How Link’s Climbing Animation Works in Breath of the Wild

How Link’s Climbing Animation Works in Breath of the Wild

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Hello and welcome
to New Frame Plus, a series about video
game animation. Today I want to dig into the climbing
animation in Breath of the Wild. This topic was
requested by Azmar! And if you would like to make
a topic suggestion of your own, then consider becoming
a patron of the channel. But let’s not waste time!
Here we go. Let’s begin by breaking down this
climbing system into its component parts. Link can climb most things
in Breath of the Wild, so if you run yourself into
just about any vertical surface, Link will switch from his regular Ground
Locomotion state into his Climbing state. And once you’re on that wall,
you can climb in any direction you want. The foundation of this
multi-directional climbing is built on a set of (I’m guessing)
8 animation cycles: climb up, climb down,
climb left, climb right and probably an animation for each
of the four diagonals in between, just to fill in the gaps. It’s hard to know exactly how many directional
cycles they’re using under the hood, but however many there are, those animation loops blend
smoothly between each other as the player adjusts
Link’s climbing direction. If you stop pressing
in any direction, Link will quickly blend to an
idle pose and hold position. There are two mirror
versions of this idle so the pose can more accurately
reflect which foot moved last. And it is an extremely
simple idle animation, just a little breathing to
keep Link looking alive. Now, for the most part, Link’s body will be oriented parallel
to the slope of whatever he’s climbing. But as the slope of the
wall starts to level out, you will see Link straighten
up ever so slightly, and his climbing will start to feel
a bit like he’s walking on all fours, which is a really nice touch. Really helps that transition from climbing
back to walking feel more natural. Now, there’s also some
IK being used here to keep Link’s hands and feet
connected to the climbing surface. Without getting too far into
the fiddly technical stuff: IK (or Inverse Kinematics) is a tool
for making your character’s animation automatically adapt
to uneven terrain. It’s also used for
a ton of other things, but that’s one of the
most common applications. You know how sometimes you run
your player character up a slope or up some stairs and their
feet automatically raise up to account for the uneven height
of the ground? That is IK. And here, IK is being used
to help Link’s feet and hands connect to the uneven
surface of this wall. It’s easiest to
see this in action when you have Link idle near a corner
or an edge of the climbing surface. You see how different
that idle pose can look? The IK REALLY seems to want to keep
Link’s hands on one side of that corner. Of course,
upon VERY close inspection, you will notice that Link’s hands often aren’t
contacting the surface of the wall exactly right. Sometimes they’ll
clip through the mesh, other times they’ll hover
just over the surface. But, the camera pulls so far
back when you’re climbing that you are rarely going to notice
it, so not really a big deal. Now that covers the basics of how
the climb itself is structured, but there are several supplemental
pieces supporting this foundation. For one thing,
you can make Link jump while climbing, sacrificing some stamina to
do a quick dash up the wall. You can do these jumps upward,
diagonally and to either side. And this dash will even round tight corners,
which… not super realistic obviously, but appreciated anyway. I would much rather
him do THIS than jump off the mountain. But you cannot dash downward. If you
hold down on the stick and press Jump, Link will leap directly away from
the wall and enter a freefall. And, of course,
if it happens to be raining out, Link can also lose his grip
and slide down a short ways. Annoying, yes, but it looks nice. But most of the climbing
system’s supporting animations are used for transitioning Link into and
out of the Climbing state in various ways. For example, when you first
run Link at a vertical surface, he will initiate his climb by jumping
up the wall a little to get you started. If you manually jump
at that same wall, Link will do a little hop
from wherever you contact, getting you just a little more starting
height at no additional stamina cost. When you reach the top
of a climbable surface, Link will sort of step up onto the ledge
and blend into his normal standing idle. Dashing up to that ledge will
trigger the same step-up animation. If you run out of
stamina while climbing, Link will play a few frames
of this “OH NO” animation before blending into his
regular falling animation. And this one is arguably a part of
Link’s regular ground locomotion, but if you start moving
him up a steep slope, Link’s run will get more
strained and intense, showing the additional effort
required to run up that steep surface, which leads into this
Climbing state rather nicely, even if there isn’t any bespoke
transition animation between the two. And that’s basically it
for the Climbing system! There are tons of other ways
to initiate or stop climbing and lots of other stuff that
can happen while climbing, but none of it is supported
with additional animations. There are no custom transitions into climbing
from swimming or gliding, for example. If you reach the bottom
of a climbing wall, he’ll just pop right from his Climbing
state directly into his landing animation. If you take damage while climbing,
Link will just flash red. Or if you take a really BIG hit or run
out of health while climbing, Link will just instantly ragdoll, which never stops being funny. It’s kind of amazing how
stripped-down and SIMPLE this climbing animation
