Surprise to no one, I have many thoughts about what creators of horse games could do better. Horse game players have dreams and ideas. They could list all the features they want in a horse game.
Many of these big goals are out of reach of most horse game developers. These big dreams of horse game developers, such as "big open land with many quests!" and realistic breeding! and "horses with individual personalities!" may not be easy to achieve.
My experience as a producer has given me a better understanding of what fits into the typical horse game's scope if it is considered right from the start. Let's forget about the big dream projects and instead focus on a few simple, but easily fixed* mistakes horse game developers need to stop making.
*I know that gamedev is not always "easily fixed", but some of these things can be avoided with a little planning.
FORELEGS THAT BEND IN ALL WRONG MOMENTS
Seen in:Horse Club Adventures, Spirit Lucky’s Big Adventure, and any other game that uses Horse Animset Pro
This is something I have already mentioned in several reviews and I hope I don't have to repeat it again. Horses' forelegs are not bent randomly while carrying weight. Horse knees will be straight when the hoof is on the ground and the horse is not lying down or getting up. Horse Animset Pro is the main reason for "knees bent randomly". The asset is used by many developers for their horse animations, and this perpetuates the problem.
Yes, I know I have been quoting these Twitter threads at every chance. But I will keep doing it until developers/animators get it right. Although I understand that horse legs can be hard, please try to make their functionality work for you.
This is to say that when rigs/animators ignore the last joint, it looks terrible.
STRAIGHT FETLOCKS INSIDE HIND LEGS
Seen in: Rival stars, and probably others that I don't know of at the moment
Another one is in the "Please learn how horse legs work prior to animating them" category. Alice Walsh's thread above explains that when a horse's hind leg carries weight, the horse's fetlock joint drops and the pastern becomes almost vertical. This aspect of horse biomechanics will be one of the first you notice when watching slow-motion footage of horses galloping, jumping, or rearing.
Fore and hind leg weights can be borne by both the fore and the hind. However, the absence of it in rearing animations is particularly noticeable when the entire horse's weight is supported by the hind legs. These still images are not the best because they may only capture one moment where the joint appears straight. However, if you apply that to an animation lasting many seconds it quickly becomes wildly out of place. Video references are the best way to go!
This documentary about the inner workings and health of racehorses features a lot of footage of horse joints from an autopsy on a deceased thoroughbred. If you can stomach it, highly recommended.
Wildshade, the Fantasy Horse Racing Game that I am currently working for, had the same issue. However, after I pointed it out, the animator was able to correct it as you can see.
I WILL NOT BE INTENTIONALLY WALK / TROT
Seen in: Horse Club Adventures and Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure. Windstorm Ari's arrival
It is common for movie horses to give the impression that horses only have two speeds. Horses can walk or trot longer distances if they are trained and ridden.
When it comes to games that use horses for speed bonuses, I am a little more patient in omitting gaits. For games that are supposed to be horses, I have a different opinion. Let me have a slow pace All the talk about "we want kids to feel like they have an actual horse" that I've heard over the years from publishers, it seems like very few want to admit that riding slowly horses is an extremely common experience and can be highly rewarding for anyone who simply enjoys riding horses.
I would appreciate it if you could allow me to ride at a walking pace without having to concentrate on my joystick even a little bit.
I WILL NOT UNSADDLE MY HORSE HOME
Seen in: Horse Club Adventures and My Time at Portia Red Dead Redemption 2*
Not all games where you ride a horse let you take it off. Many horses in games are mounted that are always at the ready. If a protagonist doesn't have a place to sleep, rest, or have a home, then their horse doesn't.
But: Some games have your horse in a stable or home base. It is possible to allow the player to remove their horse's saddle while they are there or make it invisible. Even though it doesn't have any gameplay impact, I want to allow my horse to take off its saddle and bridle while it is in its pasture. Give the animals a break!
Many of you have never seen horses roll in the sand following a long ride, sighing in absolute bliss and grunting. It's a pleasant thing to take off the saddle or bridle. I want the games that allow me to do this, okay?
