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What games get wrong about horses

And what they could do about it.

Alice Ruppert has been speaking out about how horses are represented in games ever since Assassin's Creed 3. She'd had such high hopes for it after Red Dead Redemption 1, a game and series she really rates. But when AC3 came along and horses were nothing more than disposable taxis you could pick up at every outpost, she was sorely disappointed. The game didn't even save your horse choice through loading screens. She's been speaking out about horses in games ever since.

She does it on the wonderfully named website The Mane Quest, where her in-depth reviews - she records horse movement and analyses it frame by frame - have earnt her a loyal following. Her work, and her background in game design, eventually even got her a job making a horse game called Horse Tales: Emerald Valley Ranch, which is out really soon on PC and Switch.

So how bad are horses in games today? Read on, dear reader. I'll deal with a few famous games before broadening into more general mistakes, and what they can do about them. All of this is taken from my podcast interview with Alice Ruppert, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts (look for "Eurogamer Podcasts").

Alice is very entertaining to talk to. I highly recommend you listen to the full chat!

Torrent in Elden Ring

"So first of all, because this always comes up when I mention Torrent: I know he's a fantasy horse," Ruppert says. "I know he's half goat. I know he can double jump. That's fine with me. I'm not going to point the realism finger at that. I know.

"What bothers me about Torrent is that he has very bendy legs, and it's just a very common issue where horses walk on bent legs - they walk in a constant squat and it just looks really stupid, because horses can't walk on four bent legs. This applies to goats too, by the way, so that excuse doesn't even apply.

"It just looks very wobbly," she goes on. "He walks like a spider over uneven ground. And it doesn't give you a very horsey feeling and not a very goat feeling either."

However, she does really like how, in Elden Ring, you can feed raisins to Torrent. It's something that a lot of games don't let you do, feed the horses. "The feeding animations are so cute," she says. "That's such a detail I'm not even sure every player sees because you can also just heal him with your healing bottles. It's one such detail that I think is super, super cute."

A top down shot of half-goat, half-horse mount Torrent walking over some rocks in Elden Ring.
The best I could do capturing Torrent 'spidering' around in Elden Ring. He often straightens up after he crouch-walks across things.

Roach in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Ruppert hasn't done a full review of The Witcher 3 but she has played the game. "There's definitely some stuff that I like," she tells me. "For example, I like that Roach is like a character, a named horse, instead of just 'you find a new horse at every corner'. I like that."

She also likes how, in the colder Skellige region of the game, there are horses that look like Mongolian Przewalski ("chevalski") wild horses, in terms of their colouring and how they're a bit furrier than regular horses. "[It's] this implication that these are horses suited to a cold environment, which is just a detail that I super appreciate."

And again, she doesn't particularly care about how Roach was infamously buggy. "Bugs happen," she says. "I'm way more happy to have a few bugs in the game but have functionality that fits, like fitting animations and everything - that's more important to me. So I don't care that Roach does push ups - sometimes that's fine."

But she does think The Witcher 3 missed a trick. "I do also think it also squandered some potential," she says, "because in The Witcher books, which I'm also a fan of, Geralt has a lot more interaction with his horses, his Roaches - he names every horse Roach.

"I think it would have been an opportunity that Geralt rides a different Roach in Skellige, for example, rather than just the one that he always has teleporting to him. And I also think it would have been fun to have: sometimes Gerlat rides a Roach that doesn't listen to him in the books and he's frustrated by the horse not doing what he said.

"I think the books very much understand horses while the games just feature it as a way of transport," she adds. "But that's also understandable; I mean, I know this isn't a priority for others." And with that, she laughs.

Ah, happy memories! C'mon Roach - one more go?

Jin's horse in Ghost of Tsushima

There's one game Alice Ruppert has been asked to cover a lot, and it's Ghost of Tsushima. "Last time some of my content went a bit outside of my usual audience, I got a ton of people saying, 'Oh, you should play Ghost of Tsushima, the horse is so good in that. You definitely need to play it.'

"And I'm not done with the game so I'm not going to do any final judgement, and I think people also want me to play the story, which as far as I know also has some horse-relevant bits that I'm not trying to get spoiled.

"But," and there's a slight pause, "the movement is so bad," she says, almost wincing. "It moves so weird. The animation is so strange.

