The Challenge of Cameras | Game Maker’s Toolkit


Cameras in games are a tricky thing to get
right, because they can be used for two completely different purposes. On the one hand, the camera should be used
to serve the gameplay. So a wide-angle view gives you lots of peripheral
vision, while a tightly-zoomed camera lets you make precise adjustments to your aim. A two-dimensional view makes it effortless
to judge the distance between two characters in a way that’s tricky in 3D. A linear game might benefit from an on-rails
camera, while a more exploratory game is gonna require a camera that you can control. But on the other hand, the camera can serve
more aesthetic purposes. A really wide-angle shot makes the character
feel small and insignificant, while a close-up perspective can make you feel claustrophobic
and trapped. A first person perspective is immersive, and
makes you feel like you really are the character, while a looming viewpoint makes you feel like
a god. Just like in cinema, different perspectives
and angles can convey tone, mood, and power dynamics. So a developer might subtly push the camera
to make a pleasing image. In Shadow of the Colossus, the camera nudges
over to the side when you’re riding your horse, to have the action follow the rule
of thirds – which is a photography trick that says pics look better if the subject is not
in the centre of the frame. Or the developer can just hijack the camera
entirely to completely direct the action – as seen in the classic Resident Evil games, where
the entire game is viewed through static, pre-rendered backdrops that makes it look
like you’re peering through various CCTV cameras. It’s a weird one – and almost entirely driven
by the technical limitations of PlayStation One hardware – but it does give the devs complete
artistic control of the action. Like, look at at how the lickers are introduced
in the original Resident Evil 2. The first camera is placed here, and uses
the leading lines of these two walls to draw our eye to the window – where a mysterious
creature skitters past. In the next scene, the camera is now from
the perspective of whatever was outside the window, making Leon look like delicious prey. Then a high angle, to make Leon look small
and vulnerable. And a scene where Leon must run towards the
camera, and then around a blind corridor, meaning the player can’t see whatever threat
is in front of them. Then the camera frames a broken window, and
a decapitated zombie, again obscuring the player’s view of what’s ahead. And then a shot that perfectly frames this
bloody puddle, dripping ceiling tile, and broken window. I wouldn’t blame you if you ever so slowly
tip-toed up to the edge of the screen… That’s just good horror, right there. The most recent trend, though, has been about
pulling the camera in tight behind the character’s back, to create a sense of intimacy. So this year’s remake of Resident Evil 2
ditched that fixed perspective entirely and put the camera directly behind Leon’s head
– with the game’s producer saying “we wanted it to be intimately terrifying in nature,
to [have] up-close and personal zombie encounters that you can only get, I think, with that
kind of camera view”. So we might lose that awesome Licker introduction
– but on the flip side, it does feel more viscerally terrifying when you get jumped
by a zombie. The idea is, the closer the camera gets to
the character, the more you can relate to them. And I think, to some extent, that is true. In 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, the jittery,
close-up camera does a lot of work in making you connect with Lara’s survivalist struggle. The camera closely frames Lara’s body language,
and forces you to stick with her during the most daunting moments of her journey – like
a tight squeeze through a flooded chamber, and a vertigo-inducing climb up a radio tower. The camera even has a dedicated physics system
so it can bounce and bump in tandem with Lara’s many scrapes, and the animators make Lara
turn her head to the camera at every opportunity, so you can see her terrified expression. All of this helps you connect to the character
in a way that a wider angle would not achieve. But, while it might be true that a closer
camera is more intimate – what’s undeniable is that the closer you are to the character,
the less peripheral vision you have. Not to mention the fact that your character
covers up a big chunk of the screen’s real estate. This is okay for shooters, because being able
to aim at faraway targets is more important than what’s directly to the left and right
of you. So a behind-the-back camera gives you the
benefits of a first-person perspective, but you can also see the character. This is good for better relating to the hero,
and also supports things like cover mechanics and traversal. But what about action games? Yeah. That’s a different story. So, the original God of War games used a zoomed-out
camera to give us a wide view of the entire battlefield. This perfectly fits a combat system with loads
of enemies, wide-arcing attacks and area-of-effect magic spells. But Kratos feels distant – more like you’re
playing with toys and action figures than embodying a character. God of War on PS4, on the other hand, has
a much closer camera which remains pinned to Kratos’s back. This does create a more intimate relationship
with the character, and lets us see the world from his viewpoint. It makes sense for the game’s narrative,
which aims to tell a more human story. But, it’s less ideal for combat. You fight lots of enemies at once, and they
can sneak up on you from outside your limited perspective. And it’s tricky to judge the distance between
Kratos and his enemies when swinging the axe. The camera works well when throwing the axe,
because it mimics a third-person shooter – but it struggles during general combat. And this doesn’t just affect visibility,
but the experience of playing the game. Where the older God of War games made me feel
powerful and predatorial – the new one often had me playing more cautiously and had me
