Why higher Field of View is important in First Person Shooters

Field of View (FoV or Field of Vision) is the representation of what your playable character can see on your screen in a first person shooter.

In recent years field of view has been decreased in many games despite wider screens becoming the standard which has a negative impact on many games and can even cause motion sickness in some people.

The human eye

Before we get started with the article, it’s important to know the science behind a humans eye sight. Humans have a horizontal field of view of almost 180° and a vertical field of view of approximately 135°.

This translates quite well onto screens, since the old standard 4:3 is slightly wider than it is tall and 16:9 displays are even wider still, closer matching the ratio of horizontal and vertical field of view the human eyes are capable of.

Quake 3 has a default field of view of 90° in 4:3 screen modes.

Quake 3 (Released 1999) has a default field of view of 90° in 4:3 screen modes. Having a good FoV in Quake allows for some insane twitch Railgun shots.

History: Field of View in First Person Shooters

For many years the standard screen ratio was 4:3 and most FPS provided a horizontal field of view of around 90°. 90° is only half of our actual field of view, but due to the shape of the screen it wasn’t feasible to increase the field of view in games much beyond 90°.

Why 90°? Well my guess is that 90 is a nice round number. 4:3 being almost square, 90° makes sense. It allows you to see the rest of a room if you’re standing in the very corner looking at the opposite corner.

Introduction of the widescreen

When the Xbox and PS2 hit many families had Plasma or LCD TV’s in their houses, but a lot of gamers with small setups in their room were still gaming on small CRT TV’s. So whilst that generation of consoles supported widescreen HD, few people actually took advantage of it.

It wasn’t until the Xbox 360 and PS3 came out that 16:9 widescreens had become the standard for gaming. Up until then widescreen Plasma and LCD screens were still a relatively new technology. CRT’s were being phased out, most of them being 4:3 and the most hardcore gamers were still clinging onto their CRT monitors since LCD screens had high response times.

The spread of widescreen TV’s and monitors was awesome for gaming as the screen ratios were a closer match to what the human eye is actually capable of seeing meaning you could fit more onto the screen…

Or so we thought…

Counter Strike: Global Offensive has a field of view of 106° on a 16:9 screen.

Counter Strike Global Offensive has a field of view of 106° on a 16:9 screen, taking advantage of widescreens by adding more peripheral vision allowing players to set themselves up to watch multiple entrance points to the bomb site.

Graphics > Gameplay

It is often repeated over and over: “Gameplay is more important than graphics”, and “You shouldn’t sacrifice graphics for gameplay”.

Well unfortunately wasn’t isn’t the case for many AAA titles. While PC gamers had been enjoying the benefits widescreen offered, console developers were trying to find ways of squeezing every last drop of power from these consoles.

There’s only so many tricks and optimisations a developer can do to make a game look amazing and still perform well within hardware limitations, especially when graphics technology has far surpassed the aging console hardware.

Think about it, the Xbox 360 came out in 2005. The Xbox One came out in 2013. That is 8 years, which might as well be 80 years when it comes to graphics technology. During this time game developers are making better and better graphics for their PC games or PC ports of their console games and they don’t want these assets to go to waste.

In the end the developers usually end up sacrificing something to get these superior graphics onto the inferior hardware. In some cases resolutions are dropped to below the standard 720p, sometimes frame rates are reduced to 30FPS and one of the best ways to increase the graphics quality is to reduce the field of view.

Why? Well the lower the field of view the less things appear on the screen at once. Less special effects, less lighting, less shadows and less polygons.

Unfortunately, since most console games outsell the PC version, PC gamers end up putting up with a field of view that was designed with limited console hardware in mind even if their PC is more than capable of running it.

Far Cry 3 Field of View comparison

Field of View comparison from Far Cry 3. The first screenshot was taken using the default FoV setting of 73.15 – The second screenshot was taken using an FoV setting of 106.15. After cranking the FoV there was simply no going back.

Why is a low Field of View bad?

A low field of view is bad for many reasons. Here’s some of the most important points:

Wider screen = Less vision

A widescreen is supposed to fit more information on a screen, not less. It’s absolutely crazy that games designed with 4:3 screens in mind had a higher horizontal field of view than a widescreen. If someone had told me that was going to be the future of gaming 10 years ago I would have labelled them insane.

