What are the limits of background animation in UE?

Hello. I’ve had to re-install my software after my old hard drive died out after four years. I’m glad there’s a new version of UE, but after looking at the promos of the latest game engine I realized something about 3-D environments. As much as developers strive for more realistic worlds many demos don’t put much attention in animating background items. I’ve noticed this in tv animation, probably for budget reasons. We’ve have 3D fighting games that have background characters doing the same movement throughout a round. But in open world games I’ve only seen them deliver few NPCs with dialogue and basic movement like walking and changing poses. We have more lighting features to show change in daytime. But I have yet to see a 3-D environment where dozens of things in the background are animated.

For example, we’re in a futuristic house. Is it possible to have a wall clock that’s emits a ticking sound from its location, a robot vacuum cleaner working, a television set playing, and curtains moving from the outside breeze. These are all unique items to the space. Can Unreal Engine have them active while we change the room lights, read our personal journal, or interact with an NPC in the room?

There’s no real reason why you can’t, games often just don’t have that kind of detail because they don’t need it. Most games in the UE4 right now are indie games or, as you said, something like SFV where background animation actively distracts the player and impacts the game negatively if it’s too significant. In other genres, it’s just not often worth the time or effort when working with smaller teams, there’s just too much to do before worrying about making everything in the room animate.

If you have the time and manpower to put in all that extra detail, go for it. There’s nothing going to actively stop you.

So it’s not a limit of the engine but the time and effort? Okay. I do find them distracting in fighting games like Capcom’s SFV. But in exploration, with no strict time limit, I think this should be next level to accomplish. It could be applied more expansively in a player’s personal save zone, i.e. the houses you build in the Skyrim: Heathfire DLC, or the captain’s cabin in Mass Effect. More animated backgrounds could also serve as trophies or detailed markers in the player’s progress.

There’s also the scenario of using an animated background to help navigate around a space. For example if the game called for the lighting to go out the unique sounds of those background objects would help, i.e. a wall clock, the T.V. set down the hall, and so on.