Defending Imagination: Movement in the First Person

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Last time I explored ways in which moral choices can be impactful without directly effecting gameplay. Today, I’d like to explore another way our minds can make the roles we play in games a bit more vibrant by exploring ways to interpret character movement in an FPS.

Character animation in a third person game has always been important. Indeed, it’s what makes games like Uncharted and Prince of Persia look so good. Recently, this has become more of a trend in first person games. Mirror’s Edge did a fantastic job of putting you in the shoes of a skilled traceur (that’s someone who does parkour). Games like Bethesda’s upcoming Brink look to further this trend.

But in a way, these intricate ways of moving through the environment is nothing new to me. Whenever I play a first person game, I never visualize the character just clumsily jumping over a small wall. I always envision myself expertly vaulting over it. Sure, it’s not directly spelled out for me, but in my head, my character can be doing cool and unique every time I push a button.




To illustrate my point, I’ll share some tales of my Khajiit thief in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The movement in the Elder Scrolls games (and by extension, Fallout 3) is typically described as floaty and not particularly intricate. This becomes magnified when you play these games in their third person viewpoints. (By the way, if you are, you’re doing it wrong.)

One common thing I’ll do in the game with my thief is to jump across rooftops when I’m sneaking around at night. From the game’s third person perspective, I get a somewhat canned looking jump animation as my charter quasi-floats about. But from the first person, in my head my character is skillfully leaping from roof to roof stealthily and quietly thanks to my feline agility.

I’ve done this in countless other games, since the days of Quake. When I strafed to avoid a rocket, I imagined my space marine leaping out of the way for dear life. When I did the crouch jumps in the original Half Life, I saw Gordon Freeman leaping up to narrow spaces and pulling himself up.

Now what I do not mean to do here is excuse lazy developers. When such animations are properly implemented, the experience can be great. It’s most important in a game like Mirror’s Edge, where these animations are an integral part of the gameplay. But does anyone clearly remember the “first person actor” elements of Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway or the full body animation of your character in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic? It didn’t really serve any function in the game aside from graphical flourishes, and even then they weren’t particularly memorable. One has to wonder if that development time and effort wouldn’t have been better spent elsewhere.

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