Thursday, May 25, 2017

Moving On: Side Scrollers, Cameras & Player Experience

Indie game designer Itay Keren recently posted a fascinating in-depth essay on his Gamasutra blog based on a talk he gave all about side-scrolling platformers, how the "camera" or game view works in a few different types of platformers, and what that means for both game design and the player experience. In addition he creates a very useful glossary for platforming and side scrollers out of whole cloth! An excerpt:
Working on my game Mushroom 11, I was faced with many different design and technology challenges. I wasn’t expecting to find references to issues like dynamically changing shapes or vertex animation, but I was quite surprised that camera work, a subject with more than 30 years of history in games, was hardly discussed. I decided to start a journey through the history of 2D gaming, documenting their challenges, approaches and how the evolution of their solutions. Also, since there’s a lack of proper terminology for the many different solutions, I started gathering and categorizing them into groups, providing my own glossary, if only for my personal reference.

For example, here's a breakdown of how the arcade game Shinobi handles tracking the player's movements:

Maybe my favorite classic game, Shinobi, has some very high jumps between multiple platforms. The designers came up with a unique camera system: vertically, due to the many platforms the character jumps between, Shinobi uses a very wide vertical camera window. As always, the window pulls the camera with it immediately. The problem with a wide (or tall) window is that after a small jump, the character could be stuck at the top of the window with very little top-view, as we’ve seen in Rastan Saga. Shinobi simply continuously aligns the camera, slowly, to the Ninja, keeping the focus on the action and in most cases keeping rapid camera motion to the minimum.

Shinobi © 1987 Sega

position-snapping (vert.) -constantly reduce window drift by focusing the camera back on the player
camera-window (vert.)
position-locking (horiz.)

He follows that up with a really neat look at how Super Mario World handles snapping focus to both the player AND the platform. As Itay shows:

One of the many features that Super Mario World introduced was platform-snapping. As with any camera-window, the camera would stay stationary until the character hits the edge. But since mario inevitably lands on a platform, as soon as he does, the camera would immediately snap to its position.

Super Mario World © 1990 Nintendo

platform-snapping* - camera snaps to the player only as it lands on a platform
camera-window* (vert.)
* Where applicable
* Threshold triggered
manual-control* (horiz.)
* Controller provides extra panning

The entire post is a fascinating read. It explains many different gaming concepts in an easy to understand way, is thoroughly documented and has TONS of classic gaming nostalgia, too. GO read the whole thing!

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