The Forgotten Art of Fixed Camera Games

History of Fixed Camera Games

Fixed camera angles once were a preferred style for survival horror games, While playing The Medium I was hit with flashbacks to being a kid, hiding under the duvet playing Silent Hill and Alone in The Dark. This technique was popularised due to the hardware limitations of the time where they allowed for pre-rendered backgrounds which were cheaper and looked better than blocky 3D environments and stretched textures. It also paired nicely with the tank controls of the time — Whereby players control movement relative to the position of the player meaning that up was always forwards regardless of the camera angle.

Silent Hill (scary pixels)

The Medium: Dual-Reality

The Medium offered a unique game mechanic of Dual-Reality, which brought back limitations that swayed them, among other reasons, to choose a fixed camera angle. Dual-Reality meant rendering two separate versions of the same level, displayed parallel to one another during runtime. By implementing fixed camera angles this allowed the developers, Bloober Team, the opportunity to control the camera’s position, leaving the player free to soak in the games beautiful environments without the motion sickness that comes from having two versions of that same environment swaying back and forth. Also, in my opinion, by removing camera control from the player, this allows the player more time to focus on what is presented to them in the moment throughout the entire framing, not just what’s immediately in front of them.

Dual-Reality in The Medium

What Makes A ‘Good’ Horror Game?

Let’s talk about what is needed to create a great survival horror game:

Tension

Every horror game is abundant with creepy enemies to defeat, but the thrill of this genre isn’t about the monster under the bed, it’s instead about the journey between realising that a monster could be under the bed and plucking up the courage to retreat from the safety of your duvet to go and check. This is the struggle for the horror franchise and the frustration I personally feel when I realise it’s veered too far into the action genre. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to defend yourself from that monster when it finally emerges from the darkness, but I want to feel that I have overcome something to get to that point. To simply shoot a hoard of zombies lined up in a hallway just won’t cut it.

Little Nightmares 2

Narrative

Most people need a reason to become frightened. Something that resonated with a person more than: ‘this character might die’ or ‘big monster is scary.’ We need a goal to reach and a reason to feel invested in the protagonists survival. If you can sprinkle in a bit of relatability to the mix then the fears become even more intense as the relationship you develop with the character you are controlling strengthens. Fixed camera angles allow unique ways to tell narrative through cinematics and subtle suggestions.

Silent Hill 2
Alone in The Dark: A New Nightmare
Alone in the Dark: A New Nightmare

Strategy and Puzzle Solving

Of course this is a game not a film, and players expect a level of engagement and difficulty to overcome. To survive a tense environment the player is challenged with problems to solve, either in the form of environmental challenges or outsmarting danger so that they can face that danger head on and overcome it. When you have a visual constraint everything becomes a puzzle, even killing enemies, as you have to stay on guard to know where they are and where would be the best place to lure enemies or hide from them. If the game allows for combat then weapon ammunition is usually scarce within this genre so conserving it is vital. Because of this the best players will instead find windows of opportunity to avoid combat completely in order to conserve their ammunition and more powerful weapons for tougher enemies that will no doubt be ruthless and take a lot of damage.

Resident Evil

Scares

Jump scares are a staple of the horror genre and, if timed correctly and not overused they can be very effective. Fixed camera angles give the developers control over what the player can see; switching angle at just the right time so as to focus on the climatic event that the quiet, dark hallway has been leading up to as an arm crashes through the door, fingertips stretching out just in front of the players shocked face. It’s too easy to miss a dramatic event when playing in first person and even in third person, there’s no way to ensure that the camera will be pointed toward the location of the scare when that’s within the players control. Along with this, it’s also not the same when you interrupt their gameplay to display it through a cutscene either. Having the developers line up the camera makes it much easier to scare a player once they finally do come face to face with the monster: Players are forced to witness the jump scare in all its glory while also having the burden of the control over reacting to it and the events that unfold immediately afterwards.

The Monster

When the player finally does come face to face with the monster that has been haunting them, 9 times out of 10 it’ll always be somewhat of a relief as an integral part of the fear created throughout works of Horror lies within the unknown. Take Amnesia for example, that game was undoubtedly terrifying and extremely refreshing within a time when mainstream Horror games had started to sway toward a more action-oriented playstyle (*cough* Resident Evil 5 and 6 *cough*). However this intense fear only lasted until players started to overcome their fear of the monster by plucking up the courage to get a good look at its character model. This then led to players becoming accustomed to it and even turn it into pretty hilarious memes.

Amnesia: A Dark Descent meme
Resident Evil

Where The Medium Went Wrong

Now I’ve ranted about the ways that fixed camera angles can benefit a horror game let’s analyse where The Medium fell short in their use of this…

The Medium (stealth section)

Conclusion

With that being said I would love to see them give it another go, Dual Reality was a unique take on the genre and I loved being able to see two separate versions of the same location. I even noticed a couple of subtle yet eerie events such as a ghoulish figure behind me through the mirror world. I’d have loved more moments like these. Honestly, the game’s visuals were breath-taking and the fixed camera angles certainly helped with that, allowing my eye to wander while playing without having the camera constantly move to stick by my character. The establishing shot of some rooms were enough to make me stop moving completely just to compare the drastic differences between the normal world and the spirit one as a giant hand reached out toward an otherwise normal window.

The Medium Dual-Reality

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Driven by Creativity, Inspired by Technology. YouTuber, Game Lover, Maker of silly creations with Code and Film! https://www.youtube.com/user/yagmanx

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Yasmin Curren

Yasmin Curren

Driven by Creativity, Inspired by Technology. YouTuber, Game Lover, Maker of silly creations with Code and Film! https://www.youtube.com/user/yagmanx

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