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I'm making a game with a friend, but having trouble deciding on a camera style.

The basic idea for the game, is having a randomly generated 2-dimensional world, with settlements in it. These settlements would have access to different resources, and it would be the job of the player to create bridges and ladders and links between these villages so they can trade. The player would advance personally by getting better gear, fighting monsters and looking for materials in the world, in order to craft and trade them at the settlements.

My friend wants to use an old-style camera, where the world is split into a discrete number of screens that the player moves between. Similar to early Zelda dungeons, or Knytt Stories. This is opposite to me, as I want a standard camera that follows the player around as I feel the split-screen style camera limits the game.

Can anyone argue the case either way? We've hit a massive roadblock here and can't seem to get past it.

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This is really a matter of choice. Technically the old style of movement has a performance gain (loading objects at a time.) but the payoff is small and hardly matters. If you two have time, I would suggest each of you code your own camera, and try play testing it (just grab a couple mutual friends and don't tell them who made what.) see what type of movement feels the most natural to them. You might event want to consider a mix of the two styles (free moving for town management view, fixed point for quest view), it's all a matter of personal preference. Worse case scenario, flip a coin. –  Benjamin Danger Johnson Nov 6 '12 at 19:48
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"We've hit a massive roadblock here and can't seem to get past it." I'd say this is a roadblock, but not a massive one at all. If you really can't decide, implement both. Another route would be to play with existing games that have such camera movement. Which one feels better? Why? –  Marton Nov 7 '12 at 7:22
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4 Answers

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Within this genre (and this is true of most other currently popular genres as well), the camera is the most important thing defining what happens in your game.

A freely scrolling camera is good for selling a wide sense of space, and making everything feel continuous. Challenges involve enemies attacking from off-screen, and players missing features of the world which you'd intended for them to discover, just because the player happened to wander a little too far to one side or the other.

Fixed cameras are good for ensuring a consistent play experience. When correctly corralled, you can ensure that every player will see the same screens, and the same features of the world. Which means that players won't miss things the same way that they can in freely scrolling worlds. Fixed cameras are good for delivering bite-sized individual challenges (as in individual rooms in Zelda), where monsters from one room can't interfere with the desired challenge of other rooms. Fixed cameras are also conducive to having a chunky "grid" layout, which makes it really easy to show players a map of what they have and haven't explored yet, which can be a lot harder to communicate when you have a freely scrolling camera. Cons of fixed cameras is that you have to constrain enemies within the view of the fixed cameras (players will consider it unfair to be attacked by enemies they can't see), and that you really need to standardise on a single aspect ratio for your game, so you can be sure that everyone sees the same things from each camera, no matter whether their screens are 4:3 or 16:9. (ie: letterboxing or pillarboxing will be required, in full-screen modes)

If your game is about exploration and/or collecting things, you probably want a fixed camera. If you want the game to be about solving puzzles, you probably want a fixed camera. If your game is about quick reflex challenges, you probably want a fixed camera. If your game is more procedural (enemies are smarter and can chase the player over long distances), then a scrolling camera is what you want. If you don't want to carefully design individual encounters, a scrolling camera is what you want.

Either sort of camera will work. But depending on which sort of camera you make, different types of game mechanics will be more or less effective. So decide what you want the player to do in your game, and then pick the style of camera that's most appropriate for the game you're making.

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I think it comes down to personal opinion, mostly. If you want a specific type of gameplay, that might influence your choice as well. Say, if you wanted the story to be split up in small segments, you might want the "split-screen" style. Or for a game like Binding of Isaac, where each room is a fight.

From what you describe, it seems like you want the gameplay to be pretty continuous. I would probably go with the camera following the player, but as I said, this really comes down to opinion.

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Personally I would prefer the dynamic camera:

If your game-world (and therefore the position of your settlements and resource-points) is generated randomly, you will probably end up having two things that you want to watch at the same time on two different screens. With discrete screens, you now have to constantly run back and forth if you want to keep an eye on both things. With a scrolling camera you could move to the half way point and see them both.

What are your friend's reasons for wanting discrete screens?

Is it because they're easier to implement? - That might be true, but a smoothly scrolling camera is worth the effort. It can add a lot of juice to your game. And you have a nice forum here where you can ask for help :-)

Is it because you wouldn't need resources for more than one screen at a time? - Consider splitting your game-world up in tiles and only render enough of them to fill the screen.

Is it personal preference? - How about a compromise: Place focus-points at places of the map that are of interest (for example your randomly placed settlements) and make the camera smoothly snap to them if the player gets close. Otherwise make it follow the player.

Here's an example of what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAKwZt3aXQM

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The choice between a discrete set of screens and a continuously moving camera is really a question of level design and core gameplay more than it is camera style.

By having your camera move discretely between screens you are partitioning your world into many small arenas - while the player is able to move freely around within the arena, moving to another arena or screen is a more deliberate action that would normally be associated with some sort of minor significance, for example

  • Monsters may be spawned at the point where you enter the area, and typically would not be able to follow you to the next arena
  • The game might save or reset the arena when you enter an arena, for example VVVVV resets all destroyed platforms whenever you leave and enter an arena which also allows some very clever puzzles
  • Often the edge of the screen represents a boundary in the game (e.g. a wall if indoors or a cliff face if outdoors)
  • Discrete screens also give a more "Retro" feel for your game
  • Moving to another arena often provides sense of progress and accomplishment for the player

Conversely by using a continuous camera you are creating one continuous flowing world as opposed to a discrete set of interconnected places.

  • This is likely to give the player a greater sense of freedom
  • Enimies might be able to follow the player indefinitely

Of all the games I can think of those with discrete screens are typically more puzzle based (e.g. the early Zelda games and VVVVV), wheras those with continuously moving cameras are more action / RPG based (e.g. Cave Story and Terraria). You could also use a hybrid approach where certain parts of the world are partitioned into discrete screens while other parts have a continuously moving camera, again VVVVV uses this with great effect in a couple of sections of the game.

Although many early games had discrete screens largely for technical reasons I wouldn't say that discrete screens are any worse (or better) than a continuous camera, they simply give a different feel to the game (and allow for some interesting gameplay mechanics).

Essentially its all down to your level design and gameplay. You should talk to your friend to ask what he had in mind with regard to these discrete screens - unless you are going to use these discrete screens for some sort of gameplay mechanic it sounds like you would probably be better off with a continuously moving camera.

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