Perfect Ten: MMOs with different (camera) perspectives

    
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By the time that World of Warcraft came on the scene in 2004, the MMORPG industry had already gravitated toward standard when it came to the interface — specifically, the camera angle. MMO players and devs seemed to prefer third-person views that either peered over the shoulder of avatars or followed right behind them. For decades now, we’ve grown used to watching our characters’ rears as they jog along, and we can’t really imagine the experience otherwise.

Yet when you think about it, while this camera perspective is overwhelmingly used in the genre, it’s not the only one that crops up in MMOs. We’ve seen both old and new titles experiment with the camera angle, sometimes out of style and sometimes out of necessity (here’s a great Gamasutra article on the subject).

For today’s list, we’re going to look at 10 MMORPGs where the camera is positioned in a different way than you’d normally expect, especially if you are coming from modern games.

1. Ultima Online

Probably one of the first MMOs you thought of when you saw the title of this column was Ultima Online. The granddaddy of graphical MMORPGs came onto the scene with a look that was quite reminiscent of the RPG series to date, presenting the world in an isometric format that offered a lot of color and detail with the trade-off being that you couldn’t rotate the game world or see what was on the other side of that wall (although wall dissolves were used).

2. Albion Online

Lets go from old to new, because here’s a great example of how a modern MMO intentionally chose to go with an isometric viewpoint (with 3-D instead of 2-D sprites). There are advantages to this mode, particularly if you want a wider view for PvP purposes and to spend less system resources and artistic effort on the finer visuals. For what it’s worth, I always thought it looked very attractive, particularly with its color palette.

3. Legends of Aria

Aria loves to play up its “spiritual successor” to Ultima Online, which may be a factor in why this game went with a top-down camera as well. It should be noted that many of these games, Aria included, allow you to zoom the camera down to be much closer to the action if you so desire. Progress!

4. Path of Exile

One major exception to the MMORPG third-person camera standard are MMOARPGs (and associated cousins). Path of Exile and Marvel Heroes are both situated in this category, preferring a Diablo-style isometric setup to handle combat that often pitted players against crowds of mobs instead of one or two at a time.

5. PlanetSide 2

Then we can take a look at first-person perspectives, which is actually quite rare in MMOs (although many games have the option to zoom in to one if you so desire). Shooter MMOs, like PlanetSide 2, function better in this perspective, which keeps the format similar to single-player and multiplayer FPS titles.

6. Meridian 59

In the Massively OP offices, we were racking our brains to think of MMOs that used a forced first-person perspective — and did not come up with that many. While some modern RPGs do feature this (and it was quite the staple back in the 1990s), there are very few MMOs outside of MMOFPS titles that do this. Meridian 59 might be one of the only ones in existence, actually, a necessary compromise to the game’s 2.5-D setup that couldn’t handle the player’s avatar without creating an ugly sprite splotch that would cover up a chunk of the screen.

Yeah, we're boned.

7. MapleStory

Straight-up side-scrolling 2-D MMOs are fairly rare as well, allowing for crisp art to be employed while treating the game world like a standard platformer game. MapleStory found great success with its unique visual style, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some other titles like Glitch that went this route as well.

8. The Realm

Another very old MMO from the mid-1990s, The Realm went with a 2-D side perspective as well. Unlike MapleStory, it was made up of static screens that functioned more like visual chat rooms and adventure scenes than a scrolling battle-fest.

9. Lineage

I would be highly remiss if I didn’t toss Lineage into this list. It was a massive breakout  hit in the east with a lifespan that well outlived the 1990s-era isometric sprite format in which it was born. Even as 3-D and its own sequel came onto the scene, Lineage thrived and proved that some players were more concerned with gameplay than cutting-edge graphics.

10. RuneScape

I could have made this list into a top 20, I think, but I’ll end here with RuneScape. In all of its various incarnations, RuneScape’s camera has floated above the heads of its characters to keep us from peering too closely at its polygon chunky world. It definitely helped the game in its early years, since it was designed to work in browsers and on computers that didn’t have fancy graphic cards. The camera perspective meant that the screen didn’t have to mess with draw distance, too many objects, or even a skybox.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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agemyth 😩

I don’t think it is quite accurate to label Meridian 59 a “2.5D” game. The game plays on the X, Y, and Z axes. It is 3D like the first Doom was.

That is a pretty minor and boring thing to comment about, but that is all I got. At least I read the article :)

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Schmidt.Capela

I don’t know about Meridian 59, but Doom wasn’t completely 3D in the sense we understand it; the maps were basically 2D maps with elevation (due to an engine limitation), and the camera was limited enough you couldn’t even look up or down.

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agemyth 😩

I really didn’t expect anyone to bring up the technical limitations of early id Tech, but I guess I deserved this for posting my nitpick to begin with. ?