running away from the action – in fear of getting hit in the tuckus. Now, a close-up camera can work for action
games. Titles like Hellblade and Dark Souls track
the player pretty closely. But those games are about very deliberate
movement, more reactionary play, and most often put you up against just one enemy at
a time. For games with lots of enemies, like Devil
May Cry, a much wider perspective is preferable so you can see everything that’s happening
on screen. I should say, God of War’s developers did
a lot of very clever stuff to make the combat work with this new camera. There are these arrow indicators that tell
you where off-screen enemies are currently standing, and Atreus is constantly shouting
about what’s behind you. Enemies who are off screen are made less aggressive,
so you can focus on the ones you can actually see. Kratos magnetically snaps towards enemies
who are just out of reach, to cheat the problems of depth perception. Juggled enemies have a maximum height to stop
them going off screen. And the devs added a lock-on button, just
like those other action romps, so you don’t have to constantly fiddle with the right analogue
stick. There’s a great talk on the GDC Vault, about
the literal years of work that went into converting God of War’s combat to better fit the new
camera perspective. But that seems like a lot of effort when there
might have been a far more simple answer: a dynamic camera. Because, cameras can – of course – move during
gameplay. Most third-person shooters have the camera
zoom in when you aim your weapon, to give you a better view and let you make fine adjustments
to your targeting. And other cameras hang back: Spider-Man becomes
a tiny weeny critter in the middle of the screen when web-swinging, to give you the
best possible view of where you’re going. And the camera holds back a bit in Vanquish
when you rocket slide, to increase the sense of speed. God of War does do this: the camera pops in
when you throw the axe, and hangs back when you run – but it’s by tiny amounts. But developers can actually make way more
dramatic changes to the camera, depending on what’s currently happening. Look at Batman: Arkham Asylum. When you’re walking down the corridors of
Arkham, the camera’s so close up on Batman’s back that you can practically smell his Bat-funk. But when you’re in a fight, the camera pulls
back dramatically to give you a much better view of what’s happening. Here, the camera automatically targets and
locks on to the enemy that you’re currently fighting. It can lead to some dramatic, and rather nauseating
swinging of the viewpoint, but it’s a good way to frame the action and keep the most
important stuff on screen. Bayonetta does something like this too, but
actually tries to pull the camera into a side-on view, to make a temporary 2D fighting game
viewpoint that frames you and the demon you’re duelling with. And those aren’t the only cameras in Batman. When you crouch down, the game knows you’re
doing some sneaky stealthy action, and so hangs back a bit to give you more peripheral
vision of nearby threats. When you get into cover, the game gives you
a fixed angle that shows around the corner – and frames Batman really well. And when you’re up on a gargoyle, the field
of view is massively widened so you can see the entire room at once. There’s also a first-person view when you’re
crawling around in a vent. And it even goes two dimensional when you’re
in certain Scarecrow hallucinations, so you can focus on platforming. And when Batman has been poisoned by Scarecrow’s
toxins, the camera tilts into a dutch angle, to show that Batman is off kilter. Rocksteady knows that there’s no one-size-fits-all-approach when it comes to a camera in these complex and multi-faceted 3D games. And so it doesn’t try to make one: and instead
has the camera shift and morph to fit the gameplay needs. And it works: you still feel close and connected
to Batman because the camera creeps up behind him for most of the game: but it has the good
sense to pull back whenever you need more peripheral vision. And I think God of War could have done something
like this too: stick to Kratos’s back when exploring, and pull back to a more generous
viewpoint when the enemies appear. You don’t even need to cut the camera, and
so could maintain that mad, ambitious one-continuous-shot thing that the game’s developers somehow pulled off. Now, I wouldn’t want to discourage developers
from trying new cameras. If we never shook things up, we wouldn’t
have the pulse-pounding action of Resident Evil 4, or the gross-out body horror of Resident
Evil 7. And amazing things can be done when devs push
the boundaries of what can and can’t be done with certain perspectives. Conventional wisdom would suggest that a first-person
platformer is a terrible idea, but Mirror’s Edge works – thanks, in part, to a wider field
of view, and responsive full body animations. And fighting games should always be shown
from a side-on perspective, right? Not according to ARMS, which uses long range
attacks and the relative distance of incoming fists to help you gauge the distance between
you and your opponent. Tony Hawks said the camera in a skating game
should follow the skater – but EA found a whole new style by ignoring that, and having
the camera follow the board. And games like Firewatch use really expressive
animations to convey character – from a first-person perspective – a camera type that usually focuses
on mute and personality-free ciphers Ultimately, the camera is a really powerful
tool. But Ithink the most important thing to remember is
that while cameras can certainly support aesthetic and cinematic goals, it’s only going to
lead to frustration if the actual experience is harmed. Because, ultimately, the camera should fit
the gameplay, not the other way around. Hey, thanks for watching! I’m not going to ask for the best camera
you’ve seen in a game, because good cameras make themselves invisible. Instead, I’m going to ask you to name the
worst camera you’ve ever experienced. Drop your thoughts in the comments below.

