Why I Hate First Person Perspective

I've been a video game enthusiast since the mid 1980s. I've probably played thousands of games over the course of my life, and a large portion of them to completion. Over the years I've owned pretty much all the major game consoles (and some minor ones), a few portable games systems, I've also owned PCs for years, I spent many hours in arcades back in the day, and in more recent years I've played my fair share of smartphone games, online multiplayer and MMOs and the like. In short, I’ve had countless hours of experience with all sorts of games utilizing every sort of perspective and gameplay style.

Generally speaking I hate first person perspective. I feel it's over used and I've never fully understood its apparently broad appeal by both game players and designers. I’m not saying this flippantly or without consideration. There have certainly been first person games that I have enjoyed and consider excellent games, but I feel that more often than not they’re either exceptions that prove the rule or they work despite being first person perspective due to excellent design in other areas.

I remember playing Wolfenstein 3D, Doom I and II, and Quake in the early 90s. I thought they were all pretty amazing from a technical standpoint even if I wasn’t enthralled with them from an actual gameplay standpoint. When I played the original Half Life a few years later I was even more impressed with the tech. What’s more I was very impressed with the gameplay and story. Half Life was such a great game overall that I was willing to overlook the small annoyances due to its perspective like the awkward platforming sections.

Naturally I was one of the people who were extremely upset upon learning that Metroid Prime would be a first person game. But, like Half Life before it, I had to grudgingly admit that the game itself ended up being excellent. In fact I consider the first Metroid Prime game a near masterwork to this day. But a certain part of me wondered how much better it could have been if it were done right (“right” being if it was a game that was primarily 3rd person perspective switching to 1st person only for the scanning sequences and possibly some shooting sequences).

So what specifically is my damn problem with first person? Here’s a list:

1) No Peripherals. I have always hated the fact that playing in first person felt like looking through a small window, as if I was staring out a narrow viewport in a tank or some kind of medieval helmet. This is especially annoying in shooting games, particularly in multiplayer online shooting games where the ability to see an enemy in your peripherals could make a real difference. (As an aside, FPS games designed for triple monitor display could potentially alleviate this issue by expanding the players effective viewing angle)

2) Poor sense of player character position. This is related to what is technically termed “proprioception” or an awareness of physical self in an environment. Basically this issue crops up in any first person game that involves any sort of platforming or melee combat. It’s difficult to get a sense of your position in many games since often the player character is like a disembodied entity floating in space, meaning that when you look down you don’t see your character’s “feet”, just empty air. It can make platforming a headache since it’s difficult to tell your characters relative position.

3) Aesthetics. This is perhaps less of a concern that the former to points since it’s not directly related to gameplay itself, but it’s at least important to some sense of fun. Part of the fun of video games is playing a badass. It’s cool to see a character you’re controlling performing amazing feets and looking badass doing it. In first person games you generally don’t see your character at all unless you walk in front of a mirror in the game or there is a cutscene.

So that’s it in a nutshell. I know a lot of people love first person perspective since it seems more immersive, and I can understand that. But for me personally I enjoy seeing my character and (more importantly) being able to see my character in relation to his/her environment. I prefer games that are third person but can switch to first person at certain times for specific tasks like scanning or shooting.

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Thoughts on the Next Generation

Microsoft recently announced that they’ve no intention of debuting their next generation console at this years E3 show in May. Along with Sony, they’ve more or less discouraged any inferences about a next generation console being imminent (that is, coming out this year). Although as far as I can tell they haven’t shot down the idea that the next XBox could be released by Christmas 2013.

After some thought I can’t say I’m exactly surprised at the apparent reluctance of both Sony and Microsoft to get successors to their current systems out the door. Even though it’s been a surprisingly long generation (coming up on 6 and 7 years), there isn’t a huge need for either company to get their new hardware out just yet.

If you look at the monthly hardware sales over the past year or so, you’ll notice that both the PS3 and XBox 360 are still managing to move a surprising number of units. According to NPD, in February 2012 Microsoft sold 426k 360s. That’s a truly impressive number when you consider A) it’s February - traditionally the doldrums of the gaming year and B) once again, we’re talking about a system that’s 7 friggin years old. I can’t imagine who must be buying these things in such numbers this late in their life cycle, but I’ll postulate on that in a bit. The point is, there isn’t really a huge incentive for Microsoft to release a new system if their current one continues to sell like it has been.

