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The Two-Inch Wall

While playing a first-person shooter, have you ever found yourself at a dead sprint, when suddenly you’re running in place with no indication of why? This is what I call “The Two-Inch wall.”

Brandon Karratti

July 13, 2011

5 Min Read

The FPS genre, despite whether you may think of it as the bane or the boon of modern gaming, isn’t going anywhere for quite some time. It’s an interesting and well-implemented system that truly puts the player right into the action. The potential is deep enough that you can truly develop an intimidating skill with time and practice, yet it remains simple enough that even the most gaming-illiterate can pick up a controller (or mouse and keyboard) and start blasting away.

There are, however, minor weaknesses in the first-person viewpoint that can cause frustration, especially in the intense, clutch-moments when you find yourself outnumbered and struggling to survive in a risky situation.

Today, I want to talk about the two-inch wall.

FPS maps, and really, just about all visual aspects of gaming in general, have to do with geometry. Game environments are built out of rendered geometric shapes that are then textured, shaded and skinned with better-looking graphics, but at their heart, they are mostly just shapes. These shapes are placed together in different and interesting ways to create maps that have multiple paths and killzones, which make fighting on each map a unique experience that requires a different approach.

However, no matter how well a map is designed, there are always things that are going to remain just-out-of-view when you’re looking through the first-person perspective. Because FPS remains a genre without a peripheral view, on-screen we only see a fraction of what we would normally see through our own eyes.

As you’re reading this, you’re not only aware of the words on the screen. At the edge of your vision, you can also see your knees and lap (if you’re sitting down), possibly the wall or person sitting next to you, or you might even see the person standing just at your shoulder. This peripheral vision allows you to “see” so much more than what your eyes are looking at, which, in turn, allows you to react to small changes in your environment, such as the small rock that’s sitting in a path.

When a map designer misses pieces of geometry, there are left small bits laying about on the ground, like tin cans or bricks littered about. In reality, we would have the intelligence to step over such a thing, or if we stumbled on it, we would correct ourselves. But because FPS games are not designed with those instances in mind, there is no stumble. Instead, the avatar is stopped in the path, yet there is no indication other than the lack of forward momentum.

Have you ever found yourself at a dead sprint, when suddenly you’re running in place with no indication of why? This is what I call “The Two-Inch wall.” It’s an immovable obstacle that is outside of the view of the player’s perspective that hinders movement in an unbelievably inconvenient manner. Often, such obstacles appear at the worst possible moment to stop you as you’re strafing back and forth to avoid enemy fire, stopping you in your tracks and leaving you vulnerable to an easy kill.

Such have definitely been the source of many frustrating moments in my multiplayer gaming experience.

The 3PS, or Third-Person Shooter, does not have such problems, or at least to such a degree. The benefit of being able to emulate peripheral vision in a shooter has the benefit of being able to completely see the avatar’s feet, so you can always see where you’re headed, and what obstacles might be in the way.

But I’m not going to advocate a wide shift over to 3PS-Only shooters. That’s just plain ridiculous.

My thoughts are that such instances could be easily addressed with a little creative application of the tools that are already available to the developer.

Here are just a couple of ideas:

- The implementation of “tripping.” If, instead of the avatar simply “stopping,” he instead would “trip” or stumble over geometry, that might offer an interesting dynamic to a fight. I’m picturing an instance where two enemies might be strafing, one trips and rolls, and the opponent has to compensate for that sudden movement.

This could also be the source of a rather hilarious instance where a sprinting avatar running at full-bore faceplants into the ground in the middle of a killzone. (I’d laugh.)

- The use of controller vibration as an “obstruction indicator.” I know of a number of players that prefer to turn off controller vibration chiefly because the constant jostling becomes annoying, and even contributes to hand fatigue. (For me, the feature also lost its novelty when the Rumble Pack appeared for the N64.)

If, however, the vibration had a purpose, such as letting you know when you were pressing up against a wall or obstacle, that would make it no longer a novelty, but offer a potential tool. You would be able to know when your avatar’s legs hit something, because of a tactile response to your actions, instead of just as evidence of an explosion or bullet wound.

- An on-screen indicator. In Call of Duty, the indicator for [PRONE BLOCKED] is extremely helpful. Because you don’t have the tactile feel of the wall against your legs, it lets you know that you can’t turn yourself that way anymore. Why not implement a similar standard for when you can’t see an obstacle?

When you’re running, and you hit something and keep running in place, a small indicator should come up that says [MOVEMENT BLOCKED] or something similar. Not that complicated, and it would probably utilize the exact same mechanics as the prone detection.

Just because something has always been done one way, and we’ve learned to live with it, doesn’t mean that it cannot be improved. Since FPS is here to stay, then it would only make sense to take some time and thought to improve it.

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