Friday, February 3, 2017

High camera angles in adventure game scenery

Having looked at low camera angles last post, it now makes sense to study the use of high camera angles in backgrounds. Once again I'm starting with a fairly standard camera angle, this time from Kyrandia 2, so that we remember what most artists choose to use when approaching a scene. With that fresh in our minds, let's look at some higher angles, and try to figure out what they bring to the equation.

This fairly mild shot from Gateway is an interesting place to begin. What this mostly does is give us a nice long shot of a location, while still putting us straight into a scene, and not relying on an establishing shot for the angle. It's not really very dramatic or tense, really, it just gives us a nice view and helps to remind us that we're in a raised structure. The fact that we're looking from a first person point of view also probably makes it a little less dramatic, as we can't see anybody in danger.

Another first person shot, this scene from Dune uses the technique to slightly more dramatic effect. Here we're placed up high in a hallway, with the perspective shifting quite strongly due to the top vanishing point inside the frame of the image and another one below the image. Including this vanishing point inside the frame here makes the distance to the back of the hall seem much further, and despite the somewhat uneven foreshortening (notice how the pillars at the back seem wider than those closer to us) this effect makes the hall seem large and spacious. The other vanishing point, sitting some way below the bottom of the scene, also helps to warp the perspective and give the impression that we're looking down.

This shot from King's Quest V does something similar, but this time with the two vanishing points having slightly shifted roles. Here we can feel a vanishing point below the bottom of the scene the most, which really makes the walls and ceiling seem high, whereas the other vanishing point lies a fair way above the top of the image, making the lines receding in that direction much less effective. Comparing this image and the last image really shows how placing a vanishing point closer to the image makes the angles in that direction seem more extreme, which really helps to accentuate the distances perceived in that specific direction.

This scene really interests me because we can see that it's basically the exact same layout as the previous scene, yet it does a couple of things differently that are worth noting. Here the decorations on the far wall loom out nicely, stretching over the scene which really helps to spice up the composition by adding different layers of depth. The absence of the statues in the last scene, though, make the back wall's angle read slightly less clearly, so while we gain a nice looming feel, we lose some of the clarity of perspective. This scene also has an exit to the bottom right, and you can see the tightness of the lines as they begin to converge on the vanishing point more and more, and how the character sprite doesn't fit in here as well as he did in the placement of the last scene.

From establishing the height of a ceiling, to establishing the depth of a drop, here we see a scene in Loom that also employs objects that cover the lower parts of the ground to make them seem like they loom nicely. This is an interesting example that feels like two different sets of vanishing points were used for the background and the foreground, abandoning reality in favour of a more dramatic shot. Unlike the last scenes we can't see lines descending from the taller parts to the lower parts, which makes the change in perspective more excusable. It's also interesting that the near and far areas use similar shades of green, and rely on a solid black border to break them up.

This scene from Willy Beamish does show areas that are connected, but with flowing, curving lines that makes the shift seem slightly less extreme. What it does, however, is make the transitions between these areas very interesting and dynamic, and the way the tubes snake and curl around also help give an impression of distance without necessarily relying on lines converging to a point to show that. I also love how, unlike the last scene, there's a very clear distinction both in saturation and hue between the elements, with the rich red foreground elements being very apparent, the yellow mids being nice, balance details, and then the distant blues feeling less focused and further away. A great way to separate the different heights.

More consistent in portraying straight perspective is this scene from Beneath a Steel Sky which shows the player perched precariously above a massive city. The angles used here work really well - the buildings in the middle ground have plenty of lateral lines that show the strong shift in perspective, and because there's no floor to limit the vertical lines, here the vanishing point above the top of the scene really sells the depth beautifully, rather than relying on a vanishing point below the scene. This is a great way to show the danger of the situation.

Once again, having the bottom vanishing point much closer to the scene makes for a much more dramatic drop. Placing Foster on the other side of the scene really works well here - the warped perspective hasn't gotten too extreme yet, and he still feels like he fits the background very well. This allows the whole bottom half of the image to be dedicated to showing the depth, and makes for a very dramatic, tense angle. The many vertical lines take great advantage of this close vanishing point, too, really playing the shot to its full potential.

