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Immersion: The Videogame Car

By Shamus
on Saturday Apr 24, 2010
Filed under:


This is why you crash all over the place in Grand Theft Auto games:

Link (YouTube)

In the introduction he talks about how driving a car in first-person mode is “inconvenient”. This goes back to the need for in-game maps and how people tend to get lost more easily in games: No peripheral vision. Driving in GTA is no problem in first-person mode until you want to make a turn, at which point the whole thing falls apart. Not only do you not have peripheral vision, you can’t even turn your head.

This is an understandable limitation if the designer doesn’t want to have to make the interior of each and every car in the detail required for a proper in-cab view, but still: You can’t drive if you can’t see where you’re going, and sometimes you’re going ninety degrees to the right or left. Moving the camera up and behind the vehicle lets you see the stuff you need in order to make a reasonably safe turn, at the expense of introducing the problem depicted in the video.

I do like the way Half-Life 2 handled vehicles, where you steer with the step left / right buttons and the mouse is used to move your head around. It still can’t really cure your lack of peripheral vision, but it at least lets you turn your head to compensate. I’d love to try that scheme in a proper metropolitan setting and see how it holds up in traffic. My hope is that I’d be able to drive from the apartment to the bowling alley without totaling my car in the process.

Comments (44)

  1. Blanko2 says:

    prolly the frame rate in GTA IV makes it worse, but yeah, that method of driving probably isnt the best idea.
    GranTurismo 4 did it alright where the camera is above the cars hood. that sort of makes it easier to drive, i thought, than the third person view. least on most maps.
    but yeah HL2 prolly does it best.
    and borderlands… MOUSE STEERING

    • Davie says:

      The mouse steering bugged me so much in that game. Same way in the Halo series. I hated how you had to stand still to fire your Scorpion’s main gun anywhere other than directly in front of you.

      • Blanko2 says:

        it is the bane of console ports, apparently.
        the dual analog steering for halo 3 wasnt bad when i played it, but transferring that to the mouse…
        seriously who decided that was a good idea? its never been fun and its been around for quite a while, if i recall.

      • Robyrt says:

        Ironically, the console version of Halo is HL2-style: move left/right is steer, and you can look/aim freely.

      • Meredith says:

        I always wanted mouse steering in HL2 and maybe you had to click the mouse button to look around or something. I never thought about the mounted guns until you said that. You’re right, it wouldn’t work.

        I still never managed to look around and drive in a straight line unless I stopped the car, though, and I think there’s got to be a smoother way to steer than binary l/r controls. I mean, imagine two giant buttons on your dash for l/r and you just had to feather it along and constantly course correct. So many accidents!

        Mouse steering would be a lot more like driving in real life if you could solve the shooting issue. Perhaps I’m just inexperienced, though, and shouldn’t say much. I don’t play any racing games and I’m not much for shooters as a rule, either. I’m used to characters who mostly walk or insta-travel everywhere.

        • Bryan says:

          The only way I could see that working is if the camera follows the guns. That way you at least have a chance of seeing what you shoot while driving. So you would have a camera/gun control and a steering control.
          It would also be nice to have a couple of small frames in the lower corners to see what is to the sides of the camera, (does not need to show cab detail) but I think you would need a large screen to get any detail from them.

  2. Moriarty says:

    the camera is way too low to drive around pylons, if they would have positioned it better, those obstacle course wouldnt have been a problem.

  3. GTB says:

    I dunno about this video. When im playing in 3rd person (especially if i’m driving) I normally zoom out as far as I can and rotate the camera downward, at least so that I can see the front-ish portion of my vehicle. The way they have the camera mounted there, the video the driver is getting is basically 70% back-of-truck which I imagine WOULD make it difficult to drive a course like that.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This is not why you crash so much in gta.There the camera is positioned way higher so that your roof doesnt obscure your vision.With a better camera position,this course wouldve been way easier.

  5. Jaz says:

    Yeah, I really preferred HL2’s method too, but it seemed to get a lot of flak. My wife thought it was confusing (at first) and people were reporting motion sickness and… well.

    This crap need to plug into your brain.

  6. Psithief says:

    Roosterteeth shorts are back? This is the best news in weeks!

  7. utzelgrutzel says:

    That is why more games need Trackir support. Or Eyefinity, or both :)

  8. Huh. Maybe the lack of peripheral vision is why I get lost in video games so easily.

    It’s embarrassing, because I’ve won awards in the Army for land navigation and orienteering. Yet in a video game, I can get completely lost in less than 5 minutes.

    My problem with first-person perspective in most games is that the camera angle makes me feel as if I’m 3 feet tall! So now, not only am I lost, but I’m also a midget!


