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Why good FOV options are crucial to PC games

24 May 2013  by   Peter Parrish
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For PC players who can’t tolerate a narrow Field of View (FOV,) it’s been a difficult few weeks. Zeno Clash 2, Metro: Last Light and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger are all recent releases to have suffered from this problem.

To their credit, ACE Team popped out a quick patch for Zeno Clash 2 (no small undertaking as the FOV in that case was linked to in-game animations) and Last Light got a config file solution from 4A Games. Gunslinger has yet to offer a solution, but it’s also the most recent release of those three. Hopefully Techland will come up with something soon.

[Edit] There is now a way of altering Gunslinger’s FOV.

I’ve singled out those games purely on the basis that they’re recent titles that have brought the FOV issue back into the public eye (so to speak); they’re far from the only offenders.

If only you could punch the FOV in the face too.

If only you could punch the FOV in the face too.

In fact, it’s a regular problem PC players have to deal with. Especially when it comes to titles that are getting a simultaneous console release.

Before we get to why this is such an issue with some players though, let’s have a quick refresher on what Field of View actually refers to. The best way to do that is with a couple of visual aides.

Here’s an image from BioShock Infinite (chosen because it’s a recent title with an FOV slider) taken at 1980×1080. In this shot, the FOV is at its minimum in-game value.

I'm only prepared to buy a hot dog if this stand also sells popcorn. Alas! I have no way of knowing!

I’m only prepared to buy a hot dog if this stand also sells popcorn. Alas! I have no way of knowing!

This next shot is, again, taken at 1980×1080 but this time has the FOV slider set to its maximum level.

Hooray, now I know I can order a hot dog and popcorn! But wait, that sounds disgusting.

Hooray, now I know I can order a hot dog and popcorn! But wait, that sounds disgusting.

It’s an image taken in exactly the same location, but you should be able to see how the wider FOV in the second shot allows the player to see more on the peripheries of the scene. See how it shows the full hot dog stand on the right and the ‘False Shepherd’ poster on the left? That’s the benefit of a wider FOV.

Infinite’s FOV slider only maxes out at 85, with many PC players preferring (where possible) to set it to 110 or even higher. At those levels, the difference is even more pronounced.

But beyond the obvious visual benefits of making a game look and feel less ‘cramped’ to play, why is FOV so important to some people?

For the answer that perplexing question, let’s turn to renowned internet physician Dr. Herbert Chunder.

IncGamers is in no way affiliated with Private Eye. However, we do like them.

IncGamers is in no way affiliated with Private Eye. However, we do like them.

Thank you Peter. You see folks, when a game has a narrow FOV on the PC it super-charges the person’s monitor and sends out little bolts of gamma radiation that can cause increased nausea and testicular shrivelling.

Err … I don’t think that’s …

The radiation particle-bosons impact the part of the brain we doctors refer to as “The Viewomatiea Majora” and it scrabbles a person’s vision, causing motion sickness and …

Dr. Chunder?

Yes?

You’re not actually a real doctor, are you?

No.

Right. Moving on.

Science! Probably. I didn't draw this.

Science! Probably. I didn’t draw this.

He was right about the motion sickness though.

Narrow FOVs exaggerate camera movements, which can be a disaster for people more prone to that type of nausea. On the PC, this problem is compounded by how close most players sit to their monitors.

Console FOVs are much less of a problem, because you tend to be sat a fair distance away from the (TV) screen and the camera’s movements are mitigated.

Of course, the other reason the past generation of console releases have stuck with narrow FOVs is for hardware purposes. The older architecture doesn’t have to render as much stuff on screen, so the console can maintain a stable framerate.

In general, that particular bit of hardware trickery doesn’t need to be employed on the PC. Far better to eke out smoother performance by lowering the resolution, or messing about with some graphics options. Maybe toning down the anti-aliasing or sticking shadows on medium. On the PC, we always like to have more graphical options. Forcing a default FOV goes completely against this ethos.

Top tip: Putting a solid black border around your game will not solve the FOV problem.

Top tip: Putting a solid black border around your game will not solve the FOV problem.

Yet developers still seem to persist in shipping games that lack PC-friendly FOV options, and this can be a serious problem for people who suffer from motion sickness.

For them, it’s akin to the game being released with a crippling bug that prevents completion. Depending on the severity, they may be able to get away with regular breaks or not really be able to play at all.

Releasing a game with no PC FOV options effectively denies some people the chance to play it. It’s not just a matter of taste, like visual style or a particular gameplay design decision, it’s an objective problem.

