Brainstorm: controls, camera, game feel

You may already picture your project following familiar genre conventions (side scroller, 3rd person platformer…).
Let’s question all of our preconceptions and think about the controls that serve your project best.
This is a guided team discussion.

First person vs 3rd person

What are the implications of choosing a first person perspective vs a 3rd person view?


3rd person is not only for “3rd person shooter POV”, includes a lot of different perspectives and cameras (top down, side scrolling, fixed cameras)

  • Prominent avatar (which you have to model and animate) vs blank slate
  • Controlling a character vs “being” a character
  • In 3rd person you stare at your character a lot (Tomb Rider and WoW male players using female avatars, customizing your character feels more relevant, would Fortnite’s economy of accessory and dances even work in 1st person?)
  • You can use the avatar to visualize information without UI (limping animation, equipment, the scarf-jump in Journey below)
  • More vs less situational awareness (having less awareness can be more effective for horror/mystery)
  • In 3rd person you know where your character feet are, making platforming easier
  • 3rd person allows for predefined camera angles, frame composition, and cinematic techniques
  • First person works better for shooting (weapons) and shooting (camera) gameplays
  • 3rd person works with a simple camera, 1st person cameras conflict with human cognition (peripheral vision etc) often requiring adjustments in perspective and sizing: doors and room have to be bigger to look “right”, body parts may need weird distortions

Camera Perspective

If 3rd person what are the implications and affordances of different camera perspectives such as: top down, isometric, side view, cinematic camera, 3rd person shooter etc…

3rd person shooter POV

  • The player usually needs to control the camera (extra control better suited for double analog controller or keyboard + mouse combo)
  • Camera needs smoothing or it may feel nauseating
  • The player can get in the way of the camera, targeting/shooting may require a different camera mode, the camera can clip into walls and the environment…
  • For driving and flying controls give a good sense of the orientation of the avatar
  • The character’s faces aren’t seen clearly – possibly requiring portrait or different camera modes for dialogues
  • The perspective can frame distant locations stimulating the player’s curiosity

Top down bird view

  • Clear sense of direction, harder to get lost
  • player doesn’t need to manage the camera,
  • The character’s faces aren’t seen clearly – con: possibly requiring portraits or different camera modes for dialogues – pro: so you don’t have to animate them.
  • Works well for 2d and tile based scenarios
  • Can support multiplayer without split screen
  • If fully top down you may have to create a lot of roofs and uninteresting parts of the scenario
  • Better short range awareness (you see around the corner) bad long range awareness (you don’t see a mountain at distance)
  • Things can’t be seen from close by so you don’t have to model small details
  • Things can’t be seen from close by so you may need different modes to visualize small objects (inventory, overlay etc)

Side view


A good compromise between side and top view

  • Good for characters, vistas, and building facades
  • Good for 2d graphics and if 3D things have to look good only from one side
  • The foundation of several genres: platformers, beat ’em ups, point and click adventures, visual novels…
  • If 2d without a 3rd dimension like NITW it can limit the exploration possibilities, everything is arranged in one dimension
  • Can easily adopt visual conventions from animation, comics, film


A particular kind of first person in which the game is presented through a graphic user interface. Has been used a lot (maybe overused) in recent narrative games

  • fully “immersive” as it blends with the hardware and the player’s physical situation
  • appropriate for contemporary stories about social media and digital technologies
  • economic: you can offload a lot to the player’s imagination, text and interfaces are cheap
  • can be visually limiting
  • the gameplay can be hard to read from an image or short video

Hybrid / Unconventional

If your game doesn’t require character exploration and movement it may make sense to consider a non standard POV.

I don’t usually show my games as an example but

  • Can make a game look unique at first sight
  • May enable non-conventional gameplays
  • Can support scenes happening at very different times and spatial scales (narration through vignettes and ellipses)
  • Different views and interfaces mean more systems to program (Genesis Noir)
  • Can confuse and alienate less adventurous players
  • Experimental means that, like an experiment, it can fail. – i.e. not be a good idea

Controls and game feel

The control system is generally related to the camera view, we won’t go through all the possible control systems but rather think about controls in more expressive terms.

Enter Game Feel: Coined by Steve Swink (article summary here) used more or less ambiguously since then to refer to the “tactile” quality of control systems in spatial games. Basically how the game responds to the input.

The main idea is: a game should feel engaging to play even after the plot, points, level design, music, and graphics are removed.

What is your emotional target and how can the control system support it?
How can you describe and implement the game “feel” of your project?
How does the control system relate to the theme and vibe of the game in the example below?

To wrap up: write down a statement summarizing your conclusions and why you are choosing a particular view and control system.