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January 13, 2014

Can A Bad Camera Kill A Game?

No, this isn't one of those philosophical questions in the same vein as "If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, will anyone care?" No, it's more of a technical question about video games.

In the wake of three-dimensional games, a new programming element appeared all of a sudden: Cameras! 2D games didn't need this much, did they? Okay, maybe a little, but back then the sole preoccupation was to follow the character on its quest, and it was easy to show that; make the camera move as the character goes left or right. But with 3D, the characters can go around almost as much as they want. The camera cannot just be placed in one spot and never move. It moves along with the character, it can be spun around to the player's whim... However, such a mechanic is often very difficult to implement. (A common joke is that some franchises have a harder time putting the camera right in the games. Really, can a bad camera kill a game?

The camera has become so... important now. Really, I'm sure you've played a 3D game and lost a life because at some point the camera got stuck behind a wall and there was no way to see what you were doing. There's so many things that can happen because of a badly-programmed camera. The whole point, in the end, is to make sure the player sees everything that is important to get going, right? I mean, it's pretty clear what the problems are with a faulty camera.
-It gets stuck behind a wall, blocking view;
-It hides important information;
-It has problems following the character;
-If it can be controlled, it will cause even more trouble by moving again;
-And a couple more.

You see? However, in the end, the question is not "What do bad cameras do?", it's rather "Can a bad camera kill a game?". And I'd say... Well, first of all, it really, REALLY depends on how bad the problem is. If the camera has problems but only a few, you can live with it, but when the bad camera work makes the game extremely hard if only because it won't let you see things as you should... Then YES.

Truly, a bad camera CAN kill a game. It doesn't happen very often, but the most extreme cases? When the camera makes he game nearly impossible to win? Heck yeah, totally. Bad camera work can remove the fun of playing. Truth is that, it's not a gameplay problem, it's all a programming problem, caused by, you guessed it, faulty programming. Therefore, it's one of the things the player can have pretty much zero effect on. Bad level design? You can still "learn" to cope with it by learning where the problems are and preparing for it. Bad characters? Bad puzzles? Yeah, it's annoying, but all in all, you can still kind of live with it. Bad camera work, no matter how much you try, sucks. No matter how talented you are, you'll always have problems with the camera, it'll move away, and you have to redirect it again. When you can control it, anyway. When you can't, it gets even freaking worse. You never know when you'll get back-stabbed because you couldn't see well enough what's going on; in a way, you get back-stabbed by the bad camera work.

Bad camera work is a problem. Companies or game franchises who are infamous for this should look into correcting this problem. As quickly as possible. Because, seriously. Other franchises have excellent camera work. It's a problem, but it can be corrected. At least there's a glimpse of hope. Don't worry. I expect Sega to learn how to learn to use the camera in the Sonic series someday in the next... um... ten years. Hopefully.