Procedural Animation Increases Engagement

Sep 15, 2010 in , ,
A new study confirms that procedural animation in a game, such as the Locomotion System I developed for my Master's Thesis, can improve not only the visual impression of the game, but also increase the overall player engagement significantly.

I was contacted some some ago by Chelsea Hash, a digital media student from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. She had just finished her own Master's Thesis Reactive Animation and the Play Experience which included a social psychology experiment on the affect of dynamic animation systems on the user experience. The semi-procedural animation system used as part of the experiment is based on the Locomotion System I developed. She told me:
The study found that given four versions of a game with the only variation being the avatar visualization and animation system, the semi-procedural animation system consistently had a positive impact on the game experience. Users consistently ranked the procedurally animated version higher and played it for longer. This effect was found to be subtle and often beneath the user's ability to consciously identify the difference.
I find this highly interesting! My Master's Thesis and many other technical papers about animation techniques simply take for granted that animation techniques that makes characters more physically situated in the game environment increases player immersion - but this study actually tests this hypothesis, and finds that players become more engaged at a general level as well. Her Master's Thesis is part of her studies at the Social Game Lab where research is conducted that addresses the subconscious qualities in design that make quality interactions. You can read more about Chelsea's work at her website,

For anyone interested in using this form of dynamic animation in their own games (to enhance player engagement!), the Locomotion System can be used for free in any game authored using Unity - get the Locomotion System project folder to get started.


Jerry said...

Hey Rune,

Really good work!

Does the heron in the Island demo use the procedural animation?

Is the procedural animation a partial implementation of an IK system? Think of Assassins Creed.

My experience with Unity is very limited ~ 2 days (part time at that), so I don’t know a whole lot about it. But it sure does look like it can save me a lot of time, and allow me to publish to multiple platforms.
I'm checking out your FPS demo and talk now.

I was just in the process of adding an animated character into the Island demo when I came across your work. Actually, I was reading the Release Notes for Unity 2.6.1 and one thing lead to another. . .now here I am.

Rune Skovbo Johansen said...

@Jerry: Thanks! The Locomotion System uses IK as part of what it does, but it does a lot more than that. ;)

The heron in the Island Demo does not use the Locomotion System, but rather a crudely hacked together solution that is not IK. See this image:
I did not code that by the way!

Have fun with Unity!

Jerry said...

Thanks for the reply Rune.

I'll read the doc and let you know how it goes. But from a cursory view, and remember my experience with Unity here, it seems that users are burdened with tying the physics engine with the locomotion engine. Is this accurate? And if so, are there any complications with this?

My goal is to load a model into the Island demo, and tie it to the locomotion system. Any pointers would be appreciated.

Rune Skovbo Johansen said...

@Jerry: I should think the the answer to your question is in the docs of the Locomotion System, and I made sure to put the pointers I have in those docs as well.

If you need any help with the Locomotion System after having read the docs for it, please go to UnityAnswers or the Unity forums. If you don't get any help there within a few days, ping me, and I'll take a look.