Pretty much the same thing can be said for Sony. They managed to sell 360k units in February, a very healthy amount. And in Sony’s case, they’re even more reluctant to move on to the next generation when they only really started making money from this current generation’s hardware a few short years ago. It’s certainly in Sony’s interest to extend this generation for as long as reasonably possible. In short, they’ve invested too much into the PS3 to step back from it just yet.

But things can change, there is one other player that could influence the market in a big way. Nintendo is making the logical decision in releasing the Wii U later this year. The sales of their current generation system, the Wii, have dropped off quite a bit recently. And their recent software sales for the Wii haven’t been that impressive either. To put it bluntly, the Wii is getting quite long in the tooth. Its age and limitations are starting to really show compared to the other two systems. It’s not HD and it’s graphical capabilities aren’t up to par with the other two. It’s definitely the right time for them to release some new hardware.

But what effect will the Wii U have on the current market? Will the 360 and PS3 keep selling like they have been when the Wii U comes out? Or will the Wii U eat into their market shares? And if the Wii U ends up doing very well at the expense of the other two systems, will that force Sony and Microsoft’s hand into pushing the release of their next gen consoles up sooner?

All that depends on the types of people who will be buying the Wii U. I foresee several different potential customers:

1). The hardcore early adopters. This is a group of people who will probably buy just about any new game console that comes out at launch. Money generally isn’t as much of an object for them (although they may balk at prices in excess of $600, but there’s no way the Wii U will cost anywhere near that). They have to be the first kid on their block to have the new toy (although most aren’t kids, they’re generally in the male 18-34 demo). What’s more, these people have been waiting 6 years for a new video game console, so they’ll be champing at the bit for something new and interesting. There’s probably not a ton of these people, perhaps a million or so worldwide?

2). The diehard Nintendophiles. This group will buy just about any new Nintendo system. These guys are a big reason why the 3DS was able to sell a million units at its launch despite it having a less than stellar launch lineup and pricetag. There may be some overlap with this group and the first group, but it’s hard to say how much of an overlap. My guess is there’s may be over a million of these characters worldwide.

After this point, it gets more difficult to define the groups due to the unknown quantities of the Wii U’s launch price and the launch and near launch game lineup.

3). More casual Nintendo fans and general gamers. Given the Wii sales numbers, this group is potentially enormous. The problem here is that this group tends to be much more focused on specific game series, usually games in one or more of Nintendo’s mega selling flagship properties: specifically Super Mario Bros. , Zelda, Smash Bros., Metroid, Pokemon, Mario Kart ect. And by all reports the Wii U isn’t going to have any launch titles in these series. In fact, it doesn’t look likely that any games in these flagship series will appear on the Wii U for perhaps a year or more. This means that people in this group may tend to wait to buy a Wii U, unless the launch price is unexpectedly low (unlikely) or there’s some other compelling reason yet to be revealed for them to want to buy one right away. That’s not to say that no people in this group will purchase a Wii U at or around launch day, just that only a fraction of them will. But it’ll be a fraction of millions and millions.

So far my suspicion is that the launch price of the Wii U will either be $249 or $299. I say this because if you look at historic launch prices of Nintendo systems you’ll notice that they’re always very competitively priced for their time and hardware levels. Going way back to the original NES, the launch prices of all their systems have been $199, until the Wii which launched at $249. And after the wild success of the original Wii at $249, there’s no way that Nintendo will price their next system anywhere above $300. But the hardware in the system itself will be a bit pricey. Based on comments and leaks I’m guessing the Wii U will most likely have a multicore POWER7 CPU and a AMD Southern Islands derivative GPU (several generations beyond what’s in the 360), and the touchscreen controller will most likey cost at least $45-50 to manufacture. So they’ll price it as high as they reasonably can without breaking the $300 barrier.

If my educated guesses on the hardware for the Wii U are correct, it will mean the Wii U will have a pretty solid leg up on the 360 and PS3 in terms of raw graphical processing power. If my guesses on the price are correct, it will launch at a price that is very competitive with the 360 ($199 and $299) and PS3 ($249). Of course it’s also very likely that both Sony and Microsoft will drop the prices of their systems in response the Wii U since they currently both have some headroom on their Bill of Materials. So if you’re planning on buying either one of those systems, you may consider waiting another few months.

So what will this mean for the 360 and PS3? I’m still wrapping my head around who the heck must be buying this venerable systems in such numbers this late in their life cycle. Given that the Wii has sold something like 90 million units worldwide to the 360s 64 million and the PS3s 60 million, I can only assume the people who are currently buying the HD systems are largely Wii owners who are “graduating” to a 360 or PS3. In the case of the 360 perhaps these people are attracted to the Kinect? Honestly I have no idea.

