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The best incidental animations in games

Metal Gear Solid 5: iDroid 

Look in the background, and you’ll see Snake’s thumb mirroring your control of the iDroid menu on a little side-mounted joystick. Utterly pointless. 

Quadrilateral Cowboy: Bathroom 

Blendo Games’ Brendan Chung is something of a connoisseur of incidental animation, so I asked him to pick out what he’s most proud of from his own games. He chose the bathroom in QuadCow’s Valencia Villa. "The bathroom is way too detailed and interactive considering it has no gameplay impact and is not part of the critical path," he says. Every cabinet opens, every component works. "The excess I'm most happy with is how both the shower and sink, after you turn their water off, continue drip-dropping for a few seconds before completely stopping. I am secretly hoping this becomes industry standard."

Who fancies starting a campaign? 

Prey: Boiling curry 

Or maybe it’s a stew. Either way, this combination of a lovely shiny shader effect and a very simple undulating mesh brings a pot eternally cooking in Talos-I’s kitchen to life, if you should ever notice it. Chances are, you won’t. 

Dishonored 2: Audiograph 

Even more Arkane, here’s Dishonored 2’s wonderfully characterful audiotape player. Watching the handle wind around and its punchcard jigger in and out makes having to stay nearby to hear the tape almost bearable. 

Destiny 2: Sweeping bot 

This bot, found in a dead end in the depths of Destiny 2’s social area (if you put the time into exploring it), is a callback to a sweeping robot which featured in the first Destiny’s Tower social space. We can all cherish its heartbreaking dedication to a thankless task—perhaps it’s a reference to all the effort that went into animating it?

Little Nightmares

If you take a moment to watch them from safety, you’ll see one of Little Nightmares’ awful chefs perform a little under-face scratch which is just fantastic.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus: Reactor

Most incidental animation is small, but it doesn’t need to be. A way into his new adventure, B.J. Blazkowicz enters a vast hall that houses a reactor at its far end. The hall’s monumental machinations serve absolutely no function, the flying saucer-looking thing having no discernible purpose, and yet there it all is, but you were too busy shooting Nazis to see it.

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus: Digital readout 

Still on Wolf 2, someone Machine Games went to the effort of making actual digital readouts on the assorted Nazi control boards that you probably never spent any time looking at, ensuring they count meaninglessly up as far as the digits allow. This is perfection, and an exemplar of the form. 

So here’s to the most lavish of incidental animation. Let it only become more so.