Videogame Field of View

I came across an interesting inquiry on Quora recently, and thought I’d share it with you folks. The question: “In 1st person video games, why don’t they introduce peripheral vision? The angle of sight seems to be a lot less than our own angle of vision.”

I’ve had this complaint as well, in both first-person and third-person games (assuming we’re not talking about something exotic like a “peripheral vision mode”). Gears of War frustrates me because I feel like I can’t see the world since I’m zoomed so far in on the asses of the protagonists.

(I historically have the same complaint about Madden, although for different reasons: I find it ridiculous that I have to contort myself to see near-sideline receivers who are by default off the edge of the screen. Something tells me that Tom Brady doesn’t have this invisible receiver problem. Less of an issue in the HD era.)

This video from TotalBiscuit does a stellar job of illustrating the point. Skip to the three-minute mark to get right to the good stuff:

Here’s a shot from Gears of War. Your protagonist eats up about a sixth of the critical foreground screen real estate. If you played the game, you may remember the annoyance of larger levels where foes were shooting you from every direction while you felt like you were looking for them through a shoebox.

field of view gow

Compare GoW with this shot from Infamous 2. The avatar is smaller, the camera position is further back from the action, and you can see more of the world.

fov-screenshot

TotalBiscuit feels claustrophobic FOVs like GoW’s are due to game developers not caring enough about PC gamers. I think he’s on the right track, but IMHO studios do this extreme zoom-in/narrow field-of-view — and fail to provide options to alter it — for four reasons:

  1. Money (aka complexity). It takes a fair amount of risk for a developer to put in a feature that lets gamers change the field of view. Sure, a few lines of code could change the way the renderer works, letting you see more of the world. Sure, it’d be fairly easy to support that in the game UI. However, adding this option is a significant and fundamental alteration in a very complex system. Your game has to work equally well at all field-of-view settings, in multiplayer, on all sorts of wonky PC systems with wonky chipsets. This is kind of like making a game and a half instead of one game. And you’re doing this to satisfy PC gamers (large fraction of total market) who care about field of view and know what it is (much smaller fraction of the other fraction). Sadly, when the test department starts toying with the FOV option during crunch and filing dozens of bugs on how it crashes this mode and that mode, and causes everything on screen to look weird and skinny, and makes text in the game unreadable, your producer is going to ditch the feature like it’s covered in flaming flatulent warts. Assuming it got that far.
  2. Money (aka framerate). When you widen the field of view, more stuff renders. Guess what? This means that your hardware has to work harder and your silky-smooth framerate goes in the toilet. You can’t fit as many players into multiplayer matches. The big cinematic moments cause the game to choke. People definitely care about framerate. (People are a lot more blase about field of view.) Lousy framerates and stutters cause your game to tank.
  3. Money (aka marketing). GoW wasn’t exactly a critical or commercial failure. People loved the in-your-face action, and the screenshots look like an action blockbuster because you can see all the pimples on Marcus Fenix’s well-rendered butt. It’s annoying to those of us who are accustomed to seeing the game world, but GoW’s other innovations and high-quality graphics were enough to win over the others. Here are some reviews, emphases mine: “Huge, muscular combatants move like giant men wearing heavy gear, fine details are everywhere, and splattering blood never looked so beautiful… It just looks incredible.” – GamesRadar+. “…better than Halo… It’s a fantastic-looking, riveting, fire-first-ask-questions-never third-person shooter that manages to show you things that you’ve never seen before on a console.”- Entertainment Weekly. And, well, this one: “The camera is so good in Gears of War that I never once thought about it while playing. I can’t recall a single instance where it did not frame the action right, or hide anything I should have seen. – Electric Playground
  4. Gameplay. Grudgingly, I admit that GoW was a damned fine game, and that the tight field of view showed off those stellar graphics and made some of the action more fun, like close environments and melee attacks. A game like Infamous 2 requires a wider field of view because of the acrobatic nature of the gameplay.

That’s my take. I like to see the world in these kinds of games, and in the era of hi-def, we can have our cake and eat it in many situations. At the same time, we still see a lot of close-in cameras and narrow FOVs as new games try to out-scream the competition by putting you “in the action.” Hopefully that’s a trend that will die as we move forward.

