The Animation of Metal Slug

The Animation of Metal Slug


Hiya, my name’s Dan, I’m a professional
animator who’s, like, really into video games. This is Video Game Animation Study, and this
time we’re gonna look at the animation of Metal Slug. Firstly if you find yourself enjoying this
episode then please consider subscribing to the channel and liking the video as this really
helps the channel grow. [eye roll segment] So after conducting audience research into
their favourite piece of animation from Metal Slug to help shape this episode, it ended
up with everyone loving everything. So this kinda just put me back at the start. What I’ve decided to do, which will be much
easier to digest, is focus on one or two particular pieces of animation, after going over a few
fan favourites. But before we properly deep dive on some animation,
let’s go over the research. Developer interviews and coverage are pretty
scant on the Metal Slug series, but there are tidbits around the internet. In a developer interview from Neo-Geo magazine,
Nazca, who were later absorbed into SNK, speak of their main design concepts being to portray
a good sense of speed, weight & power, everything being clear and identifiable on screen, and
it all being stylish and cool. Nazca said a core concept was “a refreshing
game overflowing with flash and extravagance that would relieve daily stress,” and that
they wanted player characters to feel real to the world and not be boring, even if it
meant extravagant animation that didn’t aid the gameplay any further. Specifically with Metal Slug 2, Nazca said:
“In the 3D polygon era today, people won’t be satisfied with 2D unless it’s at this
level.” So they were very conscious to make sure the
animations were insanely high quality to compete with modern 3D games of the time. This is
why the animations look incredibly smooth and detailed. Some have speculated that 3D tools were used
to aid in the sprite art production, but honestly, I think these were just some world class pixel
animators who knew their stuff. Perhaps some 3D production was used later
on, but the titles that got the series started at least were all 2D produced, I can pretty
confidently say. From the small bits I’ve gleaned, clear
and strong identification on screen with high quality, smooth and stylised animation, and
fun escapism is what was most important to the developers during art production. Aaand, it shows. You’ll see a lot of the time that characters
and enemies are much more vivid than the sometimes flatter and lighter looking background, helping
to identify the action clearly on screen, not that it helps me in that regard, mind. Enemy movement and deaths are often super
detailed consisting of many frames, even for something simple like falling to the side,
but it’s this insane amount of detail that gives the game its strong depiction and understanding
of 3D space and movement. I believe this is what contributes to that
feeling of satisfaction and excitement when you’re facing off against one of Morden’s
many maniacal machines. Metal Slug is a beautiful series held dearly
by all and has inspired loads of games like Alien Hominid, Shantae…and many others. Let’s have a brief look at some fan favourite
animations before I study one particular piece. Okay so like I said before, audience feedback
was varied into what people actually viewed as the best piece of animation in the series,
and I don’t have the time, or stamina, to go through each and every game with each and
every thing. Many of you liked the “zombie vomit” animation,
and it’s the way in which your character creepily arches their head in the smoothest
way possible and sprays out this projection of vomit which damages everything on screen.
The gravity and flow of the vomit is really convincing and realistic for an action packed,
exaggerated game, and like most things in the game, it’s really satisfying. Actually
makes me think of this bit in Yoshi’s Island. We couldn’t talk about animation in Metal
Slug without mentioning the insanely high quality explosions that happen. It’d be
crazy enough that they had one brilliant looking explosion, but there’s a whole plethora
of different looking explosions for different things. There’s so many gradients of colour
and loads of frames, and the shape and behaviour is again very satisfying. You can check out my video on the art of explosions
for a more in-depth look at this topic, where Metal Slug explosions are a main focus. Check
it out here. Everyone seems to enjoy the character animations,
such as the running animation, which I don’t personally like, but I appreciate its appeal.
To me it just seems a bit floaty and unconvincing, but then it is meant to be a little daft and
comical. I just feel it could’ve done with a bit of a bob, which you all know I bloody
love in a run animation. The idle, shooting and aiming animations are
all cool as well. Even when you die in some games you have this kinda over the top death,
and sometimes the death depends on how you were killed, too.
It just gives the game a little bit of extra character and soul. Many of the bosses are incredibly detailed
and fun to defeat, and make good use of polished looping segments and understanding of space
to create a big, menacing presence. Some are better than others, however. Like, there’s
a couple that are just static things that float around, but some, like these (show good
examples) have lots of different moving parts, and it gives this sense that the thing is…there,
in the space it occupies and is alive, and it makes it much more convincing and fun to
defeat. Like, quick example, you can have an idle
animation on something, just standing still. But you can add delays to different segments,
which is a form of Secondary Animation and before you know it, you’ve got all these
little individual pieces of movement that add up to this really textured looking thing,
