Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
First Person Platforming

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 10 Jul 2012 16:00
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But don't think any of this means that gun fighting is the only thing we can possibly do in first person. Jumping itself isn't the problem. Jumping is useful for things like getting around uneven terrain, and if you ever get stuck in the geometry your best bet is to hammer on the jump button until you vibrate yourself Flash-style through physical matter. Keep the jump button. It's just precision jumping where it poos the bed.

Here we turn inevitably to Quantum Conundrum's disapproving no-nonsense dad, Portal. Portal is rarely about precision movement, it relies more on precision portal placement, which is another thing based around the player being able to accurately target things. You do spend a lot of time in the air, but it's all about the launch, not the landing, and using momentum to project yourself, plotting your path by following it with your gaze. Essentially it's like firing a gun, but with yourself as the bullet. Never in Portal will you be asked to fling yourself in such a way that you land perched on a two-foot-wide pedestal ninety thousand stories above the ground.

A colorful example is first person Parkour-'em-up Mirror's Edge, with which I have a sort of love-hate relationship. Where Mirror's Edge worked was when, again, it was more about precisely launching yourself at something by lining up the spot you're heading for in the middle of your view and then going like the clappers. Where Mirror's Edge shat itself was in the precise jumps, often like the Deus Ex example above, and having to pretty much guess the moment when your feet were right on the edge of the platform before hurling yourself to what would statistically probably be another fifty story splatter death.

What's frustrating about being stuck in first person and trying to platform, dying again and again and again in a cycle of leaps of faith, is that in a first person game, we're not just guiding the player character, we're pretty much supposed to essentially be them. In the real world, jumping across a gap is the easiest thing in the world (for most, anyway) because of our in-built senses and nervous system that make us constantly aware of where our body ends and everything else begins. So when we have trouble making a jump in a game it makes the player character - and by extension the player - seem like a complete dithering moron with possible brain injuries. A game should challenge, but if you try to challenge the player by making something difficult that should by rights come completely naturally, then the response will be antipathy. Broken immersion. You wouldn't turn the act of breathing into a quick time event.

To reiterate, there's no problem with jumping as a concept in first person games. Indeed, a lot of first person games could probably be quite enlivened by a bit more of it. By all means let us sail over a battleground on a jet-powered pogo stick and unload all our weapons into entrenched upward-staring gobshites. By all means have us build vague staircases out of their corpses and use it to bounce off an awning. Just don't make us have to land on a flagpole at the end of it. It has never mattered precisely which table Max Payne lands on after he hurls himself off a balcony.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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