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The Philosophy of Faith: A Mirror's Edge Interview
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The Philosophy of Faith: A Mirror's Edge Interview

November 7, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

The upcoming Mirror's Edge is one of the most original-looking titles to come out of the new-style quality-driven Electronic Arts since the company's creative realignment is announced. It was developed by its DICE studio in Sweden, which is best (and, at this juncture, almost exclusively) known for its Battlefield series of shooters.

What drove the creative philosophy of this game? The visuals and gameplay are a departure from the grittiness and combat-focused world of those games.

In this in-depth interview, producer Nick Channon spells out the inspiration for these decisions, outlining some of the methodology -- as well as the thinking behind the approach the game ultimately ended up with.

So, the most obvious, interesting choice about this game is that it's first person. There are a few free running- or parkour-inspired games out right now, but as far as I'm aware, this is the only one that's first person; how did you guys end up with that?

NC: Well I think at DICE we've done a lot of first person work, and so that kind of inspired us to create [this] -- we wanted to create something quite urban, and we wanted to create a game that was all about movement.

I think the other thing was, as well, that we really wanted to create a connection with you and the character, and the fact that you're playing the game through the eyes of Faith; as soon as you get to third person, you would be watching Faith, whereas we want you to be connected to her.

The analogy we give is "being in an action movie, instead of playing it", and I think that's more rewarding. And I think, also, we wanted to create something very fresh, and it's been a challenge, but we're really pleased with where we are.

I love the idea of using first person not as a genre, but simply as a design choice.

NC: Absolutely. And I think it makes the game feel very different, as you saw when you played it. That flow, and that momentum, that's what it's all about; it's so rewarding when you do it.

You mentioned the idea of wanting to see the world through the character's eyes; a lot of people have said you relate more to the character in third person, because you see more of their animations and motions. What are your thoughts on that?

NC: Well, I think that's what people are used to. That's what we've seen, and I think we wanted to make something that's different. You make, actually, more connection when you're controlling them in that first person, we feel.

We think it's really cool, the way you get glimpses of Faith in the game world: You see her in reflections, you see her in shadow, and I think that gives a really nice feel to the game. Obviously, in the storytelling we do, you see Faith, but we actually show her in a different way, so it's 2D, more cartoon animation.

And again, that was another thing that was very important to us, that we wanted to really have that transition so that people would look at the storytelling. The story is very important to us; it's very compelling. It's written by Rhianna Pratchett, who is Terry Pratchett's daughter.

And it's a really nice style change, to go from the first person perspective to a third person cartoon, and we feel that that will really get people's attention, and they'll really want to know about the story, and how it unfolds.

And how did you end up with Rhianna Pratchett writing your story? 

NC: She had worked on Heavenly Sword, previously, and we just really wanted to ground everything in cool fiction; give it a real meaning for Faith, for being in the world, and what she does.

And, obviously, I described to you how the city has changed, and why [Faith is] a runner, and the importance of that. I think any movie or any game needs a good grounding, and it gives everything a reason, and just makes the whole package much stronger.

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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Maurício Gomes
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This game looks so sweeeeet!

Also so intersting to play! And the fact that when you seea screenshot of it and you know that it is it is also true and really intersting, I wish I had talent to do things like that!

Richard Cody
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This game had me totally captivated throughout the demo and hours of time-trials. I have to hold off until Christmas to actually get the game though because of my financial situation.

But he's so dead on about being creative. I love DICE and EA for taking this chance. And it has paid off. It will catch on over Christmas season and into next year.

Simplicity is totally correct too. I feel like it's stupid to use half the moves in Ninja Gaiden when there's no real use for them. That's a waste of development time making those other moves people don't care about. By making the core controls as simple as possible while still giving them some modifiers (like lifting your legs mid-air) they've made something perfectly accessible for the mainstream yet refined enough for the core crowd.... This game works from so many angles. Game over

Matt Ponton
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I haven't even been finishing my Fable 2 game. I just keep playing the demo over, and over, and over again.