Oh, and here’s the link to the original Quora conversation: http://www.quora.com/In-1st-person-video-games-why-dont-they-introduce-peripheral-vision

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Kickstarter Drama: Why Are the Fans Paying for It?

Kickstarter Campaigns for Veronica Mars and Richard Garriott?

So yeah, as you’ve surely heard, Kickstarter and other social fundraising vehicles are now part of the movie- and videogame-making landscape. How about a little review of where two of those big-name campaigns are now?

I’m talking about the Veronica Mars movie and Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar game. Both of them are fully funded with room to spare: Mars asked for $2M and landed an authoritative $5.7M, and Garriott got $1.9M from a $1M goal.

Did These Kickstarter Campaigns Cheat Us?

kickstarter-drama

As always, it’s an eye of the beholder kind of deal, but Mars is showing a tidy 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not The Godfather or anything, but certainly respectable.

The game is a little harder to judge. It’s clearly a work-in-progress kind of project, with the official site talking about a novel and episodes. TIME Magazine has an insightful column about Garriott’s inflated claims and deflated relevance to modern RPGs, but it’s not a review. And PC Gamer has a vaguely positive “first impressions” preview from November 2014, while the Steam page for the game has the gamer consensus as “very positive.”

Honestly, I find PC Gamer’s article ridiculously generous. This is a product that costs $45 yet still has questionable gameplay elements and a sluggish framerate. It is indeed an alpha game that costs full retail — and my hat’s off to Garriott for pulling this off. However, I’m also cognizant of the fact that the game delivers some things that gamers can’t get elsewhere, like a supportive community, weekly events, and most of all, the ability to comment on the game during a meaningful stage in its evolution. As a developer, I’m not particularly enamored of that opportunity, or the possibility of it all coming to naught, but I do wish Garriott the best (and I enjoyed attending the barbeque he holds in the Austin area for the game developer community). It is indeed possible that the game could become something completely unique, a dynamic world that continues to evolve as new ideas and new technology are introduced. It’s a longshot bet, but the best-case scenario is that this could be a new paradigm: an evergreen title that self-heals and evolves to become what its funders want — and discover what they want — in real time.

And Why Did Garriott Ask Us for Money?

Author Paige Ewing also has some insider insight into the logic and motivations of Garriott’s Kickstarter, which she’s allowed me to share here. Initially she’s commenting on some of the raised eyebrows among our friends who questioned the appropriateness of a millionaire asking fans for cash:

Personally, I don’t think Richard’s kickstarter is much about money. 1 million doesn’t even put a dent in the budget necessary to make a new multiplayer online game nowadays.

However, Richard’s last attempt to make a great game took 7 years of his life, and the lives of lots of other talented people, and a fair chunk of his fortune, and bombed.

Part of the reason for that was a lack of participation, input, and buy-in from the folks who buy his games, the players. Being an intelligent man, that’s a mistake he is trying to rectify.

In doing things this way, he’s getting buy-in ahead of time, and he’s also encouraging the people who are enthusiastic about gaming to give him their input on key aspects of the game before it launches.

Richard has already invested a fair amount of his own money and time in this game. It may not be mentioned in the kickstarter, but this game has already been in the works for some time. He wants to expand his art team, work on the complex decisions like how will player vs player work in this world to make as many people happy as possible, and for that, he wants some assurance that he’s going in directions people will enjoy.

He is particularly shooting for the older gamer market, and he needs to know that’s enough of a market to justify the expense and time.

Kickstarter isn’t just a way to make money, it’s a way to test response to an idea, and to get a market excited about a new project, among other things.

This is all just my opinion, of course, from an outside perspective. I haven’t spoken to Richard for more than ten minutes in years.

So there you have it. I don’t think Kickstarter movie and videogame campaigns are going away anytime soon, and I believe it’s a valuable way for creatives to take the temperature of the fan base. As long as that thermometer isn’t forced into any of my body orifices, I’ll keep from crying foul.

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