Up Close and Too Personal

Alright, welcome to The Game Critic. Today's topic: Getting up close and personal with the game character. A little too close and personal...

A camera system can make or break a game. By camera system I am referring to the way the player views the on screen action. Different types of games require different types of camera systems. For example, in a real time strategy game, in which the player builds and orchestrates the command of an army, the player is best served by a camera that displays large areas of the battlefield at once. If the camera is placed to close to the battlefield, a player has a harder time commanding his various soldiers to do their job. For example, it would be difficult to order soldiers to attack an enemy soldier if you couldn't even see the enemy soldier, especially when the computer has no need of a camera, and targets you immediately. Can you see the problem here?

A similar problem occurs if the camera is too far back. The further away the camera is from the game, the more difficult it can become to discern details. In our aforementioned example of a strategy game, if the camera was placed too far away, a player could easily become frustrated as they can now see the enemy units without a problem, but they have difficulty identifying their own units.

If this concept is still unclear (if so, please comment) then try this experiment. Set up a game of monopoly or some similar game. Now try to play a turn with your face so close to the board that you can only see 1/4 of it at a time. Now put the game on the floor and stand up. Play another turn. This is a strategy camera problem.

Unfortunately, some modern games seem to be under the impression that the camera needs to be close to the action to show off how cool or how detailed their character is. Picture a Tom Cruise movie where Cruise himself occupied 1/2 of the screen through the entire film. Quite a few modern games make this mistake: that you'll be more thrilled to stare at your character for the duration of the game then actually play. Not that you'll be doing any playing with the camera that close.

A great example of this 'close camera' flaw is the modern Sonic the Hedgehog games. Apologies to Sega, but your series stinks right now. It's sad, because I really enjoyed these titles, and would love to again, but the new ones have a lot of flaws (and trust me, Sonic games will come up again during the life of this blog. If Sega cares, they'll fix the problem). 'Close camera' is one of those flaws. Lets look at a comparison for a second. Here's a picture of Sonic 3 for the Sega Genesis.

Note the size of the characters in relation the the screen.

Now lets look at a similar picture from Sonic the Hedgehog on Xbox 360. A thanks to Gamedaily for originally having the picture.

Can you see it? The camera is far more zoomed in, leaving the player less to see.

The flaw with this is that Sonic is mainly based on speed, and its hard to see whats coming up or happening around your character when the character is such a focus. Ultimately, the character will die as a result of something you failed to see coming. The harder it is to see, the more often it happens, and the more likely you are to never play that game again.

Offhand, there are other games that suffer from the same poor 'close camera' flaw that kill interest. I can think of plenty of times I've noticed myself pulling back from the screen, subconsciously trying to see a little bit more of the action around me. Granted, being too far back can also damage the game, but I would still rather at least see why I died for the umpteenth time.

So in the end, I'm not criticising anything that would be too difficult for many developers to fix. Just pull the camera back a little and open up our world.

Games I'm currently playing: Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance (PC), Red Alert 3 Beta (PC), Halo 3 (360), DDR Universe 2 (360), Assassins Creed (PC)

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