Free for All: The camera control blues (or how I judge thee, F2P grinder)

This week, I wanted to cover something that must be discussed before I move any further into my career as "The Only Guy Who Liked That Game." Before I worked here at Massively, I used to work for Ablegamers.com, a site for disabled gamers. Although my job was a volunteer position, I learned enough to make it very much worth my while. One of the most interesting facts I learned was that many, many Americans are disabled, to varying degrees. Technically, my poor eyesight qualifies me as disabled, as do my chronic wrist issues due to 20 some-odd years of drumming and art.

I've learned my limits but will never apologize for them. I do not expect every developer or game to allow for some of my special (yet common) circumstances, although I think that some of the fixes are so minor that they should have been in the game in the first place. Still, I have to find games that work for my particular set of issues. As I have begun to test and play more and more games, I have had to start enforcing a certain set of rules to pre-judge the games by, otherwise I am stuck with a game that I simply refuse to play. If not, the reviews at the end of the week would simply read: "I couldn't play this game because it asked me to hold down right-click the entire damn time."

See whether any of these issues sound familiar. The fact is, if you're an average human being, at some point in your life you will have the same issues I am having. You might as well recognize them now in order to avoid the games that will cause you trouble.

The camera is the most important thing in an MMORPG. If I cannot see properly or comfortably in a game, the rest does not matter. If the game looks amazing and provides for an immersive atmosphere but isn't comfortable, I will only use it for screenshots.

My main beef, especially after testing so many games that do not support other options, is having to hold down right-click to control the camera. You know what I am talking about -- you can walk forward, and you can walk backward, but when it comes time to turn you are forced to hold down right-click to turn the camera. As soon as I see this, my excitement immediately falls several levels. I go to the freezer, grab my ice-wrap, and come back for a world of pain and the print screen button.

"I wonder how many readers specifically remember attempting to find a great camera angle during the EverQuest days -- needless to say, it was a hassle."


As a general rule, many games come with the camera glued smartly to the back of the character's head. That means that as I turn, so does the camera. That's two actions in one, meaning one less action than the alternative. Of course, if I want a faster turn or want to control the camera with right-click for a moment, I can do that. I can even control the camera like this for longer periods of time, as long as I have other options. Repetitive Stress Injuries are caused by the repetition of the same activity, not by a healthy variety of activities and movements.

Most of us are used to this "proper" WASD control scheme. Optional camera controls, however, can still be spotty. I wonder how many readers specifically remember attempting to find a great camera angle during the EverQuest days; needless to say, it was a hassle. Log into EverQuest now and you just press F9. That will give you an idea of some of the camera controls we had to deal with. The camera in World of Warcraft is, without the help of a mod, non-controllable in any significant way while you're using only the keyboard. Iris Online and Forsaken World, two recent wonderful discoveries, both provide no options whatsoever for camera control outside of your holding down right-click.

I am not kidding when I say that it is slightly depressing when some of the most kick-ass games in the world hurt you physically.

To be fair, there are cultural differences to consider. Generally, in a game that most of us would call "a grinder," camera control is not as important. There are reasons that auto-pathing games aren't very worried about your inability to gawk at the treetops. In those games, combat generally consists of the player clicking on the highlighted text, traveling to the mobs in question, targeting the nearest one, and killing dozens of them. Do I really need to look at the details in the textures?
Ironically, some of the very best-looking games aren't even giving you the proper controls to sight-see. Yes, most now come standard with the "typical" WASD controls, but customizable key-bindings can be rare. Before you get ahead of yourself, this is not a reflection on quality -- spare me the comments about "games from Asia." As a rule, there is no rule for quality. The camera control options, or lack of, reflect a difference in gameplay.

Recently I had a eureka moment; now, I think of those games more like a Diablo-style romp. I have learned to zoom way out and tilt the camera down, so it looks a lot like an amped-up version of Gauntlet. It literally makes the game more enjoyable. I now believe that many of these grinders are meant to be played that way. Later, if I want to play the virtual tourist in those beautiful worlds, I can tolerate some right-clicking to move the camera. I have even grown to prefer this "Diablo-style" gameplay much of the time. I know -- it sounds elementary. But this is the kind of discovery we make when we give all sorts of games a chance.

I still have my dream setup that combines many different options. However, very few feature all, or even a couple, of these:
  • Edge-of-screen camera controls: If you have played Mabinogi, you know what I am referring to. If you scoot your mouse over to the edge of your screen, the camera rotates that way. If you place it at the edge of the top or bottom, it zooms in or out.
  • Remappable camera controls: Dungeons and Dragons Online is a beautiful example of this. I can open up its options menu and reset almost any key I can think of. When I play DDO, I literally have several choices for control schemes within the space of my keyboard. I can drive my character, attack, and control the camera -- all with my two hands. I will bet that I could do it all with one, even. (Keep the jokes to yourself.)
  • Joystick/controller support: I am new to this area, but I've heard of games that allow for an Xbox controller, for example, to control the game. While an Xbox controller can cause me as many issues as any other device, another slice of variety would be nice. I have promised myself to look into this one some more.
  • Click-to-move with a follow camera: In recent memory, War of Angels is the only game that features this absolutely brilliant camera setup. When you click on the landscape or minimap to move, the camera follows right behind. Genius.
For me, gaming has become more and more of a physical issue. I never worried about whether I could do this forever, but now I wonder. Luckily technology has a way of brightening things up a bit. One day, we will probably have more choices than we know what to do with. Actually, that brings up a good point that Steve Spohn, my former editor at Ablegamers.com, brought to my attention. The old Nintendo controllers, for example, are now considered clunky and awkward. For a disabled player, however, their simplicity provided many opportunities for customization. Now the controllers have many more options, but so many that they are harder to adapt to. More choice isn't always good.

All I want is the simple ability to remap my controls and to swap out devices if I need to. Lately I have been finding absolutely amazing free-to-play games -- grinders, classic adventures, and otherwise -- that I cannot enjoy for very long. It's getting to the point that I will simply pass them up once I see these same limitations appear. I hate to do that, and I have made some helpful discoveries (the Diablo method) and adjustments along the way, but there are many games to discover -- and time is precious.
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!
This article was originally published on Massively.