"And I know it's hard. I know that combining quadrupeds and inverse kinematics (IK) is a very complex technical subject, so that's not something that I think is easy to do at all, and I don't blame, for example, indie game developers for using asset packs that take IK off their hands while getting basic gaits or postures wrong on the horse.

"But it also just tells me that a lot of people don't know how a horse moves," she says. "That's why they keep saying, like, 'this is a really good horse'. Yes, in some ways it is, of course, it meets the requirements for what a good horse is for many people. I realise I'm nitpicking. I do understand that a lot of people don't have my sort of quality standard for horses in games. But yeah, a lot of people don't see what's anatomically wrong with so many digital horses.

"This happens in animation too, by the way. I've taken screenshots of animated series where joints bend the wrong way and all that stuff. People, on the whole, do not know how horses work."

Ghost of Tsushima is quite the spectacle on PlayStation 5, if you haven't already tried it.

The above are examples from specific games, but there are some common mistakes spread across many games with horses in. Here are a few of them, and some ideas about what the games - and game makers - can do about them.

Horses aren't automatic cars

A simple one that a lot of games get wrong is recognising that a horse is not an automatic car: it has stages between park and drive.

"So a horse can walk, it can trot and it can canter and gallop," Ruppert says. Some games insist on making you walk until you push the joystick to trot, but then you have to press another button entirely to gallop. "And that just always ends up giving me too little control. I want to be able to walk with my horse and I don't want it to be a concentrated effort on the joystick."

Horses have names and characters

"What I think is particularly worth noting is that so many games could profit from doing more with their horses," she says. "For example, treating them as characters or as a serious part of the mechanics or the story in some way.

"I've previously made the example of Shadow of the Colossus, and imagine what a different game that would have been if Wander could just pick up a new horse at every corner like you could in Assassin's Creed 3.

"The games that do use their horses in a narrative capacity, to me, profit enormously from it. [In Zelda] Twilight Princess, the moment where Epona is stolen and the moment where you get her back are so like: that's such a valuable moment in that game for me. And I think more games could benefit from that."

Horses like to be petted too

The moment anyone sees a dog as a major character in a game, what do they say? They ask if they can pet it. Why isn't it the same with horses?

"Interacting with horses is kind of fun, and a lot more people would enjoy it in games where it's not dangerous and not costly like it is in real-life," she says. "Even something like the popularity of things like 'can you pet the dog?' where everyone now knows that if you put a dog in your game, you need to be able to pet it: horses in games are still not pettable so much of the time. Give me interactions with the horses, even if they're simple.

"Or, in games where I have a home base and return to my home base in the evenings, I want to take off my horse's saddle and put it away and let my horse relax. If my character can go to sleep, I also want my horse to be able to go to sleep - stuff like that.

"There's a lot of opportunity," she adds. "And I realise not everyone is equally bothered by that but I think a lot of people would actually like it if more games got this right."

Horses don't always neigh

I'd wager that in almost any game where there's a horse you can ride, there's a lot of potential standing around, as you either look through your journal or your skills, or think about what you'll do next. These are typically big game worlds you spend a lot of time in, which means there's potential for horses to be standing around for a while.

"I think regardless of how much complexity you want in your horse inclusions, there's probably a few simple things that you can make better. Like, even if you only have a scene in your game where a horse stands around, just idling, there might already be a cool opportunity there to insert some nice little idle behaviours that you don't see a lot," she says.

"It starts with the soundscape as well," she adds. "Horses don't constantly neigh. A horse standing around maybe just snorts a bit, or maybe it scratches its head on its leg, or something like that. There's a lot of casual, likeable horse things that non-horse people don't see or think about or that don't come to their minds. And for that, yeah, you do need to ask horse people," she finishes, "and I am one of them."

There are people who can help

Alice Ruppert is one of them. She's a horses-in-games consultant as well as a creative producer at Aesir Interactive. So if you are making a game with horses in and you want to get your horse right, ask her how to do it. Seriously. She's open to enquiries through the email address on her website.

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About the Author
Robert Purchese avatar

Robert Purchese

Senior Staff Writer

Bertie is a long-time writer and now podcaster for Eurogamer. He loves telling a story and listening to them.

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