Change the Camera Angles!
November 29, 1998
I have played many RPGs during the last few months: Shining Force III, Lunar: Eternal Blue, and Panzer Dragoon Saga for Sega hardware, and even Tales of Destiny for the PlayStation. While all these RPGs were, on my opinion, very good, they all have something in common, which is, they all seem like you are following a play.
Let me explain: On a play you see the entire stage at once, from one point of view (the one from your seat), and everything is seen from far away. There is nothing wrong with that, although I believe the experience would be enhanced considerably if you felt you were watching a movie. On a movie you see many types of camera angles and shots, depending on the circumstances. You see panoramic shots, which are used to show off landscapes, outdoor scenes, and introductory scenes. Then you see full body shots, where you see the entire body of the person. Mostly, however, you see medium shots, where you see the person from the waist up. In some occasions, when the director feels it's necessary, you even see close-ups (from the shoulders up) and extreme close-ups (where you see a section of the face). Imagine how an RPG would be if it were full of scenes like that.
Of course, I don't expect RPGs to be switching among all these scenes at all times. That would be too confusing and unnecessary. Since players spend most of the time on an RPG exploring the world, the "standard" overhead view should continue to be used during most of the game. It's only on important events (when the plot unfolds) that these changes should take place. That would encourage you to pay attention at that time, plus it will also increase the drama in a way just text cannot do.
Many people would say that some RPGs already do that, and include full-motion video in some of the most important scenes. They do, and it's usually very well edited and directed. The problem is that they don't do it often enough. They only do it for the opening animation and just a few more additional scenes. The reason for that is primarily because of cost. Even if consoles like the Dreamcast can render scenes like that in real time, you still have to hire artists who can animate human figures realistically (not an easy task), and voice actors who can match their speech to the lip movements on the screen. This is especially true in English translations of Japanese games, since when you first make any animation, you record the voices at the beginning and then animate.
Of course, if my ideas are put into practice, the results are very predictable. The costs of developing an RPG would skyrocket (and they are already the most expensive video games to develop), and just a few RPGs would be released a year, only by the companies who can afford these productions (like SquareSoft). How many movies would be released a year if they all had to be as expensive as "Titanic"?
Fortunately, there is an alternative that can produce most of the "feel" of all these expensive animations for a fraction of the cost. Remember Phantasy Star IV? One of the reasons why I like this game so much is because of its "comic book style" intermissions. Why no other video game since has attempted something like that is beyond me. Let me try to explain some of the details that these drawings convey: First, at the beginning, you see a panoramic view of Alys and Chaz in the desert, setting the mood of the Motavian environment. Later, when the party finds Seed (a computer located within a mountain), you see the characters from Seed's perspective, looking down at them. Very clever. Even later, when the party discovers that the storm at Dezolis is not over, you see in the same drawing a medium shot of Rika, with a worried expression on her face, and a monitor with an image of the storm that is still taking place. Finally, near the end, when Chaz screams that he is not going to fight the Supreme Darkness, you see the anger on his face, the reflection of his feet on the floor as he walks, and several shots of Rune trying to calm Chaz as he talks to him.
See what can be done with drawings? If I ever created an RPG and had a limited budget, I would use this technique.
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