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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