Whether the game engine knew it was creating a 3D game world in Doom or not is irrelevant in way the game is played. The gameplay takes into consideration movement and it’s combat and puzzle solving in 3D. Meridian 59, from what little I’ve seen of it, seems to be somewhere between Wolf3D and the first Doom. The game looked like a 3D world with 2D sprites, but I didn’t see any examples of elevation affecting the gameplay.

I generally take “2.5D” to mean something like New Super Mario Bros. The graphics are 3D while the gameplay is only on two axes.

Edit: Just noticed I kinda contradicted something in my first post and I suck. I’m leaving this as is because posting and editing is annoying on my phone.

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Connor

Doom wasn’t 3D either, it takes a 2D map and draws pixels based on the player’s line of sight. The height is fake, the engine is incapable for instance of having rooms on top of each other.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

There isn’t a single thing that’s actually modeled in 3D though in the game, hence the 2.5D label. It’s sprite based and games in it’s category from that time are labeled as 2.5D.

You’re saying it’s 3D like the first Doom was, but the first Doom is actually labeled as a 2.5D game as well.

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donvweel

It will be interesting to see if Legends of Aria will make it in todays market. I am interested in playing from what I have seen.

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MassivelyMacD

The special thing about the cam in PoE (and D3 and DSO and Torchlight and whatever) is not that the cam is isometric, because it isn’t. The special thing is that the cam is at a fixed point relative to the character (above and “behind”) without the capability to turn the camera around a point that lies inside of the character. You can only turn the character, not the cam.

Please, isometric is a parallel projection, where all lines which are parallel on objects remain parallel in the 2d projection (with an equal angle of 120° between x, y and z axis, hence “iso”metric). Those games mentioned above all have perspective projections, parallel lines do not remain parallel in the 2d projection. Even sized objects have different sizes when farther away, even when it is difficult to see due to the camera position being so closed to the character and thus the ground.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Tbh there are so many MMOs outside third person view, that I dont see much point listing a bunch of them. Brief info on well known titles that dont stand out much in this regard is lazy. I know Justin you love to do investigations, so here are suggestions for Perfect Ten lists that require some effort to make and would be fun to read: list of great browser MMOs that arent well known, MMOs that do quests differently, MMos with unique combat mechanics, MMOs that had huge scandals around them, MMOs where developers perpetuated players inside gameworld.

Also I can tell you another MMO that has forced first person view: Sphere. The first russian MMO (this could also be a list. The very first MMOs made in varied countries).

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TheDonDude

I really think it’s an easy immersion win to have the camera be either in first person view, or close to it (a la Mass Effect). It puts the player in the eyes of the character and makes the world seem more real. Star Citizen does this very well.

Seriously, try going into first person mode in SWTOR (a game not known for its immersion). It’s… actually quite pretty!

Sadly many games are designed to make first person mode impractical for actually playing the game effectively.

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Schmidt.Capela

My issue with first person view (which includes VR) is field of view; going into first person view feels like putting blinders, a situation that is unlikely to improve until we get 180°+ field of view screens (which is still short of the angle at which we can perceive movement through visual clues alone, which is somewhere between 200° and 220° for those with two working eyes).

Besides, 3rd person view at average to high distances is so much better for about everything that doesn’t involve aiming a gun/bow, it kinda sucks the fun of playing in 1st person view; getting nailed by a mob I didn’t see coming, but would have easily noticed if I was playing in 3rd person view, makes the 1st person experience far more frustrating than it should be.

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TheDonDude

The blinders issue is a big drawback for first person mode, and why it’s hard to play a lot of games effectively.

I’ve always found Mass Effect-style cameras to be a good compromise. You can see around you, but the view is close enough that you feel in the world.

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Schmidt.Capela

That assumes you rate that feeling of being in the world higher than the extra situational awareness of a further away camera. I don’t. The only situations where I prefer a 1st person view are in shooting games (and even then only during combat) or when piloting certain kinds of vehicle (mainly airplanes, spaceships, and other things which move in 3D space; I used to prefer 1st person view for driving cars in-game, but kinda outgrew that).

Heck, I’m currently playing Skyrim, and apart from when I’m shooting my bow or looking for some small object in the scenario I tend to play with an over-the-top camera pulled as far back as the game will allow. In fact, I can’t even stand engaging in melee combat in the game’s 1st person POV camera.

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TheDonDude

Quite the opposite.

I believe it is possible to have a game that has both good immersion and gives you situational awareness.

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Schmidt.Capela

Minimap/Radar comes to mind, but unless the game has a setting where such capabilities would be expected that in itself can be immersion-breaking.

(Lol, reminds me of how I switched to playing Mario Kart DS by looking mainly at the zoomed-in map screen. Better situational awareness allowing me to dodge things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to, enough details to allow me to reach the optimum trajectory, and not affected by squids.)