Saturday, March 19, 2011

A wider point of view, part two.

In part one I talked at length about current games and their console and PC features. One of which is an often ignored option that has been irking me to no end: A configurable Field Of View (FoV) variable. A limited FoV is usually a telling sign of consolitis, a term the online PC community uses to denote a game that is marred by its console origins. Yet I have not explained just why it's such a big deal. Why the fuss over adjustable features? And what makes the FoV so important?

An example might clarify what I'm talking about. If you want to fully notice the difference between the following clips, watch the peripheral vision, size of opponents, sense of speed and turning speed. The effect is clearly visible when you look at the onscreen size and position of the AK47. This first clip is Black Ops at its standard 65 FoV:

This second clip is Black Ops at its maximum allowed FoV of 80. Which still considered on the low side by most PC gamers who'd want the scale to go as far as 90:

The differences are subtle, yet make a world of difference while playing. CoD might not be the best example of this because the gap between min and max FoV isn't that big. The engine is quite performant and so the standard FoV is still quite wide compared to other games.
But does it make a difference? Of course it does. Compare the render area with this picture in picture image images courtesy of the Forums). In the picture is a screenshot of Bad Company 2, the numbers on the shot is the used FoV. 55 Is what the console uses, 85 is typically around what a PC gamer would use on a 16:10 monitor.

The difference in number of assets that are displayed on-screen is clearly visible. More on screen logically means the computer will need more system resources to display them. Also note that the 55 FoV screen is zoomed in, enlarging objects in depth. The shot with 85 FoV is less zoomed in, but objects in the distance appear smaller on screen.
There's an additional concern with the zoomed-in view. If we were to apply 3D vision to it, the effect would be less pronounced. If you've ever looked through binoculars and moved from left to right, you'll know that depth perception is minimized. This means that any game with a very narrow FoV will gain little from 3D effects, and might even get in the way of gameplay because it is so unnatural, at least on PC.
If the viewing angle gets to big though, the image will become noticeably warped, like watching through a fisheye lens. What's more, if more image is squeezed into the view port of the monitor, objects in depth will get pushed even further away, making them smaller and, as a side effect, harder to aim at in a shooter. Debunking the claim that increasing the FoV would be some sort of visual cheat, just because you get to "see more". Players need to find a workable medium, one that looks and feels comfortable.

PC gamers demand adjustable FoV because, unlike their console playing brethren, they're sitting quite close to the screen. A low FoV makes you look around constantly in order to take in your environment. Combine this with the screen distance, a lack of peripheral vision and one can easily get motion sick.
What's more, a larger FoV is more immersive because our natural FoV is quite large as well. So it is best to match the natural FoV with the one in the game. The further you sit from the screen, the smaller it can get without appearing unnatural. But when watching a screen up close, as is the case with a PC, it needs to be quite wide. To drive the point home: if your eyes were the screen, logically, you'd want to have the full natural FoV which is about 180 degrees. Fun fact: a large FoV also greatly increases the sense of speed.

So why don't console games provide a bigger FoV? The low FoV on consoles could be there for a number of reasons. As I mentioned before, one is that the player sits a distance away from the TV, his "window" into the virtual world. Making a smaller FoV appear more natural. We'll ignore the naturalistic appearance of a pair of arms more than a meter away for now. One argument against this then is: why don't they incorporate a FoV slider and give players a choice. I can imagine some console gamers are sitting quite close to the screen too.
Perhaps console devs simply can't. And that really narrows down the number of design choices.
Linked to system resources, a low FoV can also be due to the limited horsepower of the consoles. Rendering less makes a console render faster. Here is where we get to the crux of this topic. This highlights what infuriates PC gamers so much about badly ported shooters: inferior hardware dictating and limiting the way a game plays on potentially superior PC hardware.

In the past PC's have always been used for immersive applications that greatly benefit from wide viewing angles. A good example are flight simulators where, even in the early days, multiple screens would be used to simulate a real cockpit in which the pilot could watch not only in front but also to the sides. This was even more useful when piloting a fighter, where dogfights would take place in 3D space. By which I mean a fighter pilot has to keep track of his targets all around him, back, front, left, right, up and down. Watching rigidly ahead would narrow his spatial awareness to less than 1/6 of what it should ideally be. If the used foV is around 90 degrees.
We could quite easily change the context to shooters, where a soldier needs to keep track of his targets in a 3D environment. Perhaps not so much under and above him, but certainly in front, to the left and right and to the back.

With all this in mind. Let's watch the following youtube movie. The commentator, the esteemed El Presador, doesn't have an inkling about how a game engine works technically, but what he's saying from his gamer background is pertinent. And that's what really matters. The game is Killzone 3.

