Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Short Rant about Third Person Camera Angles in Video Games

Let's talk about something not related to anything.

Third person camera angles.

There's a lot of video games that use the "default" third person camera. You've seen them. The games where they place your character at the center of the camera and use your character as a pivot point.

It looks something like this:

There are some obvious faults with this type of camera system. The most general one is that it blocks your line of sight. Also, the view angle is not ideal in a lot of situations. When you move the camera down (as in moving your camera to almost parallel to the ground), almost half the screen is taken up by the ground close up. The other half is taken up by the sky, and you have a hard time telling apart depth. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you rotate the camera up (and view from a higher ), all you get is the ground and you can't see objects far away.

This happens to be the camera system that a lot of MMOs adopt.

(Notice how some of these problems are not very obvious in Zelda: Ocarina of Time because when you need to look at anything the auto-targeting system takes over.)

However, a lot of games do something that make the camera angles a lot better. They simply raise the pivot point of the camera up a bit.

As you can see, Skyrim's camera is slightly better. The camera is looking more towards where the player wants to look instead of directly at the character. It let's you see more stuff and admire the view.

However, there are some practical concerns with this system when you start rotating the camera. The thing is, camera systems will limit the angle of rotation of their camera. For example, some won't let you rotate the camera up too high.

Now, suppose you are on a short inclined hill (as you often are in Skyrim). The ideal angle would be to look over the hill. However, the rotation limit locks your camera so you can only get a good look at the sky and not what's over the hill.

(Ok, so you think I'm probably a bit harsh on Skyrim. It's true that it has 3 camera modes: First-Person, Medium Range Third-Person, and Long Range Third-Person. And the one shown here is probably the least used.)

What I'm saying is, with a simple camera system there's always a bunch of compromises you have to make. But the experience can be so much better with a dynamic camera system that adapts to the player's actions.

Let's take a look at some screenshots from one of my favorite games, Shadow of the Colossus:


The effects of a better camera system are pretty clear. Almost every screenshot in you get while playing Shadow of Colossus looks like it could be a wallpaper. Not only does it look great when they nail the Rule of Thirds, having

Also, this is what the game looks like when you are playing. These screenshots aren't taken from special angles that aren't practical during actual gameplay.

(I'm looking at you, Skyrim)

As you can see, there are plenty of different ways you can improve from the default third person camera.

Here are a list of quick tips:

1. Don't focus on the character. Focus on what the player wants to look at

2. Don't put the pivot point of the camera on the player.

3. Change camera distance and angle when you want to show difference in size and scale

4. Change the field of view when you want to focus on something.

And that's the end of my rant.


  1. Good Analysis of the camera with lively pic and gif examples :D! I am totally agree with you about the camera issue and I think the well designed dynamic camera makes tons of contribution to the storytelling and gameplay.

    Another example to mention, for most 3rd person shooters, they put their camera over the shoulder of the character instead of their back, such that they won't block the aiming sight. And they zoom more while the character is aiming. These are good control of the camera too.

  2. That's a highly focused yet important topic for today's games. There have been times when I went dizzy because of a poor camera set up in a FPS or TPS game. Your post establishes the idea of providing an aesthetically awesome yet comfortable camera angle to the player. It is one of the most important elements of a good game design. I enjoyed reading through the nuances of good camera set up. Keep up the good work.

  3. It wasn't all good for Shadow of the Colossus though. Even though it made from some very cinematic moments, it did feel awkward to control at times, especially when you were trying to dodge a colossus. But in the end, this trade off may have been one of the things that burned that game into many people's minds as one of the greatest ever.

    There are 2 other camera views that I think can work situationally: the over the shoulder or off center perspective (where the camera is either over the player's shoulder, or the camera focuses such that the player is in one corner of the view) like in Gears of War, Final Fantasy XIII, etc; and the pseudo-fixed perspective, often used in hack n' slash game like Devil May Cry. Both of these take a ton of time and scripting to get right, but mostly they work well, in my opinion.

  4. Although most of the players when playing 3D ARPG would frequently adjust his camera angle by himself. This knowledge very detailed and educational.

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