This scene from Curse of Enchantia uses a warped, fisheye style of perspective that has some vanishing points receding to a clear point in the image, and others slightly further down. This really gives a great example of a long drop, that warped perspective giving a dizzying, unsteady effect that really sells the height we're looking from. I particularly like the bits of floor that remain over the drop, more lateral elements that help to add layers of depth to the scene, and the fact that we can actually see where the drop ends, unlike in the last scene.

This scene from Lost Secret of the Rainforest also has somewhat uneven lines, here quite easily excused by the fact that we're looking at natural structures. Once more we have lateral elements covering the scene in layers in the form of branches and leaves, that helps to break up the trunks nicely, and once again being able to see where the drop ends works great, even though the vanishing point is further down than last time.

Taking uneven lines to an extreme is this lovely backdrop from Simon the Sorcerer 2. Here the twisting and warping really comes into play, and similarly to the scene from Discworld in our examination of low camera angles, really makes the drop seem dizzying and unsafe. Something I really love here is the use of two different light sources, one from above and one from below. Having them be very different in terms of saturation and brightness really sells the idea of one light source being strong daylight, and the other coming from a warmer light source, farther down the image than we can see.

Speaking of Discworld, this shot is a fantastic example, with the shelves making concentric circles, leading down to a vanishing point right around the bottom left third point. The laterally crossing pathways break it all up wonderfully with nice diagonals that help to show depths of specific parts, and the way the red light shifts from a rich, solid red high up to a brilliant pinkish white down the bottom really adds to the feeling of depth.

The ultimate example of a high camera angle, this scene from The Secret of Monkey Island places the vanishing point very clearly in the image, and surrounds it with cliffs. This level of extremely high camera angling is somewhat impractical - the character had to be completely redrawn and animated here, and trying to have a conversation from this angle wouldn't be quite so enjoyable as normal, because seeing expressions and gestures is much harder. Still, it does a great job of conveying the drop, and is a great way to show an item at the bottom of this canyon.

One last example, to show the power of perspective, is this shot from Dreamweb. Here the verticality of the walls and furniture has been ignored or played down, and we no longer feeling like we're looking from a massive height like many of the earlier scenes. Shots like this feel more akin to playing a board game that we're sitting directly over, than looking down a deep well, and this kind of shot basically shows no depth, despite the bird's eye camera angle. This just goes to show what power relying on vanishing points gives us.

Much like low camera angle shots, these high camera angles are a great way of conveying drama, tension and danger. They can provide some spectacular views that really add to an important moment in a story, and can also simply help to make a nice change from seeing the same angle all the time. I love to see how these artists used the idea to achieve certain effects in their work, and believe there's plenty to be learned from studying these scenes.


Li said...

Hey ben it's Liviu from Stuck In Attic. Good to see you're posting again! These last studies are effing amazing. I've been scouring the internet for adventure game background-related information, and your stuff is spot-on. I just love what you're doing on this blog, please keep them coming. Thoroughly enjoying every entry. Big fan of both your work and your study-related articles.

Ben304 said...

Thanks Liviu! Glad to hear you're enjoying the posts, and if I knew of any other sources of adventure game background study, I'd be glad to link them here. Maybe you know of a few others you'd be willing to share? In any case, thanks for the comments, and I'll continue to post further studies here as I learn more about the topic!

Anonymous said...

Found this article via Dave Gilbert's Twitter--great analyses and a good way to find out about adventure games I've yet to catch up on! I was wondering, what game is screenshot 7 from? (The one with the red-yellow palette and the huge amount of tubing.) Unless I completely missed it, you didn't seem to mention, and searching for that picture just brings me back here.
While I'm here, I oughta thank you for the splendid backgrounds you added to every Wadjet Eye game you worked on--excellent stuff, both scene-setting and beautiful!

Ben304 said...

Hi there! My mistake, I usually try to list every game's name. This one is from The Adventures of Willy Beamish, a great looking old game! I'll update the post with its title, thanks for pointing it out.

Thanks, too, for the kind words, I'm glad you've enjoyed my work for WEG so far, and am looking forward to doing more for everybody to enjoy! :D