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In the majority of video games I play, I notice that NPC's are the same height. What's up with that? It kinda takes me out of the experience, when I see ten people in a row that are 5 foot 8. Anyone else notice this, or am I crazy?

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Well, you have to consider that in most games, NPCs tend not to wander too far or leave their towns. So, if everyone is the same height on average, then offsprings of the villagers will also be the same height. What usually happens is that before the player arrives, the generations before him/her in the village were possibly of varying heights, say 5'10 or 5'6. Over these generations, the descendants of the villagers get these traits and are bred against other villagers to get a mutated different height. It's safe to assume that after so many generations an average height was reached. –  Shiester Jul 9 '13 at 14:24
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Another theory might be that over time the villagers have possibly evolved into that height as a natural "best height" for their continued survival. Standing at 5'8 allows them to not only easily tower over smaller creatures as a form of intimidation, but to also reach stuff on the top shelf. The longer legs the villagers have as a result of this height can also help them to move faster, whether it be to chase down something or to flee from something else. There's a reason they haven't grown beyond that height. –  Shiester Jul 9 '13 at 14:24
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A third and final theory is that the game developer was being lazy and wanted to copy-paste stuff to save time and effort. It's easier to just re-paint something than it is to build something from the ground up. This method would save the developer more time by allowing him to recycle already existing assets into new assets. Such recycling not only saves time but is very Green and good for the environment. –  Shiester Jul 9 '13 at 14:24
    
I'd go with theory no.2, @Shiester, it just makes the most sense. –  jco Jul 9 '13 at 21:19

1 Answer 1

Making all character models the same size has a lot of benefits when doing poses and animations.

  • Imagine, for example, a sit-down-on-chair animation. A character with longer legs has a different sitting pose than one with shorter legs.

  • Or a character grabbing something. When the characters have different heights, their hands will be on different positions when they do the grabbing animation, so they might not actually touch the item they grab for.

  • When walking under an obstacle, a large character would have to bow to avoid their head clipping through the object. But a short character doing the same although they have plenty of head-space would look silly.
  • In a shooter, the guns of the characters would be on different heights during the shooting animation, so either the projectile paths wouldn't match the muzzle of the guns, or you would have the odd effect of some characters being able to shoot over a cover and some being unable to do the same, just because they can't be bothered to lift their guns a few cm higher.

You could solve this by having procedural animations (real-time animation retargeting) or by doing the animations for each character individually, but that would be a lot of work.

Another thing to keep in consideration is game balance. This usually doesn't affect NPCs in a single player game much, but in a competitive multiplayer game, selecting a smaller character can give the player an unfair advantage because they are harder to spot and harder to hit. So character size is no longer just an aesthetical factor but also a game balance factor. A good example where this was used intentionally is Team Fortress 2. The Heavy is larger than all other characters, so they can use him as cover. The Scout, on the other hand, is the shortest of all characters, which is great for his playstyle which is designed around avoiding enemy fire through eratic movement.

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+1, I think it’s definitely the major reason. But another solution to the problem is to perform real-time animation retargeting. Middlewares such as Havok or HumanIK provide that feature, but many engines also roll custom algorithms for that. –  Sam Hocevar Jul 7 '13 at 11:23
    
that's what I meant with procedural animation –  Philipp Jul 7 '13 at 11:24
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Your fourth point brings to mind a horrendous balance issue with a classic shooter: playing Goldeneye as Oddjob. –  Boreal Jul 7 '13 at 17:37
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@BorealGames Team Fortress 2, on the other hand, did not forget to take game balance into account when they gave the characters different sizes. The best example is the Heavy who was intentionally designed larger than the other characters, so that they can more easily use him as cover. –  Philipp Jul 7 '13 at 18:46

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