The importance of hit pause
In videogames there are often times where you want an impact to feel harder than it really is. There are a lot of variables that can be used to achieve this. Obviously sound is really important as well as blood, screen shakes, controller shake, etc. One VERY important ingredient to this is the use of hit pause.
Hit pause is when the game pauses for a second when something ‘big’ or ‘important’ happens. For God of War we use hit pause everywhere! When Kratos makes contact with the enemies or during the complex throws and all sorts of other sneaky places. Hit pause and slowdown are 2 different things and sometimes we use them together. I define slowdown as slowing the action down so you can take it al in. Hit pause is when the game pauses even if it’s really minute and you barely notice it. Sometimes the pause can be used even longer for different effects.
To help explain what I’m talking about, I’m going to show a video of Sakura in Street Fighter Alpha 3. Street Fighter is a great game to show off basic concepts like this. Not only do most originate from fighting games but also they usually have a great training mode so I can capture really quickly : )
So first you see Sakura doing her standing Fierce (Hard Punch) attack which she hits no one with. I wanted to include this so you can see how the animation behaves normally with none of the goodies on top. Then she makes contact with Dhalsim on what is known as a ‘clean’ hit or a ‘normal’ hit. Alpha 3 has a major counter system where if you interrupt the opponent’s attack with your own you get a ‘counter’ hit. What you are seeing with the last attack is Sakura landing the same standing Fierce but this time in a counter situation. We get a great sound and even a 1 frame white flash, some particles around her hand and the whole game coming to a stop for a few frames before continuing with the action. This last attack feels vastly different and you really feel like you put the hurt on someone. While this pause is going on none of the players have the ability to move which also helps sell the overall feel of a hard hit.
Here is a still shot of all that action, including the hit effect:
Also note how you can see how much damage the attack did by looking at Dhalsim’s Health bar. For more information on health bars seeing a previous article I wrote here.
Street Fighter also uses hit pause in another great situation – to exaggerate the final attack one player does to another when they win the round. Capcom is great at having really fantastic poses during their animations so when the pause occurs you see the characters and think, ‘damn!’
Below is a video clip of Sagat killing Blanka on the first hit of his dragon punch. Everything really comes together – the sound, effects come flying in, text is flying everywhere and there is even a slight echo effect on Blanka’s final scream.
Now I also included a clip of when things don’t quite line up as well in my opinion. Sagat’s dragon punch has the ability to hit up to 5 times. In this video the third hit is what kills Blanka. Granted you get a nice pose of Sagat all elongated but it doesn’t have the same impact, at least to me.
I prefer seeing it like this:
Even though it’s a really simple concept, the skill comes from where and how to use it. Same with slow down. The ability to change an animation from something that doesn't feel very powerful to something that is just like, 'damn...that hurt!' is just massaging the animation with all the right goodies until you get something good.