Occlusion: Video Game Camera Placement Matters
The more I play and study games, design, and ludology, the more I notice the little things and enjoy going overly in-depth on little details like ambient audio, set-dressing, and camera positioning. Your choice of camera style changes the nature of play rather radically alters how you play, your involvement and your experience of the game. Can you imagine playing Mario from first person? Or Halo as an Isometric hack and slash?
Although they both sound pretty cool…
Here’s a short run down of camera types in games:
This would be the camera that most of us are familiar with, and it’s one of the earliest camera formats from the time of DOOM, Wolfenstein and Duke Nukem. Aside from being one of the easiest perspectives for which to design, it’s also the most immersive, putting us right behind the eyes of the character and forcing us to live as they live. Not only is our aim only as good as our mouse/analogue stick control, but so are our powers of observation. Strategically first person camera leaves us with a massive blindspot (and renders hours of character customisation useless, thanks Skyrim) but it’s undoubtedly the best for making you feel involved in the lives of the characters you’re playing.
The strategists camera, better known for your RTS games, hack and slash RPGs, and arguably platformers, where immersion is not quite so important as total control and situation awareness. In a strategy game you gain the view of the General, with the most up-to-date battlefield intel you could ever hope for. In a hack-and-slash you are usually centred over your character so that their immediate surroundings are revealed to you, allowing you to get into the middle of a fight without spinning around and around to see where the pain is coming from, and see loot at great distances. No doubt the distance keeps you from truly experiencing the plight of the little guy running round a field of carnage, but when so much is under your command defeat is felt just as keenly.
Now here’s the one that’s been on my mind a lot lately, mostly because it’s how combat is played out in my latest addiction, Hand of Fate.
A cinematic camera may very well be the worst for actual gameplay, as often the camera can suddenly and unexpectedly snap to a different view, leaving you suddenly going in the wrong direction or trying to accomplish something like solve a puzzle or take down a horde of enemies while your perspective snaps wildly from one side of a wall to another. But between those moments of idiotic bouncing, damn you’ll look cool. This is a story-tellers camera, the one that wants to make you look as cool as it possibly can and give you a real sense of the epic, like you’re playing out a scene from a film.
Games like the Legacy of Kain series did this best. While there were moments where you would stand immediately under the camera looking like an idiot, those moments where you were front and centre, Kain and Raziel were rockstars seizing centre stage as they butchered hordes of foolish knights and insipid shadowspawn.
Over The Shoulder
At the centre of our Venn diagram where all three circles overlap is a camera designed to give you a better view of your surroundings, get you up close and personal with the action, and make you look as awesome as possible. Get the full view of how awesome you are as you pull apart your enemies, get that all important split-second warning as they sneak up behind you, feel like your every bit a part of the action.
And yet, despite the fact that over the shoulder camera combines the best of all possibilities, it is perhaps my least favourite. Your character fills more of the screen than necessary, and more often than not they’re off to one side which leaves you with a blind-side that can often be your downfall.
In truth most games are some mixture of all of the above, give you the choice through mouse-scrolling or… whatever it is that console players use, or switch seamlessly between camera angles when the moment demands.
Take the epitome of “a bit of everything” games, the Arkham series. Within a few moments of starting you already know what moments call for what strategies, and the camera positioning plays no small part in that. Are you seeing a point hovering above Batsy’s head? Wade in and hack and slash. Have things gone cinematic? Time to box clever and think about what you’re doing. Are you looking through his eyes? You’re in a tunnel, enjoy.
So I put to you, how do you prefer to play? Any great examples? SHare your thoughts in the comments, or over on Facebook.