system manages to be. For comparison,
if you look at the climbing in most Assassin’s Creed
games or Uncharteds, those characters climb with
more authentic physicality, and their movements are
tailor-made to navigate every kind of complex
terrain more realistically. Meanwhile, Link just hits a vertical
surface and latches on like a housefly. When you get right down to it,
Breath of the Wild’s climbing animation is only SLIGHTLY more robust than
Ocarina of Time’s vine-climbing. It’s REALLY SIMPLE. But, that stripped-down
simplicity is what allows the game’s “climb
anywhere” design to work. When you build your climbing system around
navigating specific types of terrain with specific animations,
it looks AMAZING, but it often means that the player can
only traverse the specific types of terrain that your character’s climbing
system was built to accommodate. You can run across any ledge, weave through any
tree’s branches and scale any wall with
conspicuously-placed handholds, but try to traverse a surface that WASN’T
specifically designed for climbing and NOPE. And that’s fine! Those are still
really fun climbing systems. But if you’re only able
to traverse the terrain that the level artists
specifically designed for you, then it does put a cap on that
sense of free exploration. Rather than packing the world
of Hyrule with tiny crevices, complex footpaths and obvious handholds,
this environment is filled with wide, smooth surfaces which are PERFECT for
Link’s simple climbing animation system. And sure,
that does means you sacrifice some of that really
cool-looking animation detail, but this choice is part of what makes
this world so inticing to explore, because NOTHING feels out of reach.
You can climb ALL of this, and the only thing you
have to worry about is managing your stamina
and finding your route. It’s simple and its intuitive. But despite that simplicity, the thing I
like most about Link’s climbing is that it is surprisingly expressive! When they requested
this episode topic, Azmar pointed out that one of their
favorite things about climbing in Breath of the Wild is how you
FEEL the effort Link is putting into climbing that wall, and I agree!
He is just throwing himself at this. There’s this great
rhythmic bounce to his climb which I’m PRETTY sure isn’t
good climbing technique, but that exaggerated movement
sells both the effort and just the sheer
determination in every step. Even just running up a steep slope to get to
the climbing part, he is working so hard! I love how he’s always looking in
the direction of that next handhold. I like how,
when the incline gets REALLY steep, you even start seeing these little sweat
droplets, which is just …I don’t know, it’s cute. And when the rain causes him to
slip, it happens really fast, but he does this
panicked scramble and you can just feel the poor guy’s
whole body clench like ‘no no NO NO OKAY… okay…’ Frustrating as it is to have
this happen in the rain, I do adore this
little moment of fear. I don’t know what it is
about Zelda game animation, but somehow it’s always better
than the sum of its parts. Right? Like, if you think about it, there’s very rarely anything that stands
out about the animation in Zelda games. I mean, it usually isn’t
particularly flashy or stylish. Nothing compared to what you’d
see in, like, a Devil May Cry. It’s not especially
detailed or realistic certainly not in comparison to
a Red Dead or an Uncharted, but the animation also doesn’t tend to
be super exaggerated or stylized either, even when a particular game’s
art style very much IS. The acting animation usually
isn’t anything special. And of course, yes, there are some
occasional standout moments of expressive character appeal, but usually the
animation in Zelda games is always just, like… good enough.
It’s pretty good. But it is ALWAYS good enough.
And it is always visually clear. And it always functionally achieves
everything each game needs it to. Zelda, as a series, just has this really
utilitarian approach to character animation. Even when no one aspect of it
stands out as visually impressive, it always works, and there is still
something very charming about it. I think, for the climbing here, if there’s one
addition that could really improve this, it would be adding some fidgets
to Link’s climbing idle. Idle fidgets are just such a great
tool for getting a little more flavor and characterization on
your player character. Like maybe if you leave Link just
hanging on the wall for a few seconds, he could start looking around a
little, taking in the view? Or maybe he could look down
nervously at how high up he is. Or okay, say we’d rather keep
him focused on the task at hand. Maybe instead of looking around
he could adjust his grip slightly or try to get a more
solid plant with his foot. It would all be a little stuff, but you can get a lot of character
out of touches like that. Those moments where the player isn’t
making the character do something are a perfect opportunity to let the character
do something to express themselves. And it kinda surprises me that the team
didn’t take advantage of that here. But yeah, taken as a whole? I think Breath of the Wild’s
climbing is extremely successful. It’s visually clear,
it’s expressive, it feels good in your hands… just
incredibly solid work all around. Thank you again to Azmar
for requesting this topic! If you enjoyed this and you’re in the mood for a little
more Breath of the Wild animation talk, the other Dan who talks about
game animation on YouTube also has a new video about
Link’s sword attack animations. You should check it out.
I will link to that below. Anyway,
thank you very much for watching. Be sure to subscribe and
consider supporting the show like all of these
good folks here. I will see you again soon
for more New Frame Plus. [music]

