ways it is, of course, it meets the requirements for what a good horse is for many people. I realise Im nitpicking. I do understand that a lot of people dont have my sort of quality standard for horses in games. But yeah, a lot of people dont see whats anatomically wrong with so many digital horses.

“This happens in animation too, by the way. Ive taken screenshots of animated series where joints bend the wrong way and all that stuff. People, on the whole, do not know how horses work.”

Watch on YouTube

Ghost of Tsushima is quite the spectacle on PlayStation 5, if you havent already tried it.

The above are examples from specific games, but there are some common mistakes spread across many games with horses in. Here are a few of them, and some ideas about what the games – and game makers – can do about them.

Horses arent automatic cars

A simple one that a lot of games get wrong is recognising that a horse is not an automatic car: it has stages between park and drive.

“So a horse can walk, it can trot and it can canter and gallop,” Ruppert says. Some games insist on making you walk until you push the joystick to trot, but then you have to press another button entirely to gallop. “And that just always ends up giving me too little control. I want to be able to walk with my horse and I dont want it to be a concentrated effort on the joystick.”

Horses have names and characters

“What I think is particularly worth noting is that so many games could profit from doing more with their horses,” she says. “For example, treating them as characters or as a serious part of the mechanics or the story in some way.

“Ive previously made the example of Shadow of the Colossus, and imagine what a different game that would have been if Wander could just pick up a new horse at every corner like you could in Assassins Creed 3.

“The games that do use their horses in a narrative capacity, to me, profit enormously from it. [In Zelda] Twilight Princess, the moment where Epona is stolen and the moment where you get her back are so like: thats such a valuable moment in that game for me. And I think more games could benefit from that.”

Horses like to be petted too

The moment anyone sees a dog as a major character in a game, what do they say? They ask if they can pet it. Why isnt it the same with horses?

“Interacting with horses is kind of fun, and a lot more people would enjoy it in games where its not dangerous and not costly like it is in real-life,” she says. “Even something like the popularity of things like can you pet the dog? where everyone now knows that if you put a dog in your game, you need to be able to pet it: horses in games are still not pettable so much of the time. Give me interactions with the horses, even if theyre simple.

“Or, in games where I have a home base and return to my home base in the evenings, I want to take off my horses saddle and put it away and let my horse relax. If my character can go to sleep, I also want my horse to be able to go to sleep – stuff like that.

“Theres a lot of opportunity,” she adds. “And I realise not everyone is equally bothered by that but I think a lot of people would actually like it if more games got this right.”

Horses dont always neigh

Id wager that in almost any game where theres a horse you can ride, theres a lot of potential standing around, as you either look through your journal or your skills, or think about what youll do next. These are typically big game worlds you spend a lot of time in, which means theres potential for horses to be standing around for a while.

“I think regardless of how much complexity you want in your horse inclusions, theres probably a few simple things that you can make better. Like, even if you only have a scene in your game where a horse stands around, just idling, there might already be a cool opportunity there to insert some nice little idle behaviours that you dont see a lot,” she says.

“It starts with the soundscape as well,” she adds. “Horses dont constantly neigh. A horse standing around maybe just snorts a bit, or maybe it scratches its head on its leg, or something like that. Theres a lot of casual, likeable horse things that non-horse people dont see or think about or that dont come to their minds. And for that, yeah, you do need to ask horse people,” she finishes, “and I am one of them.”

There are people who can help

Alice Ruppert is one of them. Shes a horses-in-games consultant as well as a creative producer at Aesir Interactive. So if you are making a game with horses in and you want to get your horse right, ask her how to do it. Seriously. Shes open to enquiries through the email address on her website.

To see this content please enable targeting cookies.

Related Articles

Latest Articles