Bart Stewart
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Good interview, but with perhaps one odd quirk: In reading the questions, I got the impression that the interviewer was completely fixated on the design choice of using first-person perspective, as though that was somehow a bizarre decision requiring a detailed justification.

This attitude is consistent with what I've recently started hearing from many gamers. Especially after the success of EA/BioWare's Mass Effect, I've noticed many more people claiming that third-person perspective -- seeing their character in the gameworld as though from a flying camera -- is somehow more immersive than having the view of the gameworld presented to the player through the character's eyes. Indeed, as noted in a recent Gamasutra story (, even EA CEO John Riccitiello tried to insist that Mirror's Edge be redesigned to be third-person, apparently because he too has accepted as conventional wisdom this notion that third-person perspective is "better" in some way.

Yet to me, this belief seems completely backwards. Why does anyone believe (much less insist on as though it were a fact) that having the gameworld presented to you as though you are in the body of your character is less immediate, less gut-wrenchingly visceral, than a presentation in which your character is just another object in the gameworld as seen from the perspective of a bodiless observer?

Because first-person perspective naturally seems to me more immersive than third-person, when I first heard about Mirror's Edge and DICE's decision to go first-person I didn't question that choice at all. It seemed like the obviously correct design direction for this highly motion-oriented game.

And that's why the expressions of surprise and repeated questions by the interviewer on this one facet of the design of Mirror's Edge struck me as strange. In fact, the emphasis on the first-person design even became annoying in that this meant fewer questions were asked about the truly unconventional design decisions by DICE, in particular the conscious choice to support and even reward non-combat play in a marketplace full of "kill it and take its stuff" games. That question did come up... but only in reference to how it deviates from the conventions of some other first-person games.

I'm not claiming that the interviewer was "wrong" in some way. What I'm trying to point out is that not everyone (gamer or game designer) always finds third-person perspective more satisfying than a first-person view. Game designers -- and game journalists -- should be careful not to assume that third-person is somehow the "right" or normative choice for all character-centered 3D games.

Chris Remo
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My line of questioning was not based around a personal preference, it was based around the perspective being an unusual choice for this genre of game. I in fact prefer the first-person perspective, and admire the usage of it in this game. I was asking those questions out of a sense of curiosity in the design process leading to that choice, not out of an implication that third person would be more fitting or correct.

Bart Stewart
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Thanks for the clarification, Chris.

My impression still stands that many developers and gamers have decided that third-person is the new norm for character-based 3D games, but I appreciate your pointing out that your numerous questions on the subject weren't driven by that assumption.

Chris Remo
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Yeah, I agree with that impression. I have spoken to various designers who seem to indicate as much outright. Since Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, it does seem to be a trend.

Meredith Katz
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In some people's cases (such as mine, unfortunately), first person games are less immersive because they can cause motion sickness in people susceptible to it. Nothing quite ruins involvement and immersion when you've got to look away with the pause button on for extended periods or turn the game off after 5-10 minutes :/

I really hate the tendency towards motion sickness because I keep missing out on really amazing games because the design choices mean I can't play them. I mean, I love the concept of 'living' in your character's body like that and I desperately want to play this game -- they're *interesting* design choices -- but I also know they're ones that make me unable to play it, personally.

(Penny Arcade's most recent comic is exactly on that topic, IIRC.)

Jeremy Alessi
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I played the demo and loved it. I think the first person perspective was a bold move but one that payed off. The game plays like a gem. Personally I think that the first person view makes you feel more like it's you in the game. I don't know how it affects my connection to the character per se. I would have actually preferred them to never show the character from the 3rd peson at all. That was the one thing I wasn't crazy about especially because it looks like a cartoon. I suppose that's one way to make the experience of actually playing more immersive. We've grown up in a time when cut scenes are typically more detailed than the gameplay and Mirror's Edge breaks that cliché by design. Although I appreciate the idea I would have preferred it to be more like Half-Life or Portal and never leave the first person perspective. It won't stop me from buying the game though ;)

Reid Kimball
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I also get the sense that a majority of the devs I talk to prefer third person cameras while I prefer first person. It'd be interesting to see a survey, what percentage of the industry prefers which camera type?