100 thoughts on “How Link’s Climbing Animation Works in Breath of the Wild”

  1. Backflips, dodges, and everything slo mo. the animation in subnautica would be nice. the problem is it would be hard to do the protagonist bc it's first person. persona 5 would be a good pick too.

  2. One thing that I would like to see you cover is the horse animation in BotW, they really nailed horse movement extremely well in that game and as someone who used to ride horses it was really awesome to see. Speaking of idle animation they also really nailed some interesting ones of those to the horses as well.

    It's not something that a lot of people may think about but it's still something they really put a lot of effort into and I really think it deserves some recognition.

  3. you missed the aninmation he does when Link climbs the top of a tree or a flag, he holds to the pole with one hand with the body away from the pole looking at the scenery, in this state he can rotate and change hand. ^^ awesome video btw!

  4. I've noticed that there's several animations for opening chests. If Link is standing in front of the chest, he'll crouch and open it normally. If he's standing beside or behind it, he'll kick the chest, and it'll open by itself. These two are pretty easy to notice. However, there's one more. When Link is beside or behind the chest, but with no pants and boots on, he'll do the same kicking animation, but he'll hurt his foot and jump a little. Kicking metal boxes open doesn't sound very fun.

  5. Pro tip: if you want to climb when it's raining, it's still possible. Just climb up until link does 5 loops of his climbing animation, and then press x to jump. You'll still slide down, but the height that you gain will be greater than the height that you lose from sliding downward.

  6. I still love, after 2 years, how Nintendo put so much effort in every detail in this game. The music ambient, animation, the acting, voice acting! Everything was perfect for me and still is. I have really big hopes for the sequel!

  7. 10 minutes of an explanation of Link's climbing animation? Well, don't mind if I do.

    (don't take this the wrong way, I'm not saying it isn't interesting)

  8. So I guess you can say Link uses purely functional animation. If it works it’s all that matters. I don’t know how I feel about the approach of purely functional animation but when you think about it, it helps link become more relatable to the player. Links not a professional rock climber and the player isn’t either so what’s the point of making it flashy.

  9. Climbing is cool – stamina is not. Stamina is nothing more than an unnecessary hindrance used to frustrate the player by limiting what they can do without being forced to wait for an arbitrary gauge to refill itself.
    There's a reason why the most recent two Assassin's Creed games, Witcher 3 and others lack stamina gauges; it's inherently anti-fun.

