Game design corner: The Cyclops Syndrome

Now the questions that come to mind. Where is this place and when is it, what kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm? The answer is, it doesn’t make any difference. Because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence, on this planet or wherever there is human life, perhaps out among the stars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned… in the Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone – The Eye of the Beholder [2.6]

I think that this design corner applies to practically ever first-person shooter ever made, and maybe even every point of view film or television show ever made. In fact, everything where you look through some eyes.

You see, I might as well get the main point of my talk out of the way before going any further. I want you to put your hand on to your face and count how many eyes you own. If the number is below zero, go away, if the number is eight, go away spiders, but if it’s two then you’re normal. Not saying one-eyed folk/pirates are abnormal but why don’t you stop bothering the rest of us and get on with the rest of your lives. Joking of course, in fact, one eyed folk benefit when it comes to first-person shooters; there’s something I never ever thought I would say.

When you’re playing a first-person shooter, I think everyone has that period where they have to settle. The very first one I played was something something way back yonder, before moving on to GoldenEye and then finally getting ‘the feeling in your guts’ with the original Half-Life. You see, video-games are meant to be a window in which we see out into another world, although I argue that video-games are actually a blank canvas to project ourselves on to and designers/artists should facilitate enrichment and enjoyment. Naturally, video-games themselves disagree with me.

So, first-person shooters must be the ultimate way to project yourself. Far Cry 2, Half-Life 2 and many other have shown the power of immersion mixed the first-person shooter. I, however, have a bone to pick. It’s something I’ve started to notice more and more, probably more since I was shown 3D gaming. A first-person shooter is supposed to be a point of view of the world, yes, and there’s some games which abuse the player’s said perspective, Blops being one of them. How is it then that our view is actually obscured, you see it might actually be impossible but we’re not… seeing through two eyes.

We’re lacking depth, a flavour of being able to reach out and touch things. I think that’s what is keeping is grounded in reality, but surely the ultimate avenue of video-games is ultimate and complete submersion into an alternate reality capable of handling ourselves and facilitating enrichment and enjoyment as I said before. The world of first-person shooters, as far as I can tell, instead of working to do something smart with new technologies and so on and so forth; instead just stick a camera in someone’s face. Yes, they have to cleverly weave it into the void of particle flesh so as not to make jagged lines of face appear, but it’s still a walking cyclops.

In fact, that’s actually a problem in itself. You know when a game glitches out the character model during a cutscene or something, and you see your own head lurch forward. I think this shatters immersion more than any other bug as you’re basically taking the window or canvas or camera out of someone’s head and zooming out to third-person. It’s why I could never get used to Rainbow Six Vegas or any third/first-person game. In fact, I’m beginning to think now that the ‘cyclops’ syndrome might be… solvable in some way.

We view our screens with two eyes, but the world projected inside is seen through one camera lens. So, to correct this, some handy dandy guy invented 3D; overlaying two screens at once and giving a sense of depth. Problem solved? Maybe. Yeah I’m going to go out on a limb and say 3D gaming does bolster immersion, although the glasses aren’t a healthy conduit with the experience. I’ve had a play around with 3DTVs which don’t even use glasses, but you need to sit in the right spot and there’s all sort of technicalities involved. I’ve only ever got the chance to play one FPS in 3D, by the way, and that is Killzone 3.

I did enjoy it, and I have to admit I felt more in the experience than ever before. 3D technology means taking the camera inside the guy’s head and doubling it, and instead of a cyclops we have two eyes. I think that’s how it works, that’s how it seemed to work anyway. Although there’s the slight problem of my eyes actually hurting, which brings me on to my next point that this ‘cyclops’ syndrome is beneficial in some cases. Cloverfield is that big monster film with J.J Abrams and giant monster or whatever, and it’s told a la Blair Witch Project through a simple camera lens.

This Cyclops syndrome then extends itself to films, then, and it’s no co-incidence that many audience members watching Cloverfield actually suffered from motion sickness. They weren’t conditioned to be seeing another world through one eye. However, this was somewhat beneficial, as the motion sickness was sometimes in line with how jerky the camera was being held. I remember reading online this was somewhat intentional, that they wanted to create a sense of sickness and actual atmosphere in cinemas everywhere. So in a way, the cyclops syndrome works… well.

Peep Show over here in ol’ Blighty is a sitcom which is pretty much the greatest written thing ever. No joke there, there is not a doubt in my mind it’s the best written comedy, sitcom and everything of the last ten years. It’s quite unconventional in that the scenes are actually shown through character’s eyes or people who are passing by them. I think seeing one character have two eyes, but switch to him to just see through one eye, is all very… shakey. Again, it lacks depth, although I’ve yet to see Peep Show in 3D… not sure that I want to given how grossing out it can be.

Kane and Lynch 2 released this year, given a viral aesthetic as if someone was following the duo around with handycams. I thought it was clever, although it hurt my eyes further into the experience. This was the cyclops experience on display, but actually intentional, and then it was brought to my attention that perhaps every video-game ever has… the Cyclops syndrome. We all see through one screen or eyes into another world. Although a third-person perspective is applied to film, it’s odd in video-games because we should always be the main character. Although, as I’ve said before, that isn’t always the lovely case.

I think that’s all I have to say, about that. I’m not sure whether adding depth to video-games would actually be beneficial in the long run, unless the technology advances to such a stage when we’re literally just playing in another world. In which case, game over for video-games. I am in support of what 3D technology can bring, but in its current condition I wouldn’t throw even my shoe at it.

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