Third Person VR

Sean Thompson

An awful lot of attention is given to VR’s ability to transport you to some other space. For good reason too — that’s exactly what it does. But that also seems to attach VR to being purely for first person experiences.

That simply doesn’t need to be the case. Playing a third person game in VR isn’t a second rate experience. You’re still first person to your own point of view, and that’s what VR is for, but you don’t have to be first person to the game’s protagonist.

Edge of Nowhere uses third-person to tell the story of Victor Howard.

For most experiences, third person is far more comfortable. You adopt the camera’s position, so that’s what you move with. The further you are from the action, the less jerk you feel.

A quick, sudden movement. The rate of change of acceleration.

Jerk is a problem in VR. If acceleration is felt in the stomach, jerk is felt as a headache behind the eyes. It’s a contributing factor to VR sickness, which is a form of motion sickness.

Keeping a user in your game is reliant on that game being comfortable. As a first person game, that put major constraints on your design. Sudden movements, jumps, spins, or teleports may not be an option. If you place the camera behind your main character though, all the above can be achieved with only gentle movements to the camera.

In Chronos you enjoy a cinematic experience, while the main character makes fast movements.

When your camera looks down on the game world, its inhabitants become action figures or dolls. It’s an incredibly freeing experience to interact this way. You feel far more in control, and more inclined to engage.

It’s also a more relaxing point of view. In a first person game, you’re normally looking at vertical structures — buildings, trees, people — spreading out into the distance. That forces you to move between several different depths repeatedly. If you raise your point of view a little, everything that’s important is viewed as existing on something close to a plane. Your eyes don’t have to work as hard.

In a traditional (ie, on a screen) 3D game with a high camera view — perhaps a strategy game — keeping track of several moving pieces and scrolling around a map can be difficult. But with stereo 3D, this isn’t the case. Instead of tracking colour or contrast, you’re tracking protrusions. These 3D items are much more easily picked out, so VR is actually a good home for many games with a third person view.

Bombsquad’s point of view allows you to have a complete view of the arena.

It’s really unusual for films — movies or cut scenes — to be first person. The occasional shot from inside a sci-fi helmet might be seen, or projects like Hardcore Henry, but they stand out as being unusual. It is usually more appropriate to tell a story from a point of view which shows the actions and reactions of all characters.

A first person game makes this very difficult. It’s not at all practical to show your protagonists face. You don’t get to see what they’re feeling, or judge their opinion of other characters.

The vast majority of large budget games differentiate themselves based on their narrative. I don’t want to get into large studios being risk averse, but the tools game designers use are converging, so it’s the content that makes the game. The story and the world it’s set in are important, so losing the ability to tell that story through the player’s character is a major hindrance. We really need to be aiming for something far, far beyond Doom!

Super Lucky’s Tale shows 3D platforming improved by VR.

There is no loss of immersion. You’re still entirely in the world.

It’s a fallacy that you need to see through the eyes of a person to feel as they do. We know this isn’t the case, because we’ve all read books and watched films in which we’ve empathised with characters we’ve seen. In fact, you’ve probably also played a first person game, and empathised with secondary characters!

It’s our ability to empathise, and story tellers’ ability to create relatable content, which allows us to feel what the game’s characters are going through. Seeing what your protagonist sees would rarely help with that. A first person view starkly contrasts with how we learn and communicate with people in our daily lives.

Seeing a game from a first person perspective isn’t the same as being that person. You get some notion of their head position and what their hands are doing. You’re not in the best position to read their feelings.

Landfall demonstrates how a third person view makes it possible to interact with multiple units.

A third party experience opens up the possibility of every type of 2D game moving to VR. There are loads of experiences which can be enhanced by VR, which would be otherwise missed. This doesn’t mean applying 3D depth unnecessarily or wasting the potential of VR; it means fusing decades of experience with a new technology.

One often forgotten advantage of VR is the FOV. We talk about it a lot, because it’s the VR equivalent of screen size. We also compare FOV between different headsets. We don’t compare it to screens much though.

The recommended FOV for enjoying a film is around 35 degrees. You’re probably not getting this at home though. A large monitor on desk might be close, but not a TV across a room, or a phone screen at arm’s length. Even if you are getting around 35 degrees, that’s probably less than your game would like you to enjoy. The cameras in most 3D games are set to around 60 degrees — any less would make navigation difficult.

In VR you can show large areas of a terrain, without framing a cropped area by the limits of your monitor. You can use the player’s periphery instead of relying on unintuitive tools like radars and maps. You can move a character quickly, while still allowing the user to see far ahead.

VR is a perfect medium for fast scrolling platformers or for god sims. None of these games would be first person.

Moss shows third person VR being used to convey narrative.

First person games will always be a major part of VR, because they’re a major group of games anyway, and VR makes them better. The choice of first person versus third is exactly the same in VR as with any other medium though. There’s absolutely nothing about VR which hinders or weakens a third person view, and plenty of reason for it being a rich experience.

If you play a VR game in first person, you simulate being a human. In third person, a god.

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