Wednesday, 3 September 2008

What speaks to me the most

In Mitch Krpata's Taxonomy of Gamers I'm dead-set a Tourist. Indeed before Mr. Krpata's series there was Richard A. Bartles 'HEARTS, CLUBS, DIAMONDS, SPADES: PLAYERS WHO SUIT MUDS' which I think extends to offline games remarkably well also,and in which I am similarly an 'Explorer' type player. The point that I want to make is that when I'm being a tourist, I prefer to do so from a First Person Perspective.

Corvus Elrod posted a few weeks back a small, almost throw-away, theory that personality type might have an influence on what perspective videogame players prefer to play in, whether First or Third. He asked for a quick poll in the comments and it seemed to me to be a little bit inconclusive, but I think that he's probably actually onto something.

The issue seems to me to be 'what flavour do you like your story'? All story driven videogames in recent memory that have captivated me have (primarily) told the meat of their story through story and plot that I experience in the game from the first person perspective. I'm experiencing it as the character. Now, I don't want to pretend that this could become some kind of hard and fast rule - after all I have also previously passionately enjoyed third person games like The Baldur's Gate series, and even many FPS games like Halo use 3rd person cut-scenes for certain sections of exposition.

Still, if you know me and have been paying attention to my thesis updates, etc, you'll know my shtick is all about what things are unique about videogames, and that we should be trying our best to capitalise on them. It's just what gets me excited about the medium - the idea of the new and things that have genuinely not been tried.

So I'm now wondering why more games haven't gone the route of the Half-Life's and the Call of Duty's. Both games tell their story exclusively (with very few exceptions) through first person experiences. Obviously I don't want to advocate that all videogames should ever do is tell a story in First Person Perspective, but it does seem like the industry hasn't really pushed the envelope very far past the previously mentioned examples. When can I expect the FPS equivalent of, Apocalypse Now (I'm talking about in terms of mood, atmosphere and focus on the psychological experience rather than the setting - Vietnam has been almost been done to death as much as WWII)? Casablanca? Doctor Zhivago?

The obvious point is that FPS games like those great films would be impossible, granted. After all, there's really very little shooting in them - but that's actually OK with me. I'm a tourist after all - I've climbed the highest peaks in Oblivion before just to see it, not because it had any intrinsic reward. I don't think I'm alone in this, there is definitely space in the videogame market for more tourist appealing games.

So, on that note, I've been talking to Corvus about the issue of perspective and personality type and he's suggested we set up a more comprehensive poll and aim for a bigger survey of people - if anything comes of it, I'll let you know.


Anonymous said...

It's an interesting discussion.

I've noticed that certain people, myself being one of them, actually feel more distanced from the story when they experience in first person. I've always thought it had to do with a person's level of empathy, but a recent conversation led me to believe it might also have to do with body awareness.

Once I'm moved, let's definitely pursue putting together a 100-150 question survey and see if it shows us any patterns.

Anonymous said...

I'm a tourist as well (though a prefers-3rd-person one) and what I feel about games is just how limited the architecture of gamespace can be. While certainly there are many games that have done great production design work in building unique spaces to run around in, what strikes me at times is how few of the opportunities for unique times and places have been exploited. Games, especially AAA ones oft times seem stuck in a iceworld/jungle/undersea/desert architectural paradigm that has progressed visually since the 8 bit era but not so much conceptually. There's exceptions, of course, but broadly I think the point stands. I look at a lot of new real-world architecture online these days, and the variety out there in reality seems much more than it is in the videogame world--shouldn't that relationship be the inverse???

Also, a while back on one of the big podcasts (I forget which) they were talking about settings that haven't been used for videogames that should be and the consensus intimation seemed to be that we were almost at the end of the settings that could be used since most everything had been done. They were talking mostly in relation to historic settings and not architectural ones, but even so I thought the conjecture was the height of insanity. It seems to me that we've only scratched the surface of the places we could go, both in space and in time.

Me, I want games with spaces influenced by Kenzo Tange's plan for Tokyo, or Hans Scharoun's expressionist drawings or Archigram's living city or Vincent Callebaut. There's an amazing number of possibilities for vidgame tourism, if they just get built up for us to visit.

Ben Abraham said...

Yes lets - I might start to jot down some ideas in the intervening time.

A discussion of melee weapons in Deus Ex on the VGC boards got me thinking about the role of the animation vs. the crosshairs. Apparently in DX your tazer and baton are based on the crosshair, while I keep expecting to get what the animation is showing me (resulting in a strange disconnect, at least in my mind).

Definitely a very interesting topic, and one that I think Bethesda probably had to think about a lot with Oblivion.

Come to think of it, there's probably a whole paper's worth of potential study in just looking at melee animations in FPS's like Oblivion & Halo - whether they make the arc of the weapon travel through the crosshair, etc.

Ben Abraham said...

Chris: you're right that the idea of the industry having "tried" every setting is ludicrous! It's like saying we're run out of letters in the alphabet or something!

I really appreciate the fact that videogames also allow us to present some totally IMpossible worlds and architecture too. I've yet to play Prey, but it (and also Portal) blow my mind about how we perceive space.

