Blog 471: Camlock Y4

As a purveyor of action-RPGs (if you can really call them RPGs at all), I’m interested by the limitations of Warcraft that can be overcome by camera-lock; that is, keeping the camera always centred on your hero. Knowing, and being able to guarantee, the position of the camera is a powerful thing.

But a lot of people don’t like camera-lock. So here follows a look at the pros and cons as I see them, but I want your input this time. Should Project Y4 abandon the free camera and go back to a locked camera?

Situational Analysis

There are two sides to the argument before we even get to the mechanical implications, from a lore perspective.

  1. The mech pilot is a single mech pilot in a single mech on the ground.
  2. But he’s being fed information from Operations who are sitting on high with a ship full of cameras and sensors.

Point one suggests that camera-lock is appropriate; you see what he sees. But point two supports freecam; sure, you might be playing as El Capitan, but that doesn’t mean Operations can’t be giving him a real-time top-down overview with which to plan his tactics.

I have recently been re-working the Demiurge. It is still roughly twice the size of Facility EY43.

The Pros

Of course, as a pro-camlock man, I’m going to start with the good stuff.

The major advantage of being able to guarantee the camera’s positon (especially in a singleplayer game) is that all of Warcraft‘s global environmental effects — fog of war, terrain fog, weather, ambient lighting — can suddenly act as local effects. If you’re in a swamp, I know you’re in a swamp and I know that you can’t see the outside world, so nobody will notice if I carpet the rest of the land in green mist too. The same goes for underground darkness; you can’t see that the entire rest of the world has also lost power to the lights.

As well as knowing where the camera is, its inability to move beyond the hero itself limits your perception — suddenly we don’t need the black mask to cover the places you haven’t been to, nor the fog of war to hide changes to things you’ve already seen. This is, in this case, another slightly lore-backed one: RDZ Industries will obviously have schematics and maps of their facilities and their surrounding areas, which they would presumably provide for their pilot (of course, I’d still need black mask to hide the out-of-world bonus areas so they don’t ugly up the minimap).

Some kind of LBA-style Holomap, which disengaged control but gave you the satellite overview, would be perfect.

The Cons

Your perception is limited. But the fog o’ war and the black mask already did that, so the only real difference is perhaps … your perception of that perception. That is, you can’t see what you can’t see… Unknown unknowns… Uh… You can’t move the camera, so the restriction is felt.

The complaint I love to hate is that, with camlock, you can’t attack-move half-way across the map and let the game play itself. Luckily, if you do that in Y4 the AP-AM will die in very short order; but really, if you don’t want to actually play the game, you should really consider why you’re playing the game.

A very map-specific problem is that one of the AP-AM’s main abilities is the artillery cannon. While it shouldn’t be too hard to deal with this long-range attack by the same zoom system This Wreckage had, depending on how far out you’d need to go it could be a real pain in the buttocks. Or you’d just spend all your time far out and never see the details (maybe a springy zoom that bounces back down on release? Woof). Oh, for mouse-wheel events!

Although, since Y4 is quite heavily constructed around using the hotkeys QWER, asking you to drop the mouse (or the hotkeys) to use the cursor keys isn’t necessarily a viable option either. This is probably the biggest issue with this approach.

Would there be enough screen space to do this?

The Middle Way?

What if the camera was locked to the area around the hero? Perception limitation without the troublesome need for another hand to control the arrow keys, and with the ability to scout to the edge of gun range. The feeling of freedom is preserved, without sacrificing the guarantee of camera position. The advantages of all approaches, the disadvantages of none?

Except this way, while seeming increasingly desirable, opens up a collossal kettle of implementation fish that the others avoid (camlock with zoom/rotate has been done, while freecam… needs no implementation).

I currently have it working except when the camera is being dragged along by the hero; where the user becomes unable to scroll at all, when he should be able to scroll back into the safe zone. Ideally, the camera’s position w0uld be constant relative to the hero, apart from user scrolling; unfortunately, since there are no scroll-response events, this seems to be an impossible dream.

A possible solution is to, when the hero starts moving, lock the camera to it; so that when the hero is being moved, you’ll never be left unable to see what’s in front of you, and when it’s still you can look around the safe zone. I seem to remember this is what Dragon Age: Origins did, at least when you used the arrow keys to control movement.

I've edged out some of the mag-lev station for a transport shuttle port. This shuttle never got the change to unload its cannisters of nurine gas from the extraction platforms in Zeus' upper atmosphere before the facility got taken over.

The Question

Well, that’s what I’m thinking — what do you think?

I’m still swithering. I feel like having the camera not surgically attached to the hero means you lose focus, you stop really caring about what the hero is doing… And if that happens, well, you die. The margins are a lot tighter this time, and I think freecam is almost actively detrimental to this gameplay approach. The black mask is being a total bitch over some of my decorations so an opportunity to drop it entirely would be quite glorious.

On the other hand, both the locked camera methods described above have their own issues. If you’ve got an implementation scheme that will actually work for the Middle Way, for example, I’m all ears. Or if you’ve got an idea that will circumvent all my problems…

There is a comment box below.

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6 thoughts on “Blog 471: Camlock Y4

  1. Well I honestly must say that I hate camlock. When I think about; my reason is quite unreasonable – I just simply love the freedom of moving the cam around; deciding for myself how fast or slow the camera moves around the area. Probably because that is how I learned to play Warcraft 3; and that just comes natural. Camlock feels SO unnatural. It’s actually the reason why I refused to play Diablo III

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    • And there’s the rub — this isn’t a Warcraft III map per se. Warcraft III is a strategy game that focuses on multiple units spread across a wide area. Project Y4 focuses on a single character, as does Diablo III; the lock ensures that your focus is on the character and what the character can see.

      As noted in the article above and other comments, there are too many immersive and technical gains to locking the camera — having the camera loose really holds no advantages for this particular scenario. Callahan’s Middle Way has been implemented and is working very nicely.

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  2. What I did to solve this probleme is making a camera bound that update to hero position in “real time”.So you can scroll but it is restricted to a certain distance around the hero position.
    The cons are it wasn’t very smooth and mess up the minimap.

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    • Ahh, yes, updating camera bounds. I did think of that and it would solve most of the problems but — as you say — the minimap would go haywire. Then again, if all the enemy units have their minimap display disabled, most of the adverse effects could possibly be alleviated…

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  3. I believe you’ve hit the important points. To clarify why some people are repulsed by camlock:
    The problem that people encounter the soonest is that they can’t plan ahead how they move, or see where they are moving to. You take away something that they feel is natural. I believe that most people will adapt to camlock, even if at first they dislike it. That is, if they don’t encounter too many situations in which they need it. This problem will not be removed by any mid-way solution.
    Be especially carefull when gameplay infolves controlling units other than the hero.

    One advantage of camlock that is the increased immersion. Sure you can explain freecam from a lore-perspective, but constantly being centered on the hero will still increase the player’s indentification with the hero. (not just the focus) It can also increase the tension of the player.

    A different half-way solution is having the zoom adapt to the situation, so that any place in wich you would need or want to use long range attacks, the zoom assures you have that whole range in sight.

    I’m all for camlock, if that suits the gameplay best. People dislike it because they’re not used to it, but I believe the experience will be for the better as soon as they forget to constantly try to pan the camera.

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    • I agree on all counts, except planning ahead — the fog of war means you normally can’t do that either. All you’re left with is the lay of the land, which you can get from the minimap or is meaningless as all the opponents are mobile.

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