In all that we’ve seen in The Last of Us Part 2 in recent days (and we’ve seen quite a bit), the game has looked absolutely incredible. It’s proudly displaying that sheen and blockbuster production values that we’ve all come to expect from Naughty Dog games, and in more ways than one. We’ve seen improvements to the stealth and AI, the game itself looks bigger and more ambitious, while in the animations department, it’s looking seriously impressive, with animations so seamless they almost look choreographed.
Those animations, in fact, are something developers Naughty Dog have spent quite a lot of time on during development. In an interview with GamesBeat, when co-director Anthony Newman was asked about how Naughty Dog are managing to achieve the technical proficiency that The Last of Us Part 2 is displaying in spite of being on the base PS4, which is pretty outdated hardware by now, he said that it isn’t necessarily about having more polygons on the screen as much as it is about making use of new and clever techniques to make the game look better than ever.
“The vast majority of it isn’t just stuff that you get from raw power, just putting more polygons on screen,” said Newman. “Most of the things that are really striking to look at are from new techniques, new things that aren’t necessarily — they’re more expensive, but it’s really the cleverness of the algorithm that makes them so cool.”
One such new technique that Naughty Dog is making use of in The Last of Us Part 2 that Newman is particularly excited about is “motion matching.” What exactly is motion matching though?
“A big one that I’m excited about is called motion matching. It’s this algorithm where — normally, in player navigation systems, the system that governs Ellie and the enemy NPCs moving around the space — normally you program it in such a way where, if you press forward, play the run forward animation,” Newman explained. “Press left, play this turn animation and then play the left run animation.
“Motion matching, instead, has this huge bucket of animations. They mocapped someone running around a space, doing all these loops and turns, and chopped that animation into really small pieces. Based on your stick input and the speed you were going and the speed your about to move to, it pulls three or four animations from that pool and blends them together in just the right way to get the perfect motion from where you were going to get to.”
Newman went on to give motion matching and The Last of Us Part 2’s animations a ringing endorsement, calling them an “incredible next-gen leap.”
“I remember when they turned that on,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was this incredible next-gen leap. Again, it’s purely a technique. We didn’t need that much more hardware in order to run that. It was just the cleverness of the technique.”
The Last of Us Part 2 is out exclusively for the PS4 on February 21, 2020.