A general rule is that players experience a more intimate connection with their playable character when the camera is positioned close-up. A gameplay close-up is different from a film close-up because it usually frames the back of the playable character’s head since it must face the direction of action in line with the player’s gaze. The synchronization of perspectives creates a visceral experience because in-game events appear to be directed straight at the player.
This is especially true of the first-person view, which hides all but the arms of the in-game figure—thus perfectly aligning the player’s gaze with that of their in-game character. For close-ups, playable characters are usually positioned off to one side so as not to obstruct the player’s view of the environment. Framing the action using a mid-shot or long-shot shifts the experience away from the player’s first-person perspective to focus on the playable character, whose shape and animations can be clearly seen within the picture frame. The experience feels more intimate the closer a camera is positioned to the playable character.
We briefly examined the significance of horizon line placement in Basic Perspective, but now we’ll take a closer look at this design tool and how the horizon line’s position in relation to the camera is used in games to affect the player’s feelings.
Assassin’s Creed II
Assassin’s Creed II allows players to scale buildings to reach the city’s rooftops, which places the horizon line high up in the frame, giving players a commanding and empowering view of their surroundings.
The same character placed at ground level creates a more natural perspective with the horizon closer to the middle of the screen. The contrast between a high and middle horizon line in this game makes the player feel more exposed and vulnerable at ground level.
Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus from Team Ico effectively uses a low-angle shot to create a sense of vulnerability in the face of a massive scale. Placing the camera near the ground, behind the playable character Wander, means the player is often looking up at the colossi that he must scale.
Player-Controlled Camera Angles
Player-controlled camera angles refer to the ability of a player to adjust the perspective or point of view from which they view the game world in a video game. This can be done through the use of in-game controls, such as a joystick or mouse, and can be used to change the angle at which the player views the action, or to move the camera closer or further away from the player character. This feature is typically used to improve the player’s immersion in the game world, and can also be used to provide a more dynamic and interesting viewing experience.
A first step in translating classical art principles to video games is to consider the in-game camera and whether it’s set to frame the action using a close-up, medium, or long shot. There are many practical considerations when deciding on a camera shot. For example, the player must be able to see enough of the playing area to make decisions on how to act within the game, so gameplay often dictates the choice of camera shot. But the final decision on how to frame in-game objects is not just a technical one; the frame’s artistic intent will affect the emotional experience of the player as well. The idea is to have the gameplay and artistic intent inform the camera shot unanimously, changing dynamically to fit changing situations in-game.
The viewer’s perceived proximity to characters in an image either creates an intimate feeling, as in a portrait (left) or still-life painting, or a more detached, distant relationship, as in a typical landscape painting (right). Video games have a significant advantage over traditional media because the proximity device that influences the emotional connection between players and characters can be adjusted dynamically depending on the situation. A close-up shot creates an intimate connection with the playable character, but as the camera shifts away, the landscape becomes more prominent and the player-character connection more detached.