    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Also, no inertial sense and many video game maps that you need while actually moving seem to be “track up” instead of “north up”, which drives ME (at least) bananas…

    • Legal Tender says:

      I’ve noticed I don’t really pay much attention to a video game’s landscape.

      I haven’t got any formal training and am not an outdoorsy people but whenever I do go out for a hike I try to get my bearings as best I can, not because I might die if I get lost but it always helps to know where you are going :D. Compare that to my behaviour in videogames where the worst that can happen is me going ‘Hmm…I haven’t got the foggiest idea where I am…now which one is the quick-travel button?’. This happens regardless of map scheme (automap, partial map, north/track up, etc).

      Makes me think maybe we get distracted by all the shinny colors and are not really invested in knowing our position at all times?

    • Mari says:

      Imagine how much worse you get lost in video games when you are easily lost in real life, too. Picture it, if you will: I’m at the airport in Atlanta, GA. Just dropped someone off to fly back to Texas and I’m now supposed to drive back to Macon on my own. It’s my first visit to GA so I’m completely unfamiliar with the place. I leave the airport and start driving along the highway. At the Tennessee state line I realize I have made a huge mistake. Turn around and drive back to Atlanta. After consulting the map again I get back on the freeway and attempt to exit at the right place this time. Fail. Luckily I don’t go all the way to Alabama before realizing I’m on the wrong highway again. Third time is charm and I actually make it to Macon in only 5 hours.

      Now put that same pathetic sense of direction into a video game and you’ll realize why even a weak game with simple maps can sometimes take me twice as long to play as most people because I keep getting lost.

    • guy says:

      I think people keep getting lost in video games for three reasons: 1. pretty similar enviroments make halls nearly indistinguishable. 2. No signs. At all. 3. It’s hard to pay attention to much of anything else while being shot repeatedly.

  9. neothoron says:

    While it is true that the camera angle does not favor visibility, I believe that the biggest problem in controlling the car was that the steering-wheel is not designed for that kind of use:
    -It’s hard to accurately estimate how much of a turn you are making from a 3rd person camera
    -Once you have turned enough, you have to get the steering wheel all the way back to its original position – which means that you have to stop turning about midway through the turn.

    In a video game, you simply press a key to turn, and you press it more to turn more – but you don’t have to actually put the wheels back in place to go back to going straight.

    • Mephane says:

      Yeah, you are right. It is not enough to reproduce the view angle of a video game, but you’d need the same controls, too.

      Actually, I think a standard steering wheel is a rather inconvenient way of handling a vehicle anyway; not that it originated from any thinking about usability, it simply evolved from direct mechanical connection to the actual steering mechanism, which you simply cannot move without gears reducing the required force.

      In addition, I think a HUD projected on the front window should be mandatory for all vehicles. Heh.

  10. ellindsey says:

    So, in order to really simulate driving a video game car with a real car, the drivers should be in a remote location watching a transmitted camera feed (so they have no kinetic feedback) via a camera whose frame rate varies depending on how many objects are in its view, and controlling the car via keyboard or game controller, with steering, brake, and throttle all-or-nothing button-pressed signals.

    • Nihil says:

      And then all you’ve done is building a very expensive videogame.

      The point of this exercise is precisely to set up a hybrid system where only ONE of the elements (in this case the camera) works like in a videogame, so you can figure out how you are affected just by that single element.

  11. Zak McKracken says:

    Looking and steering independently … isn’t that what Mass Effect allows you to do? As it looks from your videos, there must be something missing, though, to make driving a vehicle easier.

    In the video above, I think that there are two things missing which make driving with outside view easier:
    1: The Camera should be higher, because you can’t see what’s in front of the car.
    2: In GTA (and any other 3rd person driving game I know) the camera isn’t completely fixed relative to the car, it always seems to be kind of damped, so it’s not gonna shake wildly everytime you go over a bump on the street and acceleration can be seen because the car leaves it’s position on the screen, and also it mostly looks in the direction your car is going to, so if you’re sliding sideways, you’ll see your car from the side. Probably more complicated, but that’s how it looks to me.

    I once found an art project on the net where someone had mounted a helium baloon with a camera looking straight down on a video helmet. So he couldn’t see normally, only the bird’s eye view of himself, like in the early GTA games. After a few hours, the view started to feel natural and he was even walking through a crowded shopping mall with little to no problems, talked to people and all. Very weird stuff …

    • guy says:

      The Mako is just terrible at keeping traction. That’s all there is to it.

      • Chargone says:

        see, the amusing part is taking Advantage of this.. it’s actually quite awesome. the trick is that you, for the most part, want to go Over the mountains, not around them *grins*. also, pulse your jets in time with the bouncing when you’re just driving along the flat so the vehicle stays ‘up’. probably nullifies the suspension, but it always feels like it handles a lot better.

        they also help not flip over strangely when you ramp off stuff, and if you find yourself sliding down slopes sideways, launching yourself off the mountain completely using the jets usually makes for a much better ending than just going with the slide *grins*

  12. eri says:

    As somebody who doesn’t have a driver’s license and no experience in piloting any vehicles outside of virtual ones, this video doesn’t exactly motivate me to go out and start cruising.

