As a level and game designer I have worked with many camera systems and their inherent perspectives. When trying to decide on the right perspective for your game, either 1st or 3rd, there are several questions you might ask yourself. I have found them to be helpful in my own work.
Choosing a camera perspective for your game should be settled on as early as possible in the game design process. If you begin production of the game and decide to change the camera perspective from 1st to 3rd, the repercussions can be deadly to your project. Changing a camera perspective also means changing the system, which includes programming changes, scripts to be updated, art requirements to change and level designs to be modified or scrapped entirely. This is months of work scrapped and more months to be added to the schedule and budget.
First Person Perspective
Third Person Perspective
To avoid this unfortunate situation, here are some questions you can ask yourself during the beginning design phase to help decide on a camera perspective as early as possible.
Question 1 – “What kind of exploration is essential to my game?”
Games are about exploration; to explore your skills, explore the environment, explore the story and explore the game mechanics. Exploration is deeply rooted in gaming and your camera perspective is the gateway into the world of gaming. The type of gateway needed (camera perspective) could be decided upon by asking, "What kind of exploration is essential to my game?"
If your game requires exploring the environment, such as platform jumping, running and finding secret areas, then a 3rd person perspective may work best. With a 3rd person view, players can see more of the world and more options for navigating it. They also can see their character and better judge jumps. However, there are always exceptions and Mirror's Edge is a great example of a game that is a platformer set in first person. However, it would probably still be easier to play in 3rd person so players can see more of the world and better decide which paths to take.
If there were a game based on exploring the psychology of characters and their relationships, a 1st person perspective would suit it best. This way, players can get up close to the raw emotions exhibited by facial expressions and body language conveyed by the characters.
Question 2 – “Does the core of the game experience feature anything important environmental wise, such as lots of destruction of the environment?”
3rd person views help players see destruction betterAnytime a video of Red Faction Guerilla is released, many people ask why the change from the older games’ 1st person to the new 3rd person perspective? The reason is because the new Red Faction Guerilla features a lot of environmental destruction. If the game were in 1st person, much of the destruction would not be seen, thus devaluing all the work that goes into making the destruction possible.
I worked on a multiplayer component for a game and for much of its development we had a 3rd person follow cam system. After experimenting, we discovered that changing the camera position to an arena style, fixed or on a spline farther away from players provided the best view possible for multiplayer matches because players could see the total destruction of the environment while they played. It was incredibly cool to launch an attack and see your opponent slam into a computer console, causing it to explode, metal twist and glass shatter all around. In the fast paced nature of the game, if it was a follow cam, players would likely not be able to see the collateral damage as they had to continuously be on the move. The change we made required a lot of code, script and level changes. In the end, none of that mattered because multiplayer was axed and we only shipped singleplayer. If we had considered early on the relationship of the camera perspective to our core gameplay and environmental destruction, we could have skipped the painful changes we made late in development.
Question 3 – “Are the environments in the game wide open spaces or office hallways and alley corridors?”
Wide environments suit 3rd person perspectives better because the camera won't get hung up on geometry as much or bounce around in tight spaces with a lot of corners. The 1st person view is in itself a limiting view point and matches claustrophobic spaces well.
Of course, with anything, there are always exceptions, but hopefully the above questions can help you decide much earlier in your games’ development which type of perspective suits your game best.