and that’s the trick they use with some of the bosses, to keep it looking interesting. Pretty much any piece of animation on display
would be worthy of a video by itself. But here’s where we come to my chosen piece
for this game series. The titular vehicle itself, the super vehicle
001, metal slug. What I particularly like, and what I think
is its strength, is its almost organic look. Though it’s a metal tank, its design gives
it a more bouncy, rubbery look. This appearance allows the vehicle to become
incredibly expressive and cartoony. I mean, let’s just look at this thing. The
smoothness of the turret kinda makes it look like a cranium, so we’d be forgiven in thinking
this is its head, which pushes us into anthropomorphic territory, allowing us to connect a bit more
to it. Okay that might be a stretch, but not for me because I love this thing and want
one as a pet…or..a toy. I want one as a toy. Someone make it for me as a toy. Do it. Do it now, I want it. I want it. It’s got cute proportions for a tank, especially
when compared to other enemy tanks, which are slightly sharper and heavier looking. You’ve got the turret and main body bobbing
up and down when both static and moving, but separate to the tracks, so you’ve got this
sense that it’s got different moving parts that are loosely connected. The tracks themselves aren’t perfect either,
they kinda bulge out, like if you were squeezing a long balloon. And this kinda affects the weight of the tank,
as you move back and forward, it’s really bouncy, like the suspension is on 200%. When you move forward, there’s this combination
of an up and down bob, and also a side-to-side bob, further reinforcing this idea that it
has different joints and connections and that it has actual moving parts, as well as being
an almost cheerful character in and of itself. When it jumps, the separate treads almost
act as legs, and you’ve got this nice bouncy movement as it lands, which gives it a much
softer feel that counters the hard, jagged caterpillar tracks. I mean…this tank can duck. That’s how…almost
alive it is. It obeys all the rules something living would do, adhering to principles like
squash and stretch and anticipation and the like. When it suffers a hit, the turret gets knocked
to one side, which can alternate between to the right or to the left. It’s cute, it
looks like it’s been punched in the face and takes a second to recover.
No mechanical thing would react like this, and that’s the beauty of animation in that
you can imbue anything with relatable characteristics. I dunno about you but I get sad when metal
slugs explode. It feels alive & full of character. I thought I’d contrast this by studying
a boss as well, to see what else they do, and I thought I’d study the best opposite
to the metal slug vehicle, and that’s Metal Rear from Metal Slug 5, which is in essence
a huge, renegade prototype based on the Metal Slug design. What’s interesting, and something I wasn’t
actually expecting, is just how alive this one feels as well. Most of the design of the thing itself is
pretty counter to the metal slug, such as straighter edges, less rounded corners, a
much less organic look and much more of a solid, complex machine, giving off a more
cold and calculating appearance, and yet it’s probably still as expressive as Metal Slug. I mean the evidence of this is when it literally
rears up into a wheelie and tries to crush you, landing with such a follow through, with
all the pieces catching up to the action. This, again, feels alive. And I think this is where the series charm
lies. Giving big, mechanical machines more life and soul than would ever work in the
3D scene of the time, and I think this is what they meant during that interview, that
the animation and art has to be this good to be able to compete in this new market. Without going into it too much, I actually
found out about Metal Slug 3D for the PS2 from 2006, which kinda backs up my point in
this particular case. Enemies and bosses lack that lively, convincing movement and it just
doesn’t feel the same. Another thought I keep having is how the series
progresses into more and more creepy imagery, from simple world domination war vehicles
in Metal Slug 1 and 2 and entering more supernatural territory in 3 onwards, with the odd looking
aliens circling the crashed ship thing and the Rootmars boss at the end. I find that the smoothness of some of the
movements fits ever more into this uncanny creepiness, and it matches up well with the
overall aesthetic the later games find themselves in. I think this begins to make more sense when
you encounter the aliens and monsters with guns that just move….so smoothly, it’s
almost unsettling to watch. The Spider Tank for example, though not quite
in supernatural territory, has this constant motion which actually gives off this sickening,
insect-like creepiness. Usually, animation which lacks the sort of
easing that’s present in metal slug would perhaps face criticism, particularly when
it’s present in an action heavy game like this. But, it just works in Metal Slug. The amount of detail, the amount of frames,
the amount of understanding of space and the amount of appeal in these games are definitely
what drive up the quality. Pixel art and animation is really prolific
these days, more than it’s been for ages, and games like Owlboy and many others show
just how strong the skill still is for this aesthetic, and there’s clearly a hunger
for more high quality pixel art games. Personally, I feel there’s still room to
explore and progress this style, and I think we have Metal Slug to thank for pushing those
boundaries far beyond what we thought we could do. Thanks for watching this one, and thanks to
these bloody brilliant people for supporting my channel.
Consider supporting the channel yourself if you want to continue seeing more content like
this. Only takes a dollar a month. Love youbye!