  13. Angie says:

    For the next video, they need to simulate first-person game driving — goggles to eliminate peripheral vision, and some kind of head brace to keep you from rotating your head. Then compare the two and see which perspective kills more pedestrians/cones in a real car. :)


  14. Tuck says:

    It’s easy to simulate HL2-style driving…I do it all the time on my motorbike (with a full-face helmet). I have to turn my head to look around me because my peripheral vision is almost nil.

    • asterismW says:

      Seriously? My full-face helmet doesn’t affect my peripheral vision at ALL. I turn my head when I’m changing lanes, yes, but that’s to check my blind spot, and I do that in my car too.

      • My helmet only affects my peripherals slightly (full face, too). I think if the same test was replicated on a bike, the testers would make it about 5 meters before falling over. I play bike games in 3rd person, too cos the 1st person perspectives feel a bit screwy.

        I think the main thing with 3rd person cameras being useful is the damping as was mentioned previously. It takes time for the camera to adjust to the vehicle’s new rotation/position which makes it possible to navigate certain turns a lot more easily. Some older games even have options to alter the damping which made for horrendous controls when you mucked it up.

  15. It would be nice for games like GTA to implement a camera where it’ll turn the camera for you, even though you could manually move the camera itself with the mouse.

    That, plus the fact that I drive so crazily in GTA, especially in GTA4 where they turn up the realism for driving. zOMG I actually have to brake this time when I turn! (Not that that’s a bad thing).

    I’ve actually found if you drive just like the traffic in GTA4, you’ll also crash a lot less (something I found out when I realised I stopped speeding so frequently).

  16. Josh R says:

    eventually they will make PC screens that are really widescreens, and some niche game will introduce a game with pheripheral vision… but there won’t be much chance of it catching on.

  17. ccesarano says:

    I wonder if you put someone that had never driven a car before in there and had them try and steer, would they have fared worse or better? Part of the reason they did so poorly is because they are used to being in the driver’s seat and the pedals and wheel responding based on a certain perspective. With a camera pulled back, that perspective changes. In fact, speeds may even be perceived as being slower, so when you tap the gas lightly you may think you’re not going anywhere, while from the first person perspective the change seems more significant.

    Of course, the point of this video wasn’t to actually be scientific, but I do wonder if driving from a 3rd person perspective would, in fact, be better.

    Or perhaps the windshield using a HUD system where you can bring up a small screen with that view just to double check, as well as other camera views. Of course, you’d need a camera out in that 3rd person perspective, which is the real rub. How would you place such a camera without it being ridiculous or impractical?

  18. Klay F. says:

    I kinda thought the whole point of this video was to prove that people drive as badly in real life as they do in a Grand Theft Auto game. Seriously, if you say you are a good driver in a GTA game you are flat out lying.

    My second thought was that they were trying to emulate the GTA driving experience (i.e. driving recklessly into other people/cars/things).

  19. (LK) says:

    I had a two part solution. Part one was preferring bikes, where you could pretty much see where you were going. Part two was not driving Roman’s lazy arse around when he decided he wanted Nico to buy him another meal. Maneuvering back and forth at low speed trying to get along with traffic instead of charging through it was annoying.

    The first rule nearly killed Roman when I broke the second rule and sent him headlong off of the bike into traffic. That was honestly kind of rewarding. Who the hell needed his free taxis anyway.

  20. KarmaDoor says:

    Linear perspective must die!
    It remains one of the greatest limiting factors of 3-D games. Linear projection restricts how wide a field of view can be displayed. That in turn means we’re stuck with an in-game camera that is less than optimal in portraying an environment as we expect.

    Unfortunately curvilinear and other non-linear methods are barely used, so seeing them implemented in computer graphics rare. With an increase in processing requirements, curvilinear projection is a hard sell, but that seems ridiculous with all of the other graphical effects that make the cut, yet have less than a beneficial impact on gameplay.

    There have been implementations, thankfully, however they are becoming more and more dated. Here’s a customized Quake client:
    Also, some graphical examples showing advantages of curvilinear over linear:

  21. Steve C says:

    My pet peeve in games is when they add goggles or something that obstructs your view even further. So not only do I have no peripheral vision and can’t turn my head, now I also lose half the screen. Got to simulate how hard it is to see in a game where it already feels like I’m wearing blinders.

  22. Jeysie says:

    You might be interested to know the same guys are finally turning this concept of “video game physics in real life” into a full-fledged series: http://roosterteeth.com/archive/?sid=immersion

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