Be that as it may, if it is indeed primarily Wii owners who are currently buying these systems, it might not be good news for Sony and Microsoft that a new, powerful Nintendo system that will be priced quite competitively is coming down the pipe in a few months. This would be the same group of people who gobbled up Wiis buy the barge load a few years back, now a brand new Nintendo system is coming out that has a super neat-o touchscreen controller, is potentially more powerful that 360 and PS3, is priced similarly, and... is a brand new Nintendo system with all that entails (Mario! Zelda! Pokemon!). Suddenly that new 360 with Kinect may not seem so super cool for Christmas 2012. The Wii U could easily end up being a hot gift item.

But this is all speculation of course. There are still a lot of reasons why people may not be enamoured with the Wii U, the most important of which is lack of strong launch titles. If the Wii U launched with a brand new Super Mario Galaxy game I have zero doubt it would’ve been a huge hit this holiday season, but as I’ve said before, that’s not going to happen. Of course plenty of other systems have had pretty dismal launch lineups over the years and still managed to do remarkably well. The PS2 is the most successful video game console of all time and it launched with a then virtually unknown snow boarding game.

Either way, I still believe that the Wii U is going to be a lot more successful than a lot of people suspect. It’s new, it’s interesting, and it’s Nintendo. It’s been a very long time since there was a brand new video game console on the market.

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Lessons the console manufacturers don’t seem to learn

Now that this generation of video game consoles winding down and with the dawn of a new one starting next year with the launch of the Wii U, I’d like to talk about some possible lessons that this generation should have hopefully driven home for Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft while they’re designing their respective new systems. Many of these lessons may seem blatantly obvious with hindsight and yet they are all lessons that have been ignored time and time again by video game console manufacturers over the years.

1. You don’t necessarily have to have the most advanced system to dominate or even just to do well.

The history of video game consoles is actually rife with examples of this lesson going all the way back to the days of the Atari 2600, Colecovision and Intellivision. Coleco and Matel’s consoles were clearly more powerful than the venerable 2600 but they didn’t stand a chance against the well established Atari juggernaut. In the late 80s, the Sega Master System was a bit more powerful than the NES, but it didn’t matter. In the late 90s the Sega Saturn was actually a bit more powerful hardware-wise (in many ways) than the original Playstation. And the N64 was considerable more advanced than the PS1. But of course PS1 still outsold the both of them handily. In the early 2000s the original XBox was clearly more powerful than the PS2. As for this generation? Do I really need to go into it?

2. Price matters.

And how. History has shown time and time again that price may be one of the most important factors in the success or failure of a video game system. After this generation, this should be painfully obvious. Take the original Playstation for example. It launched at a competitive $299 (undercutting the Saturn) and within a year dropped to $199. Throughout it’s lifespan they kept the price competitive, undercutting or matching Nintendo and Sega. Same thing with the PS2. How Sony completely ignored this lesson this past generation still mystifies me.

3. Being first isn’t a huge advantage.

History has shown that being the first system of a new generation can help, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. The NES established itself in the US for almost a full year before the arrival of the Sega Master System and dominated. But a few years later Nintendo waited a little too long to release the Super NES in America and lost market share to the Genesis that launched 2 years earlier. But then again in ‘95 Sega jumped the gun on the Saturn with a surprise May launch hoping to catch Sony unawares... it didn’t work out for them. Sega tried to jump the gun again a few years later with the Dreamcast, and we all know how that turned out. This generation the 360 launched first (really out of necessity) and while things have turned out pretty well for them the Wii launched later and still sold like gangbusters.

4. Ignore market segments at your peril.

This is a toughie and it isn’t as obvious as the others, but if you look back in time you can see instances where one company was able to gobble up marketshare from a leader by picking up slack in an underserved market segment. Back in the days of the SNES and Genesis, Nintendo marketed itself (as it still does to this day) as the Family Friendly video game company. But Sega instead focused on marketing to teenagers and young adults with sports games and fighting games. Even Sonic was a bit “edgier” than Mario and while Nintendo still did very well they didn’t completely dominate like they did in the days of the NES. Conversely in the current generation we all know how the Wii did a much better job of marketing to the family friendly casual crowd compared to Sony and MS. Of course now that the Wii is really showing it’s age as a non-HD system it’s sales are dropping off quite a bit while 360 is still doing pretty well after the surprising success of Kinect (which has some casual appeal).

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