Articles Applied to Designing 3rd-Person Cameras / Controls

Emmeline Pui Ling Dobson 5:24 pm on July 18, 2011 Counting comments...

The purpose of this article is to highlight the application of some of the most useful game design reading I’ve done in the past. I  Classic Super Mario 64 Third-Person Control and Animation by Steve Rabin1

Part of my early involvement with Viking: Battle for Asgard was on developing the camera and movement system for our Norse hero, Skarin. I had found the harsh, unsmoothed motion of the camera in Spartan: Total Warrior, the team’s previous game, to have some rough edges wanting attention.

One of the earliest changes was to give Skarin some acceleration when starting to move and a bit of inertia when stopping. This has the same effect as ensuring the camera yaw has a bit of acceleration when controlled by the player moving the right stick. With player character movement, the player is indirectly controlling the camera, by using the left stick to move the camera’s focal point of interest (the hero).

To make the camera move after Skarin when he starts to run forwards more smoothly, we ensured that it accelerated up to matching Skarin’s speed. The visible effect of this is that, for a fraction of a second, the distance between the camera and Skarin increases, giving the impression the camera is on an elastic “bungee cord” trailing behind the hero. Like with sticky aim on TFO, the initial attempts were too obvious and the best adjustments were when it ceased to be noticed if you weren’t looking for it.

A feature of the Viking terrain was that our land was very hilly. As the Kevin Ng article recommends auto-peek so the player sees more gameplay interest and features on screen instead of boring wall by moving the camera out to one side, I recommended that the camera pitch up or down to ensure that neither the slope Skarin is ascending nor the sky take up the bulk of the composition as he moves over hills and mountains. The animation team produced modified runs, too; leaning into the run for an effortful pelt up-slope and leaning back and widening his shoulders when descending. We also made sure that Skarin didn’t run faster when going uphill (!) by travelling along the long side of a triangle composed of his movement over the ground and the elevation of the slope at the same time!

In addition to the uphill-downhill running, an animation for turning 180o at speed was added, enhancing the feel of controlling Skarin.

As I worked on the motion for Skarin in Viking, I began to appreciate how the cartooniness of Mario as referenced in Steve Rabin’s article and the comicbook unreality of Kratos in God of War allowed those games greater license to put control finesse as higher priority than believability. Working with a very gritty-realistic world like Viking meant that Skarin’s motions had to stay within the confines of believability. This meant that there were extremes of adjustments in the controls for the player’s potential comfort and enjoyment to which we couldn’t go. Turning circles as tight as Mario’s would break the spell of playing a hefty warrior and a hulking brute landing from a jump experiences a period when their frame absorbs the shock of landing before they can recover to jump again. …Actually, that was something we didn’t fix in Viking. If you fancy you can try spamming the jump button and appreciate that Skarin bouncing like Mario does not look gritty and realistic.

Articles Applied to Designing 3rd-Person Cameras / Controls

Both these articles helped me as a developing Game Designer to understand the subtleties going on “under the hood” of core mechanics such as camera and controls. I’m grateful for the diagrams and the maths and the language that I didn’t have to be a computer scientist to understand. How much of the material covered in these is design and how much is programming? Both these articles say to observe other games on the market and start to make the reader aware that there are features of good games which are practically invisible to players. They helped me to learn to “read” games’ systems as I play them.

To go back again to Vanquish (in large part to bring this article into the present), when running away from the camera, the distance the camera is positioned away from hero Sam Gideon increases, giving me a more tactical view of the battlefield. Perhaps it is also because a player running from the fight may be caught in fire from either side, and the wider view will aid in spotting these assailants? Finally, I have a bit more view to anticipate if I’ll run into an obstacle as I move.

I hope I continue to notice more subtleties in the games that I play; the sorts of fine-tuning, tweaks and finesse that the average player will never notice when it’s done right, but will find intrusive when theyr’e missing or wrong. I wonder how it might be possible to conduct usability testing for these issues; the average player lacking the insight to say that they find the camera angle offputting (Viking’s deviated from the standard 45o in an experiment to emphasise the speed of slashing blades and offer the player more visibility of enemies) or the hero’s turning circle unrealistically tight? I’m going to keep looking out for innovations and finesses like these and I’ll let you know if I find any good ones!


1 Link to Google books sample misses two out of the eight pages that complete the article. From: DeLoura, M eds. 2001 Game Programming Gems: Vol. 2 : Charles River Media
2 See Stick Motion by Fabrice Lété