Fixed Camera (eg. Resi 1) Research

polycounter lvl 8
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Reverend Speed polycounter lvl 8
(Hope this is the right place to post this!)

Have been investigating fixed camera games recently - for example Resident Evil 1, Code Veronica, Outbreak, Fear Effect, Heavy Rain, Republique, etc. I know the changing angles and controls can frustrate a lot of players, but there are a few of us wrong-'uns who are still quite fond of this gameplay camera.

I'm doing my own investigation of Resi Remake 1 (lots of screenshots!) and making the odd tiny prototype in Unity and I've discovered that getting the right angle, the right coverage and transitions is tricky. Indeed, outside of Capcom Resi games, very few companies seem to execute that aspect in a way that feels right, or comfortable.

I'm wondering if anybody here has any theories on how Resi cameras managed to (mostly) hit the sweet spot of restricting your vision, creating an atmosphere but also giving you enough information to take appropriate action? Or perhaps somebody knows of somewhere else I should be asking the question?

It just seems like an interesting art/game design challenge. Looking forward to your thoughts. =)

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  • RN
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    RN polycounter
    The first game that used a fixed camera, that I remember, is Alone in the Dark.


    The GDC Vault generously published its Post Mortem presentation by the lead programmer / producer, you might find something in there:

  • Reverend Speed
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    Reverend Speed polycounter lvl 8
    Really enjoyed AITD, one of my first encounters with Lovecraftian material at the time. I've watched that talk before and I don't think there was much relevant material, but I'll definitely give it another go. Thank you for the suggestion!

     --Rev
  • pior
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    pior insane polycounter
    This kind of camera is really interesting imho. I've been going through various RE classics recently (some I've played in the past and some I've skipped originally) and found out that I far more enjoy the fixed camera ones over the post-RE4 ones. Some thoughts : 

    - The fixed camera ones are actually really immersive. The fact that there is no need to look around to absorb all the immediately relevant information really is a plus. I also happen to thoroughly enjoy tank controls.

    - Even if I did enjoy RE4 and 5 a couple years back, I find them really annoying to play now and that's why I personally skipped the recent RE2 remake. The FOV is just way too narrow and restrictive imho. Same with Revelations.

    - Now for a side topic : my growing gripe with third person games in general and the post-RE4 RE titles in particular definitely comes from the fact that they are much, much more enjoyable in VR. After playing various third person games through VorpX for a while it's really hard to getting any enjoyement out of playing this kind of games the traditional way. RE-Revelations in VR is amazing, as head tracking makes a world of difference and the injector allows to edit camera position and FOV too. Now everything becomes readable as opposed to feeling like being trapped in a tunnel with one eye closed and a neck brace. It's getting to a point that Vorpx compatibility is becoming a deciding factor when purchasing games for me.

    - Back to the topic : if I am not mistaken wasn't RE1 originally supposed to be full 3d ? Or was that MGS1. Or both ? If anything I would say that since the game is pretty much just the second big title to use this kind of design after AITD, there wasn't much research on the topic back then at all, just some very good intuition from the director/head designer.

    - The fact that background pictures took hours/days to render probably had a consequence on the planning stages too. Today everyone would talk about "playing around" with camera angles and room designs to "get them right" - whereas for RE1 they were probably all sketched on paper beforehand and committed to early at the planning stage. The floorplan of the mansion obviously influenced the designs of the rooms too (L shapes, J-shapes, squares, corridors - just a giant puzzle box really) and that too probably had a strong impact on camera placement. As opposed to Fear Effect for instance, which is more like a series of organic tunnels with cinematic camera angles.

    - I personally found Republique to be near unplayable but that's just me I guess :D
  • Reverend Speed
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    Reverend Speed polycounter lvl 8
    Hmm.

    * It's interesting that you point out that fixed angles allow you to absorb the relevant info. I think one of the atmospheric qualities of the fixed angles is that you get to restrict the player's information, indeed, sometimes withholding or restricting relevant information to build tension and mood. It kinda asks for a lot of trust and compensation from the player, but the payoff can be fantastic.

    * Tank controls - I quite enjoy 'em, but I don't think I could justify forcing them on a broad swathe of players. That said, maybe you could market it as a game targeted at tank-pervs. =D Cam-relative controls seem to work fairly well, and I think Heavy Rain had a neat little innovation that smoothed out the controls quite a bit (the stick directs the character's interest, a trigger instructs them to go in that direction).

