The success of games like Gone Home, Dear Esther, and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has led to more and more indie game developers trying their hand at creating new and interesting experiences using first-person perspectives in non-combat situations. This is great. I've seen some really good things come out of this trend, such as The Old City: Leviathan and TRI: Of Friendship and Madness. As far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier.
One thing I've noticed, though, is that a lot of the smaller developers who are trying to create unusual first-person experiences skip what is considered a standard, must-have option in all the usual first-person suspects: invert-Y. I think it's safe to assume that these developers don't need invert-Y themselves, since it is very much a need and not a preference for those who use it. This, then, is my attempt to explain why all first-person games need an invert-Y option.
It comes down to the fact that some of us have brains which are hardwired to interpret the motion of our hand on the mouse and its translation to the graphics on the screen differently from most people. The explanation I've found that makes the most sense to people who don't need invert-Y is this: imagine that my hand on the mouse is actually my hand on the back of the invisible person in the game whose shoes I am filling. If I move my hand (with its grip on the back of their head) up, which way do their eyes (the camera view) point? If I move my hand down, which way do their eyes move? That's how my brain interprets the mouse movement, and if the camera doesn't work that way, my brain responds with a loud FRELL THIS DREN.
This is not a thing that can be changed. Trust me, I tried for years and it just isn't happening. If a first-person game requires fast reflexes and course corrections, I will fail to make them because I'll find myself staring at the sky instead of the ground in front of me. If a game is all about exploring an empty environment, the only thing I'm going to explore is frustration with controls that are as obtuse as having the function of the WASD keys reversed.
I therefore urge developers to treat invert-Y as an accessibility option, just like rebindable keys. (You are allowing rebindable keys, right?) These options have been standard in FPS games for something like two decades for good reason. If you're not a regular FPS player, ask a friend to borrow one of their games and look at all the options the game offers. Some of them are not as necessary as others and some will not even apply to your game, but consider which options open FPS games to wider audiences.
What about the X-axis, Lena?
Any time I make someone see that invert-Y isn't just some eccentricity I can choose to ignore, the first question they ask after that is if I need the X-axis to be inverted as well, since if you follow the hand-on-back-of-head model, moving my hand right should move the eyes left and vice-versa. When I was younger, I struggled with that a lot; it was the default that my brain wanted. But somehow my brain did manage to adapt to that eventually. I don't know what makes invert-X different from invert-Y in that respect, but my brain can handle either or for the X-axis, with a period of adjustment if I have been playing one way a lot recently and switch to the other.
No, this doesn't mean that I just have to play more non-inverted-Y things to make it work. I've tried that. It doesn't. The X-axis is magically different. Besides, at this point there are so many other games out there to play that it doesn't even make sense to try. I'd rather consider the money I spent on a game without invert-Y a sunk cost and move on.
How does this affect your game coverage for IndieGames.com, Lena?
I won't cover a game that doesn't have invert-Y unless it's a game jam, and even then if the game relies on fast reflexes or has too high a mouse sensitivity (there's another option you should include, by the way), sometimes not. It's not fair to the game or the developers for me to try to review something when the foremost thought in my mind the whole time is "frell these frelling controls".
In the past, I've asked the developer about how I can reverse the Y-axis to test it. Many developers take that as a reminder that some people need invert-Y and just update the game with the option in it or say they'll add that when they get a chance but it'll take time because they need to figure out how to add it to their settings nicely, which is great. Others, though, just talk about getting a build to me with invert-Y so that the game can get reviewed, so I'm getting to the point where I'm seriously considering just telling developers that I'll check their game out again once it has an invert-Y option.