Rather than taking advantage of a screen that can more closely mimic our real life eye sight developers have gone completely backwards in the name of pretty graphics and fancy shading effects.

Low Field of View feels unnatural

A reduced field of view usually doesn’t feel right. Your screen is supposed to represent what your character in game can see (within reason). A low field of view may feel like you have tunnel vision or that you’re constantly zoomed in – This is because reducing the field of view and zooming in practically accomplish the same goal.

If you walked around the streets wearing magnification goggles it would feel unnatural. The exact same thing happens when playing a game with a low field of view. Experienced gamers will often feel the like they’re playing on a low field of view before they even see they’re playing on a low field of view.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - 75° Field of View

In this screenshot from Deus Ex: Human Revolution I’m standing with by back in the corner of the room. As you can see I don’t have any peripheral vision and the toilet stall seems to be either very close or zoomed as you’ll see below in the next screenshot…

Low Field of View limits what a player can see

Well duh, but why is this a bad thing?

In a single player game a player may miss out on a scripted event around them because they weren’t focusing their narrow field of view on the event at the right time. They don’t get to see as much of the environment around them that the developers have put so much effort into. They may not feel as immersed in the world as they could be with a larger field of view, especially in games in set in an open environment such as Skyrim, Far Cry or Battlefield.

In competitive multiplayer it limits players in a negative way. It makes it harder for a player to defend a certain location as they have to keep on looking around since they can’t see all entrances at once, even if theoretically it would be possible to see all entrances in real life with the naked eye.

A great example of the frustration can be felt in Halo 3. In Halo 3 your field of view is quite limited and the game features quite a lot of close quarters combat. To make matters worse the player jump height is quite high so in many close quarters battles a player would just jump during an encounter and disappear entirely from the other players screen for a significant amount of time. It was a mechanic that was just anti-fun and looked quite ridiculous from a spectator point of view.

Some may argue: “Well it just means players need to be more aware”, or “It takes more skill”, to which I’d simply reply, well if a lower field of view is more skilful why not just reduce it even more to say, 40°? I don’t think players should feel as though they’re fighting against the game because of completely unnecessary limitations.

Arguably the best competitive shooters such as Quake, Unreal Tournament and Counter Strike  all have a high field of view or at least have the option to adjust it and I don’t think anyone would dare question the amount of skill it takes to play those games at a professional level.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - 100° Field of View

Using the in game settings, I’ve upped the field of view to 100. This setting seems much more realistic as you can see both walls you’re leaning up against. Take note of how far I’m actually standing away from the toilet stall and how close it appeared to be in the previous shot.

Low Field of Vision is unrealistic

Most FPS games are designed to be as realistic as possible (to an extent of course and within the rules of the games universe). Things like only being able to sprint short distances before becoming tired and gun recoil are evidence that game developers want the first person shooter experience to be authentic, so why would they limit your in-game FoV to less than half of your vision in real life?

There are some cases when game developers may opt to reduce a games field of view for artistic reasons. For example, a horror game may reduce the field of view to give the player a sense of fear, claustrophobia, limited peripheral vision, etc. For most games this simply is not the case.

Low Field of View can cause motion sickness

Some people may actually experience motion sickness from playing games with a low field of view (This may be further impacted by a low frame rate as well, another trick game developers often use to increase graphics).

When your field of view is small it means player movements and looking around have more effect on the camera movement. Things like head bobbing from running become a lot more noticeable and jerky camera movements are more common. On top of this your brain expects to have peripheral vision to make sense of the surrounding environment which you no longer have. Your body doesn’t like this which can make you feel nauseous after playing for a while.

Some games now are catering to colour blind players by allowing options to help colour blind people see certain game elements easier and most games offer subtitles to help those who are deaf or hearing impaired. It only makes sense to at least allow the option to increase the field of view for gamers that may suffer from motion sickness.

Borderlands 2 FoV options

After many complaints about the limited field of view in Borderlands, Gearbox made sure to include an FoV slider in the Borderlands 2 options so players could choose an FoV comfortable for them. Click here for more information.

Gameplay > Graphics

A lot of hardcore gamers would take my side in the argument that a higher field of view is more important than the latest GPU heavy lighting effects. Unfortunately most major game developers do not agree. Game reviewers will often praise a game for having spectacular graphics, even if it means the game has a claustrophobic field of view and only runs at 30FPS and these reviews sell games.