It is possible to remove your saddle in RDR2 and not "lose" a horse. Although the remove saddle option was only introduced to allow for horse switching, I could not find any information on it. However, players have confirmed that it is possible. I changed my gripes from "badly communicated".
HCA could just shut down the display of the tack after the day was over.
Portia could have included a "remove-seat" option for horses that are near their stable.
RDR2 offers a "remove-saddle" option but it is mechanically tied to the ability to switch horses.
I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO LOOK AT MY HORSE WHEN I MOVING
Seen in: Horse Club Adventures, Windstorm Ari’s Arrival, My Riding Stables 2 Rival Stars
News Flash game developers: Horse game enthusiasts love looking at horses! While not all of us are enthralled by the majestic nature of horse locomotion (some of them totally are), one of the reasons we want to find digital horses is that we love looking at them and watching them move.
A poorly animated horse is just as frustrating as one that isn't moving. Please rotate your camera so that I can actually see my horse moving in every direction. You'll make your players happy and increase share-ability as well as word-of-mouth marketing potential by allowing people to take beautiful photos of their horses.
I'm trying to find the right angle for my camera so that I can see my horse.
Yes, I do mean the entire horse and not just its feet
MAKING ME PICK INDIVIDUAL HOOVES
Seen in: Horse Club Adventures, Windstorm 1, or any My Riding Stables title
After much debate, I decided to include this: I believe that the problem of horse care being frustrating 99% of the time is due to poor UX and implementation rather than an inherent flaw in the concept of "digital hop-picking". You can read more about this in my analysis article. I won't be able to pick individual hooves from scratching a cursor across different dirt patches until I see a game that proves it can be fun. If you are sure you have a way to make this mechanic interesting and satisfying, please don't force me to scrape individual hooves.
While I don't disagree with this idea, every implementation I've seen of it is irritating in some way.
OPEN MOUTHS WITHOUT REASON
Seen in: Rival Stars and Ashes of Creation, Red Dead Redemption 2,
Here's a fun fact about horses: They cannot breathe through their mouths. Horses don't open and close their mouths randomly while they run. Horses may open their mouths for a variety of reasons, including biting, chewing, eating, yawning, or trying to avoid an unpleasant bit. While any of these actions would be fine to include in a game, some realistic horse models may have an issue with "uuh, we modeled this horse’s mouth interior so we kinda have it sometimes right?"
No. No, you do not.
It's not a good thing that many horse models don't have mouths that open wide enough.
TORTURED NEIGHING IF YOU BRUSH THE HORSE IS WRONG
Seen in: Windstorm 1 is definitely it, but you can also play any other horse game between 2005 and 2010.
You must be careful not to touch the horses' legs or heads with a curry comb or rough brush. Otherwise, your horse may scream in pain and refuse to let you ride it again. Horse games are trying to teach us something: making a shrieking, neiging sound, and lowering your "trust" stat when you touch a wrong part of a horse's body is as well-established in horse game tradition as the "you mysteriously inherit a farm" trope.
Horse preferences for "where do you enjoy being brushed" vary greatly between horses. Some horses will tolerate everything, while others will give you the side-eye at even the slightest touch to their belly buttons or flanks. An appropriate expression of disapproval is to pin the ears or maybe a snort rather than the painful whinny that we so often hear.
Neighboring is a hilarious sound effect that can be used in horse media. Horses don’t neigh constantly. Horses neigh only in certain situations, such as calling out to horses far away. Horses can make a variety of other sounds, including snorting, nickering, groaning, and squeaking.
WHAT I DID NOT INCLUDE
These are the "worst" things horse games can get wrong. Far from it. Many horse games have terrible user experiences. This includes whack control systems, bad materialization, and a variety of un-intuitive choices.
It would be more beneficial to keep the listed horse specific and teach people something, rather than pointing out that most games in this genre lack basic respect for their players and have poor user experience and gameplay balancing. These things are more complicated than those mentioned above. I see a chance for improvement in these games and I am available for consultation opportunities about all things horses and video games.