I remember reading a chapter in a book by the writer Brian Massumi where he talked about "non Cartesian space" and the phenomenon of creating an idea of a space in your head. He described how, even after working in a building for a month, there came a day when he realised that the window in his office actually faced the COMPLETELY OPPOSITE direction to what he though - north instead of south, or something like it. Suddenly in his mind space twisted and warped as his mental picture of the space rearranged itself to fit what was actually the reality!

Trippy stuff eh!

Anonymous said...

What's so interesting to me is that individual perceptions can be so deviant, one from the other, as to the nature of physical space. Even the example Chris puts forth of developers saying we've explored about all we can, reflects this.

What Portal did so well is that it used it's puzzle structure and progression to train the audience in how to perceive the "physical space" of the game in the same manner as the designers of the game.

On the topic of physical representation of characters within games:

Daniel Purvis said...

Sometimes, just sometimes, I get the feeling I've dug myself into a circle with a group of people that think just a little too much for my liking.

This, this is one of those times.

A whole paper? As if blogging isn't enough work!

Well, in the interest of adding something to the conversation, I'd like to see the crosshair vanish altogether.

When a crosshair is present in a game, it becomes the main focal point. In the original MGS, Sniper Wolf reflects, as she lies lungshot, that she has only ever viewed the world through the scope of her gun. Unsurprisingly, that's the only way we view most FPS, except instead of a scope, it's the damn crosshair.

In life, when you fire a gun, throw a dart, spit at something with the intention of hitting it, you do it all by feel. There's no crosshair, only personal judgement. If you're judgement (and skill) isn't spot on, you miss.

What the crosshair does, in most games, is provide a dead certain aim and completely removes any sense of feel, or intention.

Would it be possible, I wonder, to create a game where by the crosshair was removed altogether and instead replaced with a light lock-on mechanism instead. You aim roughly where you want to shoot and your character does the thinking. Rather, you feel where you're going to aim, the avatar understands the intention and carries out your will. Given, it would remove the reliance on "skill", however it would provide for a tourist a more instinctive, natural feel. Might even make FPS more accessible.

In fact, I seem to recall that Killzone 2 concept trailer from way back when, the natural fluidity of the character's movements, the aiming of the gun etc. I'm sure you could replicate that if you thought about recreating the FPS in a new manner.

Of course, should you want to look down the scope of your rifle for an aimed shot, include it.

Sorry, think I'm a little off-topic but I've been thinking about foregoing the cross-hair for a while.

Anonymous said...

I'm working on a post about how simplistic camera use in games is and all of this, from avatar physicality to use of crosshairs is making me realize how deep this conversation really needs to be.

I think I found my topic for the week!

Ben Abraham said...

Dan - I think there are lots of 'realism' FPS's and mods out there that go the whole hog and get rid of crosshairs all together. I think the idea is you're shooting from the hip when not looking down the sights. I can't recall any game in particular but I think it is pretty punishing, so a sophisticated implementation sounds like a pre-requisite.

deckard47 said...

I'm a first-time commenter here, I was invited by Daniel, so hi all.

To continue to diverge from the conversation a bit, I think that Daniel's suggestion (regarding crosshairs/aiming) is interesting, and I agree that the Killzone 2 trailer depicted some elements I'd love to see explored in game. I actually love 3rd person games, and think that the ability to see my character inhabit a space helps me get into the story more. At the same time, the fact that his guns sometimes point in weird directions (compared to the crosshair) pulled me out of the game often. I think it's a good example of how 3rd person (like 1st person) can give away how artificial its aiming interface is.

Daniel's idea might fix it, but I'm still not sure how you'd apply such an idea to a 3rd person perspective. I'd love to see it happen.

To change tack completely, I also think Chris Hyde hits the nail on the head: ice, lava, jungle and desert are all we get. I'm sure some of you have checked out the art done by Daniel Dociu at Tinfoil Games. Check it out, because if you want to see how really amazing architectural ideas and a cool artistic sensibility can be combined, he's a great example. If all games had the creativity that his art and designs exhibits, we'd be just that much better off.

Back on topic, I think that both 3rd person and 1st person games can tell fantastic stories. Recently I've been thinking that we have to admit that they have to tell those stories in different ways: they can't rely on the same tropes and techniques, not entirely, because they're fundamentally different in how they present certain aspects of their worlds (most often the protagonist/avatar). I've no idea how they should be different, but I'm sure they should be, in some ways if not others. Helpful, I know.

Anonymous said...

Thomas, I'm completely on the same page as you in regards to 3rd person cameras.

What I find so interesting is that proponents of 1st or 3rd person cameras both cite emotional connectivity as one of the reasons for their preference.

dogone said...

I'm amazed that no one has mentioned Monoliths wonderful games, Condemned: Criminal Origins and F.E.A.R. These two games are simply beautiful for their implementation of in-game, interactive story-telling. But Condemned did one thing FAR better than F.E.A.R, by default, the crosshair is off. All shooting is by the hip, and this gives more of a feel of being in the screen. Melee is more believable because, for the most part, fighting follows what you see.