I think of hybrid systems like Gears of War where the controls are FPS-like but the viewpoint is third person to be a good compromise for me. In the future I hope we'll see most games let people choose which camera type they prefer.

Is there any research on videogame motion sickness? Some games are worse than others for people and I wonder why that is.

Christopher Enderle
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First and third person views each have unique strengths and weaknesses and I'm glad to see the “conventional wisdom” being flipped on its head by strong design. Beyond letting players decide which view to use, I'd find it particularly interesting if there was some sort of formal exploration of what each view endears the player to. I'm personally fascinated by the potential that exists in exploiting both together, to play on and complement their strengths while avoiding or obscuring their weaknesses.

In my own experience, I've always appreciated third person views in their ability to connect and immerse me with the personality of the character, with first person views immersing me more into the world, feeling like I'm actually there and directly being the character. Max Payne is enjoyable because Max Payne is a ridiculous and awesome action hero. Doom is enjoyable because “you” are fighting against hellish demons in an eerie and abstract world that's gradually becoming corrupted. Games that have a blank slate character in the third person view, like Baldur's Gate, or a strongly established character in the first person view, like Half Life (more or less...) have always been more challenging to my enjoyment (even I have my own exceptions, though, like Planescape: Torment or Duke Nukem).

I'm sure both can be used together to more effectively tell a story. It's cool to see your character standing heroically over an impossibly high bridge looking into the sunset, but it's also cool to slowly creep up and look over the edge of that bridge. As mentioned, we can let the player switch between the two views themselves and discover such perfectly framed vistas themselves, but I think a games enjoyability could be greatly enhanced by building in such moments by design.

Once you have the ability to control the camera you really start to notice it. Playing EverQuest was probably my first time I really noticed how having different camera views available affected my immersion and attachment to the game. I played it almost exclusively in the first person, but that's because my character was a blank slate, the character was an avatar for myself, and the fun was being immersed in this fantasy world.

The only game I've played that used both first and third person cameras, and seemed to use them with a very focused intent behind the design for dramatic and emotional impact, was Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, where most of the exploring/combat was in third person, but most character interactions were in first. It's still a limited implementation, but it was blatant enough to intrigue.

All media seems to always toy around with breaking the established view point. Metroid Prime did this well with the subtle but frequent reflections of Samus's face in the visor. Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War as mentioned bringing in the camera and dropping the character off to the edge of the screen.

I wonder how much the third/first person interplay has been explored in books and movies. I've read and watched a fair number of books and movies, but can't recall any that regularly switched between first and third person views. Sometimes a line or a shot switching between one to the other (well, for film it's basically always third to first), but nothing that so explicitly or gratuitously utilized switching views.

Jan Kubiczek
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As for movies... I think Elephant did switch between 1st and 3rd person. In games I remember that Zelda had this possibility as well. Used seldom in Ocarina of Time, but in puzzles that brought you closer to the world.

as for the immersion aspect... i personally think it is true that one reason to choose 3rd over 1st is complex actions. not just because of motion sickness which can also occur in complex environments. but because of identification. pressing a button, i personally have an easier time imagining myself doing the action when i see the avater perform an animation rather than seeing my avatars arms swinging around in 1st person. this connection for me is only there in shooters. you're holding the controller and your avater holds a gun. that works... ;)

apart from that 3rd person of course gives information about the environment. since that is very important, i would have thought mirrors edge needs this to really convey the joy of movement of parcour. isn't it also more fun to watch somebody do parcour than braking your bones yourself!? so i can imagine that a switch to first person in certain situations might be helpful. but for action in large environments i personally prefer 3rd person. i imagine making your way up a television tower, then jumping from the top - good place to switch. either traditional closeup or first-person. to stress the effect.

i am not sure, but i guess this is often done right already. it is just that you do not notice when it is done well. the camera work in ocarina of time e.g. is very good in my opinion. it just occured to me very recently that there actually is something like it even during gameplay.

