Objects instead of armature bones

In 95% of cases, people animate and deform meshes using armatures and bones. In rarer cases things like ‘deform meshes’ could be preferred. I’m looking for another way however, which from what I know hasn’t been used and confirmed much yet:

I’m trying to make objects act like armature bones on other objects, based on the position / rotation / scale of the modifying object. The influence object should act upon a weight group on the target object, just like an armature bone would. The influence object could be anything, even a lamp or an empty… so its mesh data or options shouldn’t matter.

I’d mostly like this to simplify some animation techniques or experiments. For example, not have to attach objects to a character’s hand bone but have the object automatically move and flex the hand (without any armature interfering). Another main reason is simplifying ragdolls in the Game Engine, though I doubt meshes can be deformed in BGE without armatures. Still curious if this is possible with any modifiers though.

you can model the deformations as shapekeys and then use an object as a driver for the key. for example use the Z translation data of a cube as the driver so when you move the cube up the model deforms

I think, by using a bunch of objects organized like bones in an armature, and by using copious amounts of the hook modifier, (one hook per object, with a carefully-painted vertex group corresponding to the area the object deforms determining the modifier’s influence,) you could reinvent the armature.

I can’t see how this would make things much simpler, though. You’d be reinventing a system which is made for this purpose, so I hope you aren’t trying to build a new type of character rig from scratch.

But then again, there are some advantages. Using the “force” parameter, a hook can be gradually turned off, unlike an armature’s influence. I suppose there are reasons to do this, if used appropriately.