The ease with which FOV changes can be implemented in a game must presumably vary depending on the graphics engine used and whether (as in the case of Zeno Clash 2) it’s tied to specific animations. I’m not going to profess to be any kind of coding expert here, there may well be other hurdles too. But given how often a patch appears after customer complaints, or a diligent modder finds a way to fix the issue, in most cases it doesn’t seem to be a monumental task.

With the power of narrow FOV, spiders can appear closer to Tim's face at all times.

With the power of narrow FOV, spiders can appear closer to Tim’s face at all times.

So hey, developers, if you’re releasing your game on PC and its default FOV is kinda narrow, please consider adding a slider. Or at the very least a fairly simple config file tweak.

It’ll not only make your game world feel more expansive and less cramped, but also make the title bearable for anyone who suffers from motion sickness. Development time aside, there’s literally no downside to including FOV options; but a great deal to gain from appreciative players.

Do the right thing. Make FOV options mandatory on all PC releases. Please.

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  1. Avatar of
    Tim McDonald
    +1

    Really good explanation and reasoning, sir! And I’m totally not just saying that because I work with you.

    Two counterpoints.

    1) The FOV in Last Light didn’t bother me that much, which is why I don’t think I bothered mentioning it in the review. It was a little claustrophobic, yes, but most of the game is anyway – it was one of the (rare) cases where it sort of worked with the game, particularly when you’ve got gas mask effects blurring up the screen edges anyway. I’ll have to try fiddling with the config for my next playthrough, though. I can imagine it still would’ve caused issues for the motion sickness sufferers.

    Also: I think that’s actually one of the scorpion beasties rather than the spider beasties, but they’re practically identical and turn up in the same places anyway. Nonetheless I hate for you including that picture, even though you warned me about it beforehand.

    2) The other issue with FOV – which I’ve noticed with a few games when I’ve manually altered it in config files, like in Dead Space 3 – is that the part of the screen the game *thinks* is invisible is regularly used by devs to hide stuff. Like, say, characters blinking out of existence at the end of a cutscene. It’s not really a problem in gameplay terms but it’s a huge immersion breaker, and that *is* a problem in anything even remotely atmospheric.

    May 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm
  2. Avatar of
    Peter Parrish

    (1) Yeah, I totally accept that a certain FOV is sometimes used as a stylistic choice (kind of the same as Resident Evil’s intentionally terrible camera angles.) It can work well too – but I think developers would still benefit from adding a “if this is making you sick, try checking this box to raise the FOV” (or whatever) in those cases. Like a fail-safe, you know. Sure, it means not every player is getting the TRUE ARTISTIC VISION, but at least they can all play the thing.

    That’s a question of whether artistic intent trumps utility, I suppose.

    (1b) Oh yeah, you’re right, that is a scorpion. Well, it’s still suitably horrifying!

    (2) Haha, yes, messing with the FOV too much can definitely cause some quirks. I guess that’s down to whether the game was ever designed with a wider FOV in mind. If it wasn’t, and a patch/tweak has to be implemented after the fact, you’ll probably run into that stuff. Again though, I think it’s worth the immersion breaking if it allows someone to actually play without getting ill.

    May 25, 2013 at 2:49 am

  3. Nicole

    Hi, I suffer from multiple neurological issues and utilize gaming as a source of diversion, a key tool for me for chronic pain and mental health management. I am currently researching simulator sickness to increase the number of games I can play.

    I’d like to point out that FOV is not the only thing that affects this…I have trouble with small repetitive animations like a logo with flapping wings. This has caused me to have simulator sickness even in some of the newer more 3d based games with a map-based or isometric view. The more exaggerated the motion the worse it is…

    I do not have this problem with the avatar in the center of the screen however, in fact that avatar seems to help even if the FOV doesn’t really change from 1st to 3rd person view.

    Also…it helps if I focus my vision on the top of the screen where the view is the widest.

    Why didn’t you mention changing from 1st to 3rd person view in this article…it’s often the only way FOV can be modified in a game.

    September 3, 2013 at 12:00 am

  4. redlaertalpha
    -1

    Is there any list of games that include FOV options?

    Thanks in advance. ;)

    September 29, 2013 at 4:20 am

  5. Buddhastic

    Back in the late-90s / early-2000s pretty much every FPS had a command line to change the FOV. What happened to those days? :(

    February 9, 2014 at 2:50 pm

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