Mark Ludlow
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Personally, first person has never felt immersive for me. It's mostly to do with sympathetic responses. If enemies are shooting at my screen, or punching it, it always feels like they are just swatting at air and somehow that affects my health. (Yes, I know better, but it's to demonstrate a point) In third person, I can see what my and other people's actions are doing to the character, invoking a symapthetic response. If my character doubles over in pain, I feel sympathetic toward them and avoid hurting them more. Of course, sadistic tendencies sometimes take over when it creates a fun response, but hey, I'm only human. ^_^ So for me, first person will never feel immersive because there's no real correlation between my actions and the character I'm controlling.

As for the game itself, I must be about the only person who didn't like it. FP vs TP aside, the demo felt very awkward and contrived (the actual story, of course the tutorial is contrived), rather than an environment that just happens to allow you jump around on it in your own fashion. (Like Assassin's Creed) It also felt a bit like Sands of Time in that it was 'Platforming now, Fighting now, Platforming again, etc.' rather than integrating it into a struggle for survival. Yes you can run from enemies, but just jump a gap and that's it. Maybe the game will develop it later but there was just something that felt very clinical in it all. Like it's just a tech demo.

Stephen McDonough
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I agree there are uses for both 3rd and 1st person cameras, though I am surprised by some of the comments here. Condemned: Criminal Origins showed that melee combat, previously considered the realm of 3rd person games, could use the 1st person perspective to increase immersion. Combat became more visceral and personal as a result of having an opponent "fill up the screen" when you are going toe to toe with them. The camera jarring and vision blurring when you were hit also provided so much more feedback than a character model's hit animation could have. And, of course, the narrower field of view aided the sense of fear and isolation the game provided.

Mirror's Edge desaturates the world as you come closer to death; that sort of implementation wouldn't have the same effect in a 3rd person view. You're no longer looking through the character's eyes. The sensation of movement through gaps and over obstacles wouldn't be the same, either.

I can only applaud the great strides being taken to make better use of the camera in games. Like different angles and lenses being used in movies, the various pros and cons of the extensive range of camera types available in games are being explored and expanded upon.

As technology advances and experimentation continues, we are going beyond simply deciding that one view is better than another, and creating something special that couldn't be done any other way.

Andrew Heywood
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I agree with you about games like Baldur's Gate which sacrifice world immersion due to technical limitations. However, I disagree entirely about Half-Life: Gordon Freeman _is_ a blank slate, the HL games are all about world immersion, not character attachment (at least, not attachment to the player character). I mean, the Freeman character's lack of development is basically a long-running in-joke.

Bob McIntyre
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Hideo Kojima once stated that, aside from the apparent sensitivity to first-person-induced motion sickness among the Japanese, he put Metal Gear Solid in the third person specifically to make it clear that this is a story about Snake or Raiden or whomever, not about you. You are not the genetically-engineered super-spy; you are a person controlling and watching that spy.

But the interviewer shouldn't be "fascinated" by the use of first person as a "design choice rather than a genre." Yeah, "first person" is normally followed by "shooter," but we've had shooters that aren't first person (Gears and GRAW come to mind right away), and we've had first-person games that aren't shooters for a very long time. Oblivion isn't a shooter (neither is Fallout 3, even if they try to tell you that it "can be") and it's first-person. Thief, from 1998, is clearly not a shooter. The "Eye Of The Beholder" series in the early to mid 90s (I think) were first-person and you were controlling a whole group, not just a single character. And those old gold-box AD&D games had first-person dungeon exploration, and they go back to the 80s, before first-person shooters even existed.

So I'd say we've always had first-person as a design choice. What's interesting here is that platforming is usually third-person because of the radical angular changes that the character's head needs to make in order to accomodate acrobatic leaping and climbing in games like Ubisoft's Prince Of Persia series.