If you enjoyed that, there's more on topic El Presador on Killzone 3.

Killzone 3 is a prime example. A low FoV is its main persisting problem, as it has been present since the first Killzone. And its bad controls are always what people complained about however the "sluggish controls" are wrongly attributed to the controls. The game looks sluggish because the view is so zoomed in. It can make people nauseous. It makes the environment harder to navigate which in turn makes people run into walls. That's also what happened in the video.
I assume Guerilla squeezed the PS3 for performance, making the game look good, by squeezing the FoV. Render less to make it render faster. And despite the sacrifices the game doesn't run any faster than 30fps. Meaning that a TV running at 60hz will display every frame in the game twice, where it would display any given frame only once at 60fps. Twice the frame rate makes a game feel more responsive.

Because engines have gotten harder to run on consoles, the FoV has become more narrow. And in many cases can be blamed for the sluggish or unresponsiveness in console shooters. Which makes all of them fail to topple Call Of Duty. It has the lightest engine, the widest, most natural FoV, the highest frame rate and the most responsive controls on the market. Does this mean it is untouchable? On the current consoles it probably does. But I for one feel that the age of Call Of Duty is coming to an end. The new engines dazzle players with their effects, physics, realism and immersion. The visual fidelity of Cryengine 3 and Frostbite 2 will raise the standard in a way that Call Of Duty players will expect the same quality from their favorite game. Unfortunately though, if Call Of Duty has to upgrade its engine, it will also have to leave behind its 60fps and 65 degrees FoV in favor of 30fps and 55 or less FoV. With the same sacrifices on gameplay in favor of visuals, it would get attributed the same dubious award of looking great, but playing like garbage. Current console hardware only goes so far.

For PC players though, this tipping point is a sweet release from the shackles of console hardware. We're seeing it with Battlefield 3 already, where PC is the leading platform. PC hardware does have the power to run a 64 player battlefield game at 60fps with a 80+ FoV. Which is bound to get the goad of at least some ardent console players who'll have to admit that the PC platform is leaping miles ahead in both gameplay, scope and graphics. The consoles will only be getting a limited version of the very same game. Again, Battlefield 3 will have to use DX9 technology on consoles leaving out all the realism gained with DX11.

Ultimately, it's hard to point fingers. I guess the lead artist or lead gameplay designer of these games are responsible for allowing it. Even though they might not even be aware of the issue. Not knowing about the legacy of shooters or technical limitations. Perhaps they simply have to comply with the lead programmer that the game just doesn't run fast enough with these kind of high-end visuals.
Maybe it's the fault of their customers, supporting bad practice with their money. Though they are even less aware of the issues. And are at a loss about what some other, often PC players, are raving on about. Why are they getting so upset? They only know that this game doesn't feel as good as Call Of Duty but can't quite put their finger on as to why. So they play it for a week and go back to their beloved franchise with the crisp controls and the responsive frame rate. Even though they wished the other game would take them somewhere else.
Then, the newest trailer of Battlefield 3 stuns them into a new dream. The lighting looks amazing! And look at the soft shadows! Will it run at 60fps? But of course it won't. Even Josh Olin, Treyach community manager, hinted at that smirking all the way from his gold plated throne. Disappointed once again console players will go back to Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3, while DICE wonders why only the PC crowd keeps cheering them on. And EA, learning too little, will break their heads over how they could possibly reclaim the FPS crown from Activision once more. Funny that, how this cycle repeats itself.


Jacob said...

Awesome article. I always thought the FOV in Bad Company was too zoomed. Now I have proof.

Skaruts said...

One thing I noticed while playing low fov games (namely Call of Juarez:BiB and Duke Forever demo, the ones I recall right now) is that the low fov makes me feel as if the view is rotating over an ofset pivot point. Like if the camera is in front of the character instead of in the character. Thus I get that "bumping into walls" thing, or even that "walls seem like they are bumping into me".

This is really annoying. And even the mouse movement seems drasticaly weird. Like if I either turn too much or turn too little. No matter what sensitivity I'm using it always feels really wrong.

I wish all games came with a slider that could allow fov changes up until 130. I would never use 130 myself, but I'm fond of generosity.
Personaly, while playing Quake 3 Arena or Quake live I use a fov of 110-120 (I swap sometimes because I never make up my mind about each other :)). Bothe provide a good sense of speed, although 120 seems a bit ofset and a bit distorted already.

I'm a big fan of wide fov choices (among other variety of choices we could have, but don't).