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There are two basic types of games out there: those where you shoot at things, and those in which you don’t. The first group is usually played from a first person view, and the second from a third person view. Why is it that this has been become the normal, and we don’t see more games breaking away from this tradition? Is a certain type of perspective better for certain gameplay types?
Games in which you shoot things and you see from the first person view are called simply First Person Shooters, or FPSs. In an FPS You see what your character sees. You see down the sights of your gun, and it makes aiming more accurate and life-like. You are more immersed in the war going on around you, and it feels less like you are controlling someone else and more like you are in control. It’s the closest thing to actually being in a war that you can get.
It’s a great experience to engage in the story of Half-Life 2 through the eyes of Gordon Freeman. Would it be the same game if you didn’t get that hug from Alyx and see it from Gordon’s view? Other games like Bioshock depend of directing the players view in order to tell the story. These are stories that are best told from the first person view.
The other games, in which you don’t shoot stuff, are usually from the third person view and are called action games. You get to see your character do all kinds of things like climb walls and perform roundhouse kicks to you enemies face. This is great for those of us who enjoy seeing the main character do things that are awesome. It is cinematic, and we can enjoy the spectacle of it all while still being in control of the action. It’s like watching a movie that you control.
Watching Batman kick some ass in Arkham Asylum is spectacular, and seeing the Prince from Prince of Persia do a wall run and kick off into a guards face is epic. Would Kratos be as awesome if we didn’t get to see his angry face while he swings around the Blades of Chaos? We play these types of games to watch the action. We want to see crazy stunts and attack combos that we couldn’t pull off in real life.
Now there are games that don’t fall into either of these categories. Strategy games usually keep the view above the action, but I'm not really interested in talking about the big picture stuff or the abstract right now. I want to keep the focus on character driven games. You take on the role of a character and the camera position makes a difference in how you view the character and their world.
We have seen a lot of shooters lately offer up a third person view. It’s different from the standard shooters, which are all traditionally first person. It lets you see a larger portion of the battlefield around you, and can make things like cover easier to use. It let’s the player see more than just what your character can see. You can see the sniper way off in the distance while your character is safely ducking behind a crate. You can line up the shot, and pop out and kill him with relative ease. Maybe it’s cheap and god like to be able to see more than you should, but it makes it fun. Plus most people aren’t really that good at shooters, so we’ll take all the help we can get.
There are a few games coming out in the future that will try and challenge this tradition. Red Orchestra 2 will force players into blind cover, where you’ll be shooting at things you can’t see. You’ll have no idea if the enemy is sneaking up on your position unless you stick your head up into harm’s way.
So we have shooter’s that are first person and third person, and some games use the camera angles to their advantage better than others. But what about action games, how come we don’t get many of those from the first person?
Mirror’s Edge tried to do just that. You take control of a parkour package carrying runner named Faith. You get to watch as she flips, spins, twirls, roundhouse kicks, and jumps all over the place. It seems likes an idea that shouldn’t really be that experimental, but in the realm of big budget games it turns out that it is. Mirror’s Edge didn’t end up selling that well, and because of that work on a sequel has been postponed indefinitely. Was it because of the first person acrobatics?
I think most people just go turned off by watching the whole screen spinning around. You lose focus when you can’t see where your going, or see what’s happening for a moment. When you jump off a high drop, Faith needs to tumble to avoid killing herself from the fall. This tumble results in your screen spinning around at least once. This can make you dizzy, and I have heard more than one story about people suffering from motion sickness on account of this game.
Yet I don’t think the perspective is why this game didn’t score with the masses. It also takes a non-combative approach to gaming, which isn’t going to win over the hearts of all the Call of Duty, gun porn loving, frat boys across America. I think more games should try this approach. Too many games depend on combat to fuel the conflict of their stories. Can you imagine if every book or movie also relied on this? Ugh… I would get sick. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing a dude with a sword do cart wheels and lob off heads as much as the next guy, I just think we need more than that to make good stories. Not depending on gun-play is a good way to make a game stand out from the crowd.
Let’s just say that Mirror’s Edge was wildly successful, and lots of games wanted to try the first person angle. Would the Prince of Persia reboot have been in first person? That actually would have made that boring roller coaster ride somewhat interesting.
Or how about Dante’s Inferno? Imagine killing all the hordes of hell from Dante’s view. Blood splatters on the screen would clog up your view until you were swinging blindly at your enemies.
I could ramble on for hours with games using different perspectives (I for one would love to see Call of Duty the turn-based tactical game, but that’s another post for another time), I’ll just leave you with this thought: next time you’re playing a game, ask yourself “why did they pick this point of view? Would it be better as something else, or is this perfect?”