The other day I was hanging around Master0fHyrule's YouTube channel watching his collection of idle animations. Now, I know that sounds like the ultimate act of laziness, but I have been fascinated with idle animations ever since I realized that my part in Chrono Trigger was yelling at me because I had gotten up to use the bathroom.
Most modern idle animations are boringly realistic. Your characters do what you would do -- like stretch or scratch themselves. I prefer it when these animations reinforce the idea that your avatar is alive and part of the gaming experience with you. Whether it's in-jokes or breaking the fourth wall by blatantly asking you what the hell you're waiting for.
And then there's the rare type of idle animation that can actually cause a Game Over. As in...
Sonic the Hedgehog CD It's not surprising that a character like Sonic probably doesn't enjoy just standing around. The iconic Sega CD title took it a little personally, though. Wait long enough without touching the controller and Sonic will start tapping his foot impatiently. Keep it going and he'll just up and decide to leave. He jumps off the screen saying, "I'm out of here" and resets the game. Later in Knuckles Chaotix, waiting idle would actually cause Metal Sonic to show up and attack.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots This isn't technically an idle animation, but it's definitely along the same category. During the final fight with Liquid Ocelot, he will at some point grab you from behind in an arm lock. You're supposed to break free, of course, but if you don't, then Liquid will tenderly kiss you on the cheek. This is damaging not because it's likely to send conservative little GamerGater into an emotional temper tantrum laced with slurs, but because it actually restores a portion of Liquid's health. Granted, at that point in the fight, you'd pretty much have to try to be losing, but it does give Liquid a slight edge.
Future Knight A forgotten platformer from 1986 that got ported to the British ZX Spectrum system, Future Knight may actually be the first game to institute a punishment idle animation. Because it amuses me to do so, I will quote Spectrum User magazine from December of that year...
If you leave Randolph standing still for too long a period, he'll wave at you as incentive to get a move on. Leave him in the same spot for much longer and things start to get really desperate: Randolph will go completely bezerk [sic], spinning round and round, flailing his arms and panicking in an astoundingly convincing manner. Ignore him then and the chances are his constitution will plummet at a tremendous rate.
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Darkwing Duck There was a tremendous run of quality licensed Disney games done by Capcom for the NES and the SNES. I mean really good titles like Duck Tales and Aladdin that were way better than they had any right to be. Darkwing Duck was one of the best, but when they tried to do it on the Turbografx-16, everything went to hell. Bad enemy animation, sluggish controls, and the 16-bit graphics did not noticeably improve on the 8-bit NES.
There was one new wrinkle, though. If you stand still long enough in the game, Darkwing will look at you and tap his foot. Eventually he will start looking skyward with an increasingly worried expression. Finally, with a glare of bitter resignation at you, he gets crushed by a safe, costing you a life.
It's rumored that this also happens in the NES tie-in game for 1991 Bruce Willis film Hudson Hawk, substituting a piano for a safe. I have confirmed through two different emulators that this is not true.
Ulitsa Dimitrova When it comes to ice levels, showing your characters being cold and shivering is pretty common. It happens all the time in Zelda games as a nice break up from normal idle animations. In the Homestar Runner Mega Man homage, Stinkoman 20X6, standing still in Level 7: Ice 2 Meet U will even cause you to freeze and lose a block of heath.
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Nothing compares to the short indie game Ulitsa Dimitrova though. In it, you play a Russian homeless boy named Pjotre. He spends his days cheerfully smashing windows to steal items to trade people, like glue for the huffer who will give him cigarettes to support his chain-smoking habit in return. You can also steal vodka for your alcoholic prostitute mother. And you live in a Dumpster.
Very soon in the game you will run out of things to do. No more deals, no more stealing and no more begging for money in the street. So you just stand there until Pjotre gets tired. Ah, he's going to go to sleep like Mario does when you don't touch the controller. Wait, is that snow? Get up, Pjotre, you're going to freeze to death. GET UP! Oh God, no...
So now we know what happened to Fyodor Dostoyevsky after he died...he started haunting game programmers.