Posts created 2007

22 thoughts on “The Challenge of Cameras | Game Maker’s Toolkit

  1. shows how enemy indicators help increase awareness in God of War

    uses footage of enemy indicators turned off so the point you just disproved can still seem valid

  2. I've got this crazy idea I want to eventually try of making the camera an actual object in the game, as in the game is first person but there's a remote controled camera in their inventory. The player can then use that to switch to the view that best suits the way they want to play and, if necisary, the gameplay controlls change to match. I thought of this while playing a really bad first person rpg that had the option of switching to third person but (as usual) the game was unplayable in that state. It started me thinking if there was a way to make that feature actually work and do it immersively. And this was the solution I came up with.

  3. I think they were intentionally going for a more defensive, personal approach with combat in the new God of War. TBH, I don’t recall having any issues with the camera in this game. I have played tons of other games with bad cameras, though.

  4. I hated the camera shifting in Shadow of the Colossus while riding. It really made me lose focus and made the horse harder to control.

  5. GTA 4 had a pretty bad "walking" camera for Niko. It wobbled everywhere and was really unsteady. Made me nauseous. I like a steady camera.

    The vehicle driving cameras were fine though.

  6. I love Mario odyssey but Man does it like to give you the illusion of a free cam then just aggressively and really jarringly just yank the camera away from you whenever you do basically anything

  7. Worst Camera? Anyone play Kingdom come deliverance? The early fights are more with the camera then any enemy, Most of my early battles was smacking an enemy, and getting a nasty look, taking a hit and then seeing the moon, and my own ass, and then the moon again, i get the motion when hit is immersive and all, but getting hit hard enough to send your head spinning off your shoulders is just madness

  8. Fixed cameras tend to be annoying and impractical when you are walking before the angle suddenly changes in the opposite direction to which you're walking towards, like in Resident Evil, or "Detroit: become human" at certain instances. Drives me nuts going back and forth.

  9. One of the only 3rd person cams I've actually enjoyed was Dead Space… I really like how they immersed you in the world, and made the health bar an integrated part of the suit.
    The crappy peripheral vision adds to the claustrophobia and fear, and you end up frantically sweeping the camera around trying to not miss anything.
    That game did horror, suspense, 3rd person, and what I call "basic action" better than almost everything else.

    P.S. Basic Action is what I call very simplified versions of shooters, or very stripped down combat systems built to fit as a part of a whole and not the focus. Often those systems suck, but I think Dead Space did it very well.

  10. I don't know what camera is best, but I can certainly tell you I would like to see more options in games. FOV slider should be almost mandatory in any game.
    Or in many racing games, how the developers only give you 3 different cameras (2 of which are useless lol).
    It's 2019 and many of the 90s racing games have more vehicle cameras than games today…drives me nuts.
    If you are a driving game and you don't have 3rd person chase cam(at several different zooms), hood cam, bumper cam, roof cam, plus optional several cinematic/trick cams…what are you doing?? I can understand no cockpit cam, cause then you have to model the interiors..but for everything else, there is no excuse.

  11. Definitely, one of the worst cameras that I ever experienced was The Evil Within. It's so close to you that you can barely see what is coming on the sideways and it gets very easy to get attacked from behind by some sneaky creature. Also, that closeness to the character doesn't really help to connect to him so it's like the worst of both worlds. This is a shame because I really wanted to like that game hahaha.

  12. I feel like if God of War had the wide open camera while you are in combat it would be a pretty different experience in terms of how strong Kratos is. In this latest game, we meet a old, tired Kratos and I think that the limitations in our of peripheral vision serves as a way to tell the player "Hey, you are not that monster badass anymore, now you are an old father, that worries about your son and can't do what one day you could"

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