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Bruh I was at school, my friend was playing Metal Slug and I thought
    "Bruh Dan should make a vid on this"
    AND WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE????
    (btw, I didnt know the tank you posted was from MS)

  2. Man when I found out that the new Smash Bros. Character was from SNK I was hoping it was Marco from this game.

    If the next Metal Slug game isn't as well animated as the others I'll go into such a blind rage I'll die of an aneurysm and take half the country with me.

  3. Amazing Break Down of one of my favorite games. This is the quality content I subbed for. Please keep up the great work! <3

  4. Excellent video!

    The design of the MS Tank 001 was brilliant in terms of making it cute but cool. Its body which consists of the treads and base make up roughly 1/2 of the character making it chibi when you consider the Turret . The Turret acts like a head with the hydraulics acting like neck muscles. There is also its side "arms" that get blown off as you take damage that sort of flail around in the direction you move in. So you can imagine it as a chibi character that belches out tank rounds and has flailing machine gun arms.

    Its absurd and I love it

  5. God damn
    I haven't even played a MS game, but just from visuals alone, it's genuinely top 5 favourite game aesthetics, the backgrounds are so high quality and faithfully textured, the material of the landscape represented brilliantly with pixels, the sub pixelling on practically everything is obscenely godlike, the actual animations themselves are silky smooth and full of character, fuck dude
    Imma be real, in regards to really small sprites, i genuinely can't think of another game that tops this

  6. For a series that is clearly an overwhelming treasure chest for animation study you covered a lot of ground here! Great job, pal. It makes me miss our break time sessions on the cabinet.

  7. Probably been said before in the comments, but Metal Slug seems like the Herbie of the battlefield. I get some of the same personality vibes from it that I do from that VW beetle in the movies 🙂 Hadn't really considered all of the different elements you've pointed out though. The way the turret reels from being hit is a fantastic example of personality and character. Great video, and great observations.

  8. Oh, look, it's that game with the characters that are way more interesting than Terry and should had been chosen as the SNK for Smash instead of him.

  9. Metal Slug is really a classic game.

    Doesn't take themselves seriously, no boring cut scenes, complicated story, fun for beginners, have co-op players mode, and of course all that insanely detailed funny, strange, and cute animation that exceed players expectations.

    Just like pizza, something that so humble but insanely delicious 😋

  10. Thanks for covering such and underrated franchise with amazing animation, I hope snk can give us one more game of metal slug. With all the progress that sprite animation had over the years seen another game of the franchise will be so amazing to watch and play
    (Sorry if I misspell something. English not very good)

  11. Metal Slug 3 was for a long timr the pinnacle of 2D graphics and especially animation. The amount of frames they put into this single game is incredible. It may have been surpassed by something else now, but I don‘t know much about more recent 2D releases.

  12. The last generation of pixel art (before pixel art had a revival) holds up a lot better today than the first generation of polygonal graphics.

  13. I would LOVE a crossover game between Metal Slug and Cuphead, I mean, both are basically the same genre of videogame and also are mainly popular thanks to their beautiful and incredible art style, a videogame crossover where you constantly change between hyper detailed pixelart and old goofy boneless cartoons would be amazing to see.

  14. I didn't realize how different the art style of the characters has changed, in the miniature Marco looks like a cool cartoon character while fio looks like a regular anime waifu.

  15. I absolutely love pixel art 2D games. It works so much better than the super clean and modern look of some games today. Like, I love the look of Super Metroid over the look of the the Metroid 2 remake. The new game doesn't look bad, but the pixel art just feels right when playing a Metroid game.

  16. i think the headmaster is going to want a word with you after class concerning that tank you did around six minutes.

  17. Metal Slug is just a joy from start to finish, everything is so smooth and cartoony and we love it for that. Glad to see you like how the 001 reacts and moves as well

  18. I always wait till the end to hear the end "loveyoubye". There could be a whole series on the animation in this series. I love hi bit pixel art so much, I hope to have it my games one day. Thanks for sharing your favorite bits of Metal Slug Dan!

  19. Pixel art will never have this sort of quality again and even if it did, I'd still prefer hand drawn HD sprites. If SNK ever remakes the Metal Slug Series with HD sprites and backgrounds, those would probably be the best looking 2D games ever made. At the very least, rivaling Vanillaware.

  20. Metal Slug wasn’t the alpha and omega of this sort of thing. Look at “In the Hunt” and “Gunforce 2”, AKA, “Geo Storm”. The former I definitely know was them, the latter almost certainly was as well.

  21. I wish you used footage that didn't use some sort of graphical filter that made the metal slug tank itself look like garbage.
    It looks like it's been smoothed out or had some sort of auto-AA effect on it. Good analysis anyway.

  22. My favourite animation through out the series is the Victory poses after clearing a level. Just the way they bob up and down when they laugh looks so cool in my opinion

  23. I love animation, like cartoons or anime. So my dream was become a animator. So when i started playing arcade videogames, i loved the sprites. In the year 2011 i had a dream. What if sprites were used in movies and cartoons? After that year i study animaton, because i wanted to change the animation. Inspired by other people, i wanted to change animaton. Creating the first full sprite movie. But, after the year 2015. I cancelled my dream, i was so dificult, and i have problems in my life. Sorry. 🙁 So my new dream is that other people create my idea. Thats why im talking about this here.

    Please people make my idea.

  24. Fun fact, this series originally was supposedly literally just about the titular tank, Metal Slug as the character, no named human protagonists. But the developers decided telling a story of just about a machine, that was possibly sentient, was difficult to tell at the time.

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