Mirror’s Edge-producer Tom Farrer over simulatorziekte

Mirror's Edge

Best wonderlijk: sommige mensen worden ziek van 3D-games. Ik mailde Mirror’s Edge-producer Tom Farrer om meer te weten te komen voor mijn fraai getitelde artikel Een computerspel om van te kotsen. Interessant genoeg om het hele interview hier (in het Engels) te publiceren, dacht ik zo. (En als het nog niet genoeg is, lees dan ook het interview met TNO-wetenschapper Jelte Bos.)

Niels: In Leipzig, your colleague Nick Channon told me that a lot of effort was put into limiting the effects of simulator sickness in Mirror’s Edge. Why on this game specifically? Was simulator sickness a problem that [development studio] DICE ran into before, for example working on the Battlefield games? Did you try to solve this before? Or did you have ideas about it, that you weren’t able to act on?

Tom Farrer: “It’s a problem for all first-person games but nobody has really put much effort into solving it, since not everyone suffers from it. You will soon notice if you have specific animations that cause it and you will fix them, but seldom do you make such a concerted effort to ensure it doesn’t occur at all. It becomes a much bigger issue if you are making a lot of camera animations and many first-person games don’t do that. Mirror’s Edge does work with the camera a lot so it was an important focus for us.”

Did you start working on these solutions for simulator sickness at the outset of development, or was it something that you focused on after focustesting the game for the first time?

“We were working with it in mind right from the start. I actually suffer from it myself so I’m a pretty good barometer for it. It’s a well known issue in first-person games and since we are so focused on movement it was always of extreme importance to us.”

One of the solutions, Channon said, is the addition of the dot in the middle of the screen. How did you come up with this? How does it differ from the ‘gun target’ in the middle of the screen of regular shooting games?

“It simply allows the eyes to focus more naturally, looking at a particular spot rather than taking in an entire scene all at once. It’s less important than the actual camera animation but for those of us that can suffer from sim sickness it helps.”

Another solution, Channon said, is to use a wider angle of the surroundings. Essentially a different camera lens. Was this always possible, or is it a recent technological development? Why don’t more developers use it? Does this also work on non-widescreen TV’s? Also, can you explain the theory of why a wider angle helps limit simulator sickness effects?

“Yes, this is very important. We made the angle as wide as possible, we stopped just before it started to ‘fish-eye’. This is to give a much greater sense of peripheral vision. Often first-person games have a very ‘tight’ angle, one of the reasons for this is that it means you don’t have to render as many objects on the screen as you would if it was higher. This makes it easier to increase performance. The problem is that with a low angle, it’s almost as if you have blinkers on and it feels very unnatural. This makes it more likely that you will lose track of where you are in relation to your surroundings, which confuses the mind and can lead to sim sickness.

“We did a lot of research early on in development and designed the game with a wide angle in mind, so we wouldn’t encounter performance issues. It also makes for a more natural feel. It runs letterboxed on non-widescreen to make sure the angle is good.”

Finally, I read somewhere that you decided to eliminate the ‘head bob’ effect when walking. Does this decrease the feeling of reality? Or is that an acceptable compromise?

“No, we didn’t remove it. As you say this was important to create a believable physical presence in the world. We spent a lot of time working with the camera to find the best way of animating it so that it wouldn’t cause a problem. In fact the absence of features like head bob can cause sim sickness. Much of the problem is about what your mind expects the outcome of any action to be, i.e. if you fall from a height you should land heavily. If there is a disconnect between what the mind expects and what actually happens sim sickness can result. Walking, jogging and running was probably the hardest animation to get right.”

Can you tell more about the focustesting results of your efforts to limit simulation sickness effects? Did the solutions work?

“Since I suffer from it myself, I can tell you that it does work. I never get sim sick when I play Mirror’s Edge. Outside of the team when we have focustested, the results were very good with hardly any complaints. So, yes, the solutions worked, which obviously makes me very happy, it wouldn’t be much fun if I couldn’t play my own game!”

Can you say that nobody feels dizzy or nauseous after playing Mirror’s Edge, or just that the amount of people has been decreased? If so, by how much?

“It’s impossible to give solid figures on the subject. The severity that people suffer differs so whilst we have had a few cases, I would say no more than the ‘traditional’ first person games that don’t work the camera so hard.”

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