Thought of the Day – Narrow FOVs and Mouse Acceleration

Borderlands, while heavily praised, had a PC port so bad that a friend of mine stopped PC gaming entirely.

We all know the various symptoms of bad ports, like a lack of dedicated servers, using Gamespy for networking, large menus, a lack of good graphics options, Ubisoft DRM® and Ubisoft Delays®, and so on and so forth. Some of you may be aware of some other issues, like level design, enemy AI limitations, and a lack of verticality that also tend to plague bad ports. Two of the most common complaints regarding ports, however, relate to forced mouse acceleration and a narrow FOV.

Most people know what mouse acceleration is: the rate at which the cursor moves accelerates as you move your mouse. For instance, if your mouse has a 1:1 movement ratio, when you move your mouse one centimeter, the cursor moves one centimeter. With mouse acceleration turned on, when you move your mouse, that ratio doesn’t just change (if it changed to like 1:2 or something, it would be an increase in sensitivity), it changes as you continue moving your mouse. In other words, if you move your mouse one inch, it might move one inch. As you continue moving the mouse to two inches, suddenly it’s moved for a total of two and a half. By the time you hit three inches,  your mouse has moved four, and so forth. With mouse acceleration, the cursor moves at a higher rate the longer you move your mouse. This is, of course, very bad for precise mouse control and makes gaming with a mouse rather pointless. After all, if you don’t have mouse precision, you might as well be using an analog stick, and if you’re using an analog stick, then chances are, you’re using a degree of lock-on (ranging from Halo 3’s extreme to Killzone 2’s almost nonexistence, both of which are kinda bad).

Many people complain of feeling motion sick while playing console ports (and also Valve games). The reason for this is because these games feature a very narrow FOV. If you don’t know what a FOV is, you should watch this video. In fact, even if you do know what an FOV is, you should watch the video.

Have you done it?

Good.

What you’ll find on bad ports is that they often use an FOV that is much smaller than what it should be on the PC. With a 24″ 16:10 (sixteen units wide vs ten units tall; in this case, that’s 1920 x 1200) monitor, I’ve found 95-110 degrees to be quite comfortable. Generally, a bad port uses something ranging from 55 (Metro 2033) to 80 (Rage). Another thing they do is up the weapon and gun size to fill disproportionately large sections of the screen. I’m not actually sure why they do that. It blocks even more of your view, and sitting at a television half-way across my living room, I don’t really care what size my character’s hands or guns are. I just want to know there’s a gun in the lower right and that it’s shooting at stuff while looking pretty.

Motion sickness aside, why should you care about a narrow FOV? Well, FPSes are games that require a high degree of situational awareness. You need to be able to know what’s going on around you, and having a narrow FOV is akin to wearing blinders. Unless you’re a horse, wearing blinders is just silly. Having a narrow FOV and large weapon/hand/UI size means you’re getting less screen space to see what’s going on around you, making your navigation through a three-dimensional world and anything that navigation entails a serious problem. One reason many people prefer third person shooters from an visual standpoint is, in fact, because things like narrow FOVs and large weapon sizes are making them uncomfortable without being terribly obvious about it.

So, back to the original point, which is that these things aren’t just bad trends, they’re also tied together.

See, when you’re using a stick, you can’t turn as fast as you can with a mouse. With an old game like Half-Life, I can turn a 180 in under a second. As I mentioned before, In a lot of PC games, there’s a lot of strafing, flanking, and verticality that just isn’t as pronounced on consoles. The reason for this is because analog sticks, as I’m sure you know, lack the both the precision and the speed of a mouse. I haven’t really touched on it, but sticky aim is also a side effect of the complete and uttter lack of accuracy present in analog sticks–all those Call of Duty and Uncharted and Halo and Killzone players aren’t quite the good shots they think they are. The sticky aim’s compensating for ’em. Anyways, because the FOV is often so narrow (say 60 degrees), the character has to hold the stick down longer than they would if the FOV was at 90 degrees. To compensate for this, developers implement stick acceleration. That way, if a guy is coming at you from the second floor building to your right, you can turn and point the stick up and get to him quicker than you would if there was no acceleration. If he’s coming at you from behind, same thing. It’s not perfect, and sticky aim’s required to keep you from moving too far past the guy since sticks have no precision, but, it’s how console developers have to cheat in order to make shooters not suck on consoles.

In other words, mouse acceleration exists to compensate for narrow FOVs and runs with the assumption that you’re using sticky aim, so precision isn’t important. None of these things serve any purpose on a PC, and if you find that PC gaming is giving you a headache, try changing the FOV! Just google “Gamename FOV” and you should be fine.

One thing before I go: if you’re in a third person game and you can’t see your feet, your camera is too close and your FOV is probably too small.

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