  10. My take on the possiable answer about why not add fidgets on climbing idle is this.
    Climbing in the game is a very expressive part of player input and toolset, hence It is not a porper timing for Link to express himself compare to normal idle on the ground. Climbing is a big deal in this Zalda game.
    The Breath of the Wild devs are very cautious to take angency away from player, protraying Link over the player himself, espeically when there is elemental gameplay on the scene. So even though "climb idle" is existed in animation terms(served as an oppotuinty to express character), it also serves like a pause buttom when player is planing their routes in gameplay terms.
    I will argue "Link looking down" when me, as the player, are considering going recklessly up is a forceful correction of my attention.

  11. Also (it's not really an animation thing) the stamina link consumes is relative to the angle of the slope, the more the slope is steep, the more stamina you will use to climb

  12. A great fidget animation for the climbing in my opinion would have been if he'd released his hands one at a time to shake them and stretch his fingers. It's something very common for people who are regularly using grip strength to do when it's not needed to loosen the muscle and ease strain. It would also lend to the fact that he's a swordsman and uses the grip heavily for fighting and climbing.

  13. Loved the video. The idea of having some fidgets while Link is not moving in the climbing position is awesome, hopefully they add that in the sequel.

  14. I really gotta hear about any of the team ico games. Shadow of the colossus, The Last Guardian, Ico – they all have some amazingly technical animation

  15. I like how when link slips, even though he just goes back to his idle climbing pose, the stretched out falling pose makes it seem like he is really bracing himself, just trying to stop his fall

  16. I think the reason why the simple animation works so well, is that you really get the feel that this is a video game and you are in control.

    When I see game characters with a lot of extra movement, I feel like I'm not that character and am merely guiding this person.

  17. Ah, fidgets. that brings back memories.

    Especially of Conker's bad fur day, which has an absolutely insane number of idle animations, especially for a game released in 2000 on hardware from 1996…

    There's contextual idle animations. Sequences that vary based on how far into the game you are, and your location.
    And then there's about 5 different fairly complex idle animations of Conker just messing about with something he pulls out of a 'pocket' (in that way that cartoon characters have infinite pockets – sometimes referred to as hammer space, for the tendency for certain kinds of characters to pull huge hammers bigger than their own bodies out from behind their back)

    I have no idea how many frames of idle animation that game has, but considering the hardware limitations involved, it's a lot!
    I don't think I've seen many games of any era with quite that amount of idle animation…

  18. As a climber, one pretty realistic idle “fidget” could simply be hanging out further from the surface and looking up. Having a pause to figure out the path further up is a big part of rock climbing, and though link doesn’t actually need to, it would make it look even more realistic !

  19. I think Links climbing looks amazing, even if it's simple. I think it would detract it it was too detailed. It'll be on the front of their mind

  20. i’m also a big fan of how if you’re about to run out of stamina and go for one last dash, time kinda slows down as he desperately grabs for a hold and then falls

  21. Are you going to make a video on the new games coming out from arc sys? Granblue fantasy versus looks amazing but from what we've seen of the new guilty gear, it may be the best looking game i've ever seen.

  22. "Meanwhile Link just hits a vertical surface and latches on like a house fly"

    Not only did i start giggling like an idiot i also tried to sing the Spider-Man theme though my laughter

  23. There's also IK in the lower spine and hips. This allows Link to bend around edges and not look weird. I worked on what I think is one of the first games to implement this (Spiderman 2/3). Doing IK in this way is very tricky because the lower spine is a child of the hips, so they have to be programmically decoupled, solved separately, then blended back together with the keyed animation. We had very smart Russian and Bulgarian programmers doing the maths.

  24. I always wanted a proper climbing system in a video game where it works as good as what we saw in BoTW. Maybe one day we will see another game utilize climbing and elevate it to an even higher level (aside from BoTW 2).

  25. I'm surprised Horizon Zero Dawn wasn't at least mentioned in this video. Especially when he was talking about idle climbing animation

  26. As much as I didn't like Breath of the Wild, I always gave it props for their climbing animation. We never asked for the character to realistically grab onto pipes and crevices, and yet we're constantly hearing complaints along the lines of "we need to add microtransactions because games are getting more expensive to make".