    * Really want to play RE2, but I haven't even had a chance to play RE7. =(

    * Can't relate to the Vorpx thing, don't have a VR helmet. Sounds really interesting, though.

    * Not sure if RE1 was meant to be full 3D. They did a great job with Dino Crisis later on, though, leading to Code Veronica, Outbreak, etc.

    * I believe the designers of RE claimed to not know about AITD. Either way, I'll second your point regards their intuition...!

    * Regards planning the angles, yeah, this is why I'm thinking there should be some set of principles for this. That said, you could definitely plan and test rooms with flat-shaded polys earlier on. That would absolutely give you enough information to know if an angle worked or not. It's a fair point that spatially the Resi environments make a lot more sense than a lot of game locations.

    * Awwh, you didn't enjoy Republique? I thought it was a blast, up to the very end where... it basically falls apart. It's a bit of a cheat to include it here, though, as the camera angles are under player control (similar to Experience 112), but I believe the designers consulted with some Resi experts when designing their environments and angles. Though doesn't Republique have a VR edition, now? Maybe that would be more interesting?

    Thanks for the notes, man!
  • pior
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    pior insane polycounter
    No problemo, that's a fun topic !

    I suppose by "relevant information" I mean : all the information that the game designer wanted to convey. Of course there's the great element of surprise inherent to the next camera angle ; but what I mean is, fixed camera REs have a fantastic visual clarity to them. When exploring a room there's no way to ever miss anything important since an item will always flash upon camera change. I find this great because this is a very honest way to communicate with the player. Thirdperson games (especially the over-the-shoulder ones) are not really good at that, and this is probably why I didn't really enjoy the RE2 remake.

    And now I need to go back to playing RE3 Nemesis :D
  • Mark Dygert
    RE1 was 3dcharacters on pre-rendered backgrounds. I remember reading an interview with some of the RE1 devs, I think it was in game Developer Magazine back in the early 00's, they wanted to do it all in 3D but both their budget and the hardware made that impossible.

    Dino Crisis was amazing, a huge leap forward. I would say a better template to follow if you where going to make a game in that style.
    • The way the camera was able to frame the player and follow them while also being roughly fixed in a location, added that level of realism that RE1 didn't have. The camera moved down the hallway, instead of switching several times disorienting the player.
    • They used the camera to good effect too. Sometimes you wouldn't see something until you moved into a specific position and the camera revealed it.
    • They also incorporated the 3D character into the loading screens with appropriate actions and models. The correct door you interacted with or the character walked up and down a flight of stairs while the camera panned.
    • I think they struck a good balance between fixed camera fly moving. It would follow you down the hall or it would switch to a top down Diablo style camera for larger areas but they always went back to a much more locked down over the shoulder kind of view if you where inside. 
    • Just being able to go outside was huge, lol.
    • They did a lot of "cinematic camera" movements too, which is something RE1 couldn't do with its pre-rendered backgrounds.
    • Their cinematic where mostly in game which didn't break the pace of the game nearly as often as RE1. The cinematics in RE1 where cool and scary but I was aware the action was paused and I was watching something. Anxiety also crept in because you didn't have control and didn't know what was going to happen as soon as it was over. 
    • In RE the camera changes made it disorienting at times, dino crisis flowed a lot better from scene to scene.

    Bioforge was great too

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dimqpJgDTQ
  • Reverend Speed
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    Reverend Speed polycounter lvl 8
    @pior - Enjoy Nemesis! I kinda associate frustration with that game - I remember thinking it wasn't a significant step forward for a numbered sequel when it came out... and then later I read that the devs were forced to make it as a stopgap while developing the true sequel, Code Veronica. Still, some nice elements in there.

    @Mark Dygert - Another case of technical limitations forcing a creative leap. =D

    * Love the tracking camera. Actually, I'd built a few versions of that that worked really well, just before Unity released their Cinematic Camera addon... which does a lot of these functions really, really well.

    * Oh, absolutely, Capcom/devs had some great 'highlight' angles, or angles used just once for cinematic effect (eg. after the Licker scuttles past the window in RE2, there's a shot of Leon in the next corridor from outside the building, implying that he's being watched). Great cinematic communication of information.

