Long Sighted Protagonist Problems: Off Screen In Video Games

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When my view in the game world is limited to what the camera allows me to see, it’d be great if that which isn’t in the camera didn’t blow me up from off screen. I shouldn’t have to be fearful of things off camera deciding to shoot me or run at me, it’s like monsters in the fog when playing Silent Hill but more infuriating. It comes up a hell of a lot more often in 2D games or games in the 3D realm that design a level and the camera along with it 2 dimensionally. Either way, blind-siding me is rude.

That big old final challenge in Super Mario 3D World was kinda hard, I lost a hundred or so lives my first time. I’d chalk up about 20 to learning timings and spacing and the other 80+ to that infernal final section that involves nothing but boost pads and circular laser blasts. I can handle the boost pads, what I can’t handle is the final stretch of that section having off screen pulses from below being able to reach and interfere. My deaths came out of trying to observe the bigger picture and losing my calm because of that godforsaken 6th laser pulse coming from way off screen to nip the corner and kill me. Not cool.

Metal Gear Rising is a fun if occasionally monotonous game, with a large irritation in battles coming from enemies with projectiles in a melee heavy game. A bit of gunfire would be a minor annoyance and frankly a blessing compared to what you actually have: accurate as all hell rocket launcher enemies. As you ramp up the difficulty these will be your bane, it isn’t always easy to identify who has one so when you are kicking ass and suddenly an explosion knocks all your health it can come as a shock. Really a long ranged, high damage enemy shouldn’t be doing such things when not in view for player sanity.

The Megaman games have a tendency to have things come in from off screen and lay on the hurt, especially on the GBA Zero series where there is so little screen estate as there is. One of the big contributors to that series difficulty is enemy placement, as in having enemies just appear and drop a quarter of your health off. The Megaman games in general have enemies not only pop in on an already small screen but respawn if you take so much as a stroll 5 feet in either direction. Not exactly off screen in the simplest sense but when you aren’t sure if you’ve triggered the respawn and walk along casually it can really drive a nail through your head.

Ah hell I’m just gonna say pretty much all GBA games have some form of off screen bullshit. The system didn’t exactly have much room for you to play with and any fan of the Sonic games will know that the Advance series on the GBA are full of really, truly awful off screen madness. They are put just on a straight path and come flying at you, they are waiting in the air off a ramp that you cannot avoid if you tried to hit the ramp sweetspot, they shoot you when they aren’t even fully on screen yet and you fall to your death.

While in 2D games its usually the limit of how much they can fit on the screen at any one time, off screen dickery in a 3D space is often the problem of a bad camera or a level design that works in the 3 dimensional space but doesn’t compensate the player for it. Imagine walking into a room and getting shot from an almost 90 degree angle, to realise slowly that there are enemies with ludicrous range all the way at the top who are allowed to hit you when there is no chance of you seeing them upon walking in.

I can very easily say that the first Devil May Cry game is full of off screen bullshit, as the game is in full motion but the camera is locked in “dynamic” angles where you usually can’t see a damn thing. Hell only on hard mode is there an fight against enemy that does a leaping strike on you in a tiny corridor when you can’t even run fast enough to get it on screen before it happens. To dodge it is all about timing an attack you have seen before, now blind.

Speaking of that moment reminds me of a little section in Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox, I think it was the second stage to be exact. You go through a door and Ryu Hayubusa is looking at the camera in a tight zoom. What is that in front of you? Who knows, except you will when the sword is halfway through your skull because it is intentionally designed to be impossible to see those enemies up ahead who then swarm you, something you don’t realise until they are invading your personal space.

Camera design in games can be pretty damn difficult, often problems arise out the of environment design that the camera just can’t work with it, there wasn’t a consideration to how the player is gonna see around this world you’ve built. That in mind this sort of thing should have become less frequent as games reached new heights and designers had to consider even more ludicrous variables that can affect the experience. Seeing where I’m going and not having enemies hit me from where I can’t see shouldn’t really be a thing anymore,

if I can’t see it it probably shouldn’t be allowed to hit me, unless you make it clear I need to be acutely aware of my surroundings. In which case, make a better camera, this one spins so slowly I could die before I see who murdered me.

What games have you played that throw stuff at you from off screen? Do you find it more of a problem in 2D game or 3D? Are there any games you know of that design AI or obstacles to not exist beyond the camera for the sake of removing off screen attacks? Thanks for the read and I’ll see you later.

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  1. #1 by Kaine Andrews on May 25, 2015 - 3:04 am

    Off-Screen BS has been one of my primary complaints over the years; it was often the primary reason I would point out to others, when they are discussing “hard-core, difficult games” and Ninja Gaiden (any of them, really, but usually the original Xbox version) would come up that I’d say “Uh, no. Ninja Gaiden isn’t hard. It’s full of cheap BS, which is a different beast, entirely.”

    And I remember all-too-well the frustration of dealing with Nightmare’s (and the weird panther/puddle things, the name of which eludes me right now) tracking jump attacks in the original DMC. Ugh. Thankfully, they mostly cleaned up that sort of thing in 2-4 and DmC, marking them as “hard” games rather than “cheap” ones.

    So far as the 2D games go, though, I don’t really remember any where the camera and things happening out of its view annoyed me that much; they were probably there, but I think I was just more accepting of them at the time as limitations of the medium. But I haven’t played many modern 2D games of late (mostly the Metroidvanias and an excursion into BloodRayne: Betrayal) and they were much better behaved than, say, the NES Ninja Gaidens or (God help us) Battletoads.

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    • #2 by Prof.mcstevie on May 25, 2015 - 10:10 pm

      I recall watching someone play some Ninja Gaiden and the enemies would start attacking before the screen even fully faded in, you basically have to wake up each day blocking as Ryu Hayabusa.

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