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Pull up a chair and listen to me ramble about two related types of games, immersion and a tiny bit of gaming history. Also contains pictues of burly men with guns. Still, probably SFW.

Game Developer

February 4, 2014

7 Min Read

Shooting in the 1st and 3rd person

Pull up a chair and listen to me ramble about two related types of games, immersion and a tiny bit of gaming history. Also contains pictues of burly men with guns. Still, probably SFW.

It always made good sense to label a certain brand of action game as the first person shooter (abbreviated FPS) and it certainly ages better than the old term ‘Doom clone’, which is what we called ‘em back in my day. Now get off my lawn, you kids and your auto-tuned dubstep noise.

Anyway, you know what type of game I’m talking about. Look down the barrel of your gun. Point it at enemies and keep firing until they stop moving. Pick up some ammo, throw the occasional grenade. There has been some evolution in the genre since the days of your Dooms and your Duke Nukem 3Ds, but the basic premise remains the same.


You've been here before.


If we take that exact same premise and zoom the camera back a bit, we have what we call a third person shooter (actually rather uncommonly referred to as a TPS – go figure). There really aren’t any important differences between the game mechanics of your average FPS and your average third person shooter these days. The genre label, third person shooter, could easily have been used as an umbrella term for damn near every action game developed before Wolfenstein 3D hit the PC (some people remember the slightly younger Ken’s Labyrinth) in the early 90’s. Except from a few early, crude attempts at experimental 3D action games (whether it be through faux 3D representation or a rendering of some kind of actual 3D space), your only pre-Wolfenstein action games would be primitive light-gun arcade games.


Note to gaming newbies: Not really a first person shooter, but all you do is shoot. In the first person. Confused yet?


The genre third person shooter, on the other hand, could effectively describe everything from Space Invaders to the game for which the term was coined (or at least, for which the term finally stuckand officially became a thing), namely the very succesful Gears of War and its many sequels and imitators. The mechanic you could most easily argue makes a third person shooter what it is, would be the snap-to-cover function and the stages being littered with the now infamous ‘chest-high walls’ – conveniently placed for you to hide behind while your health regenerates. 

Pop and shoot. That is generally seen as the defining trait of this particular action game sub-genre, but that is what we have been doing in FPS games since the earliest Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games anyway, isn’t it? Some FPS games have even had a snap-to-cover function of some sort. Snapping to cover, as opposed to simply moving behind pillars and corners to dodge enemy fire, is a fairly new concept. Gears of War popularized it and, arguably, did it better than the innovators that came before it. Those innovators would include Koei’s Operation Winback games and Killswitch on the Playstation 2. 


Operation Winback. The birth of a genre. A sort of, kind of distinct genre.


The real meat and potatoes of these games lie in both precision shooting (headshot!) and in moving from cover to cover to flank enemies and avoid being flanked yourself. If you ever played an old school shoot ‘em up like Gradius, you will remember that such a game, while being about shooting in the third person, are not at all about flanking and precise shooting. They are about dodging. Looking at old-school FPS games we also see dissimilarities with the modern third person shooter. Wolfenstein 3D is about shooting first more than anything. Your guns have a ridiculously high degree of auto-aiming and there isn’t any real way of dodging, nor flanking anything for that matter, since your 2D sprite adversaries don't have the brains to hide behind cover. Doom is all about dodging and positioning, even about flanking, but precision aiming is not a concern here either. Using the right weapon is arguably more of a defining characteristic for the Doom gameplay style.


Gradius: Also not a third person shooter, but just a shooter seen in the third person. Take notes, rookie!


My point with all this rambling is that, specifically, the modern FPS type game and the Gears of War brand of the so-called third person shooter is very nearly the same style of gameplay, cosmetics aside. That is precisely why I struggle to understand why I have developed an appreciation for third person shooters during the PS3/Xbox360 generation of games, yet still cannot be bothered to play more than a few minutes of any modern FPS.

Could it be that I simply value being able to see my avatar that much? I do gravitate towards games with characters. Characters that I can see and hear (no silent protagonists for me, please) and preferably select, which is one of the reasons why I was always drawn towards fighting games and the Dynasty Warriors games. There is something that grounds me in the game world, when I can see a character walk around, controlled by me – especially if I get to choose just the character I like the most. I never could appreciate the idea of imagining myself walk around in the virtual world of a game, gun in hand. I’m the guy who never once in my long gaming-life created an avatar to look like myself or even gave a character my name. I’m not interested in that idea at all. In a first person shooter, there is no character.


Player, meet mister gun. And such a nice guy too.


Even if you see someone in the cut-scenes or hear a disembodied voice emanate from behind the floating gun, I feel like the only thing present is that floating gun. There is no Duke Nukem! He’s an illusion, and so is Gordon Freeman. At least Doom gave you a little portrait down at the bottom of the screen, but that still doesn’t speak to me the same way a third person character does. I’ll even take a third person character I don’t particularly like – lets say Marcus Fenix, over a floating gun that hears voices in its head. I know the general argument goes that the first person view is supposed to facilitate immersion, but oh what a dominant idea that has become! Immersion is like the Holy Grail of game design. I always felt it was a silly concept – but who am I to say how a game should be experienced.


Well, at least he's not a gun. He does look like a walking locker cabinet, though.



This immersion thing; it always struck me as a downright illogical concept. I will never believe I am inside the game world, though I may feel quite invested in the game and forget to blink. This happens automatically if the gameplay is good and the game has artwork  and music that appeals to my tastes, so why worry about fading out interface elements and other silly designer shenanigans? I’ll tell you when I pay too much attention to the interface: when I need to see my ammo count and the indicator has gone hiding, that’s when! Some modern first person shooters value the current idea of immersion a bit too highly and perhaps, that is one reason why the third person shooter genre seems so much more interesting to me than its nearly identical twin, the FPS. Perhaps, in the lesser of the two, there is a bit more of the intrusive walk-and-talk silliness and a bit more of a tendency to yank the camera to where I need to look, in order to appreciate some boring scripted event that I can’t relate to, since I play a character that doesn’t exist.

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