The following is a reproduction, and has been modified slightly for this website. The original article, and many others, can be found at RemptonGames.com
When designing a game, every decision plays a part in defining the overall player experience. Perhaps one of the most defining decisions that can come up when designing a Shooter, Action, or Open-World RPG is deciding the default camera perspective. This decision will have a big role in shaping the rest of the design of the game, and can also determine how players view your game.
For the past several years, the classic debate has been been between third-person and first-person cameras – which is better, and for what games? It is not uncommon to hear a player claim that they “only play first-person games”, while other players flatly refuse to play games with this type of camera perspective. And I cannot count how many times I have heard the offhand statement that “this game would be better in first person” or vice-versa.
Today, I am going to take a look at the differences between these two camera perspectives, and how this decision can influence the design of a game. I will look at some of the pros and cons of each, and finally evaluate how each of these can serve different types of games.
Let’s start by examining the first-person perspective. This perspective, which is especially common in shooters and open-world RPGs, attempts to show the world from the character’s perspective. The player is looking through the character’s eyes and seeing the world from their perspective. This perspective has a number of gameplay benefits, but it also can present some drawbacks.
The first major benefit of this type of perspective is immersion. By looking through the character’s eyes, the player gets a sense that they are actually inside the world of the game. This level of immersion tends to be much higher than in third-person games, and is surpassed only by VR.
In addition, this perspective can also make it easier for the player to interact with the world of the game. Because the character is not shown on screen, the player can more easily aim a weapon such as a gun or a bow. It is also much easier to precisely interact with objects. In a game like Fallout 4 the player can pick up and move almost any object that they find, whereas in a third-person game this level of precision is not possible, and objects that can be interacted with generally have to be specifically marked.
The final major benefit of this perspective is that the character becomes a blank-slate for the player. Even if the game does not include character creation software, the fact that the character is rarely shown on-screen means that the player can project themselves on the game. It feels less like they are controlling a game character than they ARE the character.
Unfortunately, however, this perspective also comes with some downsides. Firstly, making a game first-person will instantly make it inaccessible to some players. In certain people, this type of game can cause nausea and headaches, and therefore some people refuse to play these types of games at all.
Secondly, this type of perspective generally reduces the types of actions that the player can perform. In a first-person game, the player generally tends to remain in a relatively upright position, with their hands out in front of them. They can crouch, jump, and swing their arms, but generally not much else. This can also make close-quarters combat feel a lot more limited, as the player simply doesn’t have as many options as in a third-person game.
Finally, although this perspective is used to increase immersion, it also limits how cinematic the game can be. If you attempt to show cut-scenes from the player’s perspective this can be jarring when the player no longer has control. On the other hand, if you change to a more cinematic perspective this can also break the player’s immersion.
If first-person is about giving players a connection to the world of the game, third-person can similarly help create a connection with the characters. Because the character is constantly on screen the player cannot really put themselves in the character’s shoes. They connect with the character, but they never feel that they are the character.
This can be a huge benefit because it does not require the character to be a blank slate. Third-person characters are their own entities separate from the player, and this frees them up to give them more identity and personality.
Take “The Last of Us” as an example. If this game was from a first-person perspective, it might be possible to think “wow, I’m such a badass sneaking around and taking out all these zombies”. However, because you are watching the characters go through the situations of the game you feel more empathetic to what they are going through.
In addition to having more defined characters, this perspective also allows the game to be more cinematic and film-like. Cut-scenes can be longer, and the directors have a lot more freedom in the types of shots that they get. In addition, because the game is not anchored on any single character’s perspective, the game can show scenes from multiple character’s points of view, and even have a larger number of playable characters.
Finally, third-person cameras simply allow for a much wider range of movement options. While a first-person camera requires the player to stay in a relatively upright position, third-person characters can flip, roll, cartwheel, teleport, kick, and many other movement options that would be incredibly disorienting (and potentially sickening) to attempt in first-person.
This freedom helps in two primary ways. First, it helps in navigation. Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild were two of my favorite games to come out last year, and for both of them the movement options granted by the third-person perspective were some of the most interesting parts of the games. Link can climb, glide, and use his various powers to creatively navigate his world. Mario, on the other hand, has a variety of unique jumps, flips and rolls that would be impossible to execute in a first-person perspective.
The second primary benefit is in close-quarters combat. In a first-person game, close quarters combat mostly consists of wildly swinging your arms in the general direction of an enemy. In third-person, however, the options are much greater. Games such as the Batman Arkham series and the Dark Souls games are widely praised for their combat systems, and this would be impossible in a first-person game.
At the end of the day, each of these different perspectives has a role to play in gaming. The types of games that can be produced with these different camera perspectives are so diverse, and no single perspective works for every single game. It really comes down to what type of game are you trying to design. Is it character driven, or environment driven? Is the focus more on ranged combat, or close quarters? Are you trying to tell the player a story, or give them the freedom to go anywhere?
That is all I have for this week! I hope you enjoyed this look at perspective and game design! If you did, check out the rest of the blog and subscribe on Facebook, Twitter, or here on WordPress so you will always know when I post a new article. If you didn’t, let me know what I can do better in the comments down below. And join me next week, where I give my thoughts, hopes and predictions on Elder Scrolls 6!