    Link's climbing makes the game better and cheaper.

  27. I have a question about inverse kinematics. In the video, there were clips where Link will climb around the outside of a corner. But when Link will climb a wall that has sort of an inside of a corner, his feet will use both sides of the corner. Is this an example of inverse kinematics? Or is this an additional animation? Sorry if this seems obvious, I'm not an animator, I just like Zelda and noticed it while climbing. Thought it was a nice touch.

  28. It woulb be really awesome if you would talk about ac origins' and odyssey's climbing animations because they are a lot more complex.

  29. I think the great part about the slip in the rain, is that the character and the player most likely feel a similar thing in that moment, I remember I managed to get a camp of bokoblins after me early in the game, and I started climbing up a wall nearby to get away, and it had started to rain, I think I did actually tense up a little whenever he slipped.

  30. Could be cool if in BOTW 2 Link gets a few assassin creed type climbing animations in addition to the house fly climb.

  31. I feel like the jump at the beginning makes a huge difference because without it, the bro just starting to climb from the ground would look kind of weird.

  32. Link's cuteness equals out sooo many animation that maybe are made better in other games. But if done different it won't be Link 😀

  33. The animation in Zelda is like the drumming of Ringo Starr. Somewhat basic, not very flashy. But they both serve their creations perfectly.

  34. That bit about AC? Yeah, that's the reason why I despise the franchise. There's this huge emphasis on "you're a pro boi and can climb anything," yet that's the direct opposite of what it feels like. It feels janky; like I'm fighting the game and loosely guiding the stabby man through molasses.

  35. I would love to see a video depicting the Parkour transitions and animations in the Assassin's Creed series.

  36. In addition to your ideas about idle animations, I think that it would be cool if Link shook off a hand or leg from time to time, like he's getting cramps from hanging on and waiting for you to make a decision about where to go. That would add a little more to the feeling of how hard climbing is.

  37. I would also just like to add how much I appreciate their attention to detail with the weapon holsters. I know it's probably not easy to make it look realistic when you have so many different weapons and armours in the game but I hate when they're just floating off your back like in Monster Hunter for example. The Monster Hunter games are some of my favourite, but that always kind of annoys me when I'm playing.

  38. Normal brain: Spider-Man PS4 is the best Spider-Man game
    Big brain: Spider-Man 2 on PS2 is the best Spider-Man game
    Galaxy brain: Breath of the Wild is the best Spider-Man game

  39. There's a genius little thing that didn't get mentioned: when Link goes from walking to climbing, he automatically starts with a jump. This is because jumping doesn't cost stamina like climbing does, so every stamina-efficient climb must begin with a jump. They probably realized that it's more fun to just do that automatically rather than make the player remember to do that each time.

  40. I would love to see how animation works for horizon zero dawn (prob fighting ), or something like resident evil 2 remake, it would be cool to see how they do all different animations. Even shadow of the tomb raider would be awesome to see!

  41. I think maybe they didn't include idle fidgets is because BotW sometimes has stealth elements, including while climbing. It seems a little out of place for Link, while he's hiding from a guardian skywatcher, to be taking in the sights or trying to find a more secure handhold.

  42. I think the idle fidget animations would have been amazing. Like if Link hung with one hand for a little just to shake his other hand like it's starting to get tired or maybe looking down to check if his foot has enough grip. Heck, if they put a small pouch on his belt in the back that he reaches his hand into to get some dust he uses to climb. The same exact dust that real climbers use to make their grip better. lol

  43. To quote Scruffy, I think BoTW excels in cartoonish clarity. Sacrificing some realism for conveying something better through sound effects or animation.

  44. Also if link is climbing past a 90 degree angle his body hangs just a little bit and his back stiffens like he’s holding his spine up.

  45. take a tiny sip of beer or any other alcoholic drink every time he says climbing XD lol you'll be very drunk at the end

  46. You video is not about how it works. You just list the animations without actually explaining anything. This is a shame because I feel like you know what you are talking about so please feed us with more info!

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