    * Regards 3D character on loading screens - I think Silent Hill 1 focused more on the main character in loading screens (a precursor to the Bayonetta / DMC 'training load screen' thing). Correct me if I'm wrong, but in Resi and Dino they mainly focused on the character moving up stairs to just remove the visual awkwardness of the player interacting with the physics of the stairs (or secretly, ramp!), instead showing a canned animation (and fade)? Though covering a loading sequence with the door animation was smmmmart (and ready for subversion, see Resident Evil 2!).

    * Confession - I've only played the first two or three hours of DC. Honestly, the environments (endless identical offices) bored the hell out of me and I wasn't able to summon the interest to go on. Say what you will about Resi 1 and 2, those settings have an abundance of character.

    * The capacity to do cinematic camera movements is nice, but just cause you have a tool doesn't mean you need to use it (not saying you're arguing for this!). I think RE1/2 get a lot of their claustrophobic mood from the fact you continually have to push your character towards an area of which you don't have full visual command.

    Square Enix did some really neat sneaky stuff to get that moving camera with rich visuals in Parasite Eve 2... 

    * Personal choice, obviously, but I quite liked cinematics in stuff like RE1/2 as I appreciated them as changes in my activity as a player. Kinda like Valve's combat fatigue, a nicely designed pre-rendered / non-interactive sequence can give the player a break and prepare them for the next sequence. I understand what you mean about anxiety, but that wasn't incompatible with what I wanted from a horror game. That said - obviously your experience differed!

    * "In RE the camera changes made it disorienting at times, dino crisis flowed a lot better from scene to scene." Didn't really have that much of a problem with RE. There's obviously an audience for it too, though I think it's probably somewhat niche, especially for a new brand. That said, I do like the look of Dino Crisis and enjoyed the follow cams (to the point where I programmed my own...!).

    BioForge! Jesus. I've never played it. I'll give it a look. If we're recommending games with fixed cams, I'll give a little love to Obscure 1/2, a series redolent with flaws, but at least trying for something different. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JG7b5hcaPtE

    INTERESTING STUFF!

    I'd be tempted to ask people questions about this on filmmaking sites, but the Resi games do things like crossing the line all the time, so I'm really unsure if it's a valid field to learn from in this instance.
  • Reverend Speed
  • Mark Dygert
    Oh yea parasite Eve, that was great! Weird and kind of gross, but great. They did a weird mix of pre-rendered and 3D so their cameras where not as interactive, which was fine but you could tell the higher production value on some of the backgrounds locked in certain elements and forced things to feel a little too composed for that one shot. There is a key, a safe and a phone all conveniently placed so they can be seen from this one view. It wasn't bad just felt a bit staged at times in certain areas.

    They seemed like they tried to push the graphics bar over being truely 3D? Probably because of all of the horrible pixelization and lack of anti-aliasing.

    Oh also... Don't forget about the 180 degree rule https://indiefilmhustle.com/180-degree-rule/ If you do cut scenes or dialog its kind of important, especially if you're coming from the main game cam to a cinematic camera.
  • Reverend Speed
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    Reverend Speed polycounter lvl 8
    Hey @Mark Dygert  - I think I mentioned that rule above, search for 'crossing the line'. When I get a chance I'll sit down with my Resi Remake HD screenshots, but I'm pretty sure there are multiple points where the devs / directors go "continuity editing is for losers" and stomp all over the 180 rule. Which is kinda relating to my reason for posting this topic - it's an interesting phenomenon where in search of a cinematic experience we throw out a filmic principle we've had for 100 odd years like 'crossing the line', yet mainly adhere to another one like 'match on action' (because the trigger for the cam switch - under player control - is usually the process of moving in a specific direction, flipping a switch, etc).

    Which cinematic rules are relevant for Fixed angle games, which ones aren't...? What's the process of the cinematic editor? Could you make an algorithm to capture that process, like the L4D director? Honestly, Cinemachine does a lot of this, I could probably spend more time analyzing that...

    No one's going to think this is going to change the world, but it's interesting to occasionally think about, or so I think. =)

    On Parasite Eve 2, agree with all your points, but you just have to give them props for including 'realtime' lighting in that scrubbable FMV sequence from the police car lights. It's really clever. A completely worthless oddity today, of course, but interesting. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, given the occasional FMV game on Steam, maybe you could do some weird realtime compositing to mix a 3D character in on top of prerecorded video...

    Not a huge fan of the combat system, but Parasite Eve 1 has a lot of neat structural and narrative elements going for it. Anyhow.

    At some point I might stitch together some Resi screenshots as an example for this thread...
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