In my opinion graphics should never be placed above gameplay. I may be impressed by a games advanced lighting and shadows for about 5 minutes and then I’ll never notice it again but I guarantee I’ll feel the negative effects of a low field of view every minute I play the game.

Game developers shouldn’t be trying to push graphics so hard on limited console hardware. A game is supposed to be suited for the console. If 8X Anti-Aliasing means my field of view is limited to 70° then just drop the AA to 2X’s instead. If a high polygon count on an NPC model means less NPC’s need to appear on the screen at once then drop the poly count on the 3D models.

One argument against this may be that the limited field of view in console games are intended for people sitting further from a screen. I think anyone that buys this excuse is incredibly naive. It becomes incredibly apparent when games are running at sub-optimal FPS or when frame rates plummet during action scenes that game developers are simply trying to squeeze more out of the consoles than they’re actually capable of.

If this was the case, wouldn’t game developers leave FoV adjustments in game for gamers who don’t sit on back on their couch playing on their large lounge room TV? Many gamers I know personally (especially the competitive crowd) prefer playing at their desk on a smaller monitor so shouldn’t these gamers also be catered for?

Thankfully some game developers are now including the option to adjust the field of view in their PC games however the option still very rarely exists for console games (In fact, the only example I can think of is the original Bioshock on Xbox 360). Many PC games can be played with a better FoV, however it requires editing configuration files outside the game which no one should be required to do for an option that should be considered standard.

My hope is that developers will realise that not all console gamers sit far away from their large TV’s while playing games and that the new generation of hardware will allow developers to start introducing field of view options into console games as well without negatively impacting the games performance.

  • Hi Pyroteq.

    While time, processing power and money are not infinite, there’s definitely going to be that graphics vs gameplay trade-off. I fully support having a larger FoV in most games.

    Recently, I’ve been playing PayDay 2 and it didn’t feel quite right. That’s until I cranked up the FoV considerably. My issue was that even with 2xGTX560ti’s, the frame-rate became unbearable, so I had to go and lower the graphics options. Now it is running smoothly and I haven’t looked back.

    In regards to PayDay it has given me a dramatic advantage (i.e. being able to check lots of entry points without having to look around, and thereby missing others). As a co-op game, this helps my team greatly but I’d be interested as to how it would function if players on a competitive pvp title were given a variable FoV (I wish).


    Carl

    • Pyroteq

      Some competitive titles such as Battlefield 3 have an FoV slider. Other game developers may choose not to have an FoV slider because they may believe it provides an advantage to players with a higher FoV.

      So this is where gameplay > graphics comes in. The DEFAULT FoV needs to be large enough.

      In Counter Strike you cannot change your FoV in the options – It’s possible to do using console commands however it’s considered cheating and not allowed on official servers.

      The FoV in Counter Strike on a 16:9 screen is 106 degrees. This works out to be an excellent figure as it takes advantage of the widerscreen. FYI, 106 degrees is the equivalent of 90 degrees on a 4:3 monitor with the added peripheral vision on the sides.

      What you mention about your frame rate dropping when increasing the FoV in Pay Day is a huge issue for console games. Console games don’t have the options of decreasing the graphics quality and often the games are trying to push more out of the system than they’re actually capable of. This is why Halo 4 only runs at 30FPS AND it has a low FoV at the same time. The competitive community HATES this.

      343 has promised Halo 4 will run at 60FPS, but what good is that if they’re going to lower the FoV even further to accomplish this?

      Basically, 90 degrees should be the absolute minimum default FoV for console games. If players sitting further back from their screens wish to change this they could, and since they’re lowering the FoV, not raising it, there would be no performance decrease.

      • James Kerr

        The weird thing is I can play on my Xbox one and split screen on online with what I think is 90 fov more or less. So I think they are just lazy at this point.The game I am talking about is Advanced Warfare by the way.

  • William Fenton

    You to mention the main problem with high FoV, and that’s the horribly distorted perspective. It’s like playing in Alien-Vision.

    Nah, in my opinion high FoV looks horrible, completely destroys the aesthetic of any game. Not graphics exactly, but it breaks immersion.

  • James Jones

    I disagree with the statement “low FOV is unrealistic”. The viewing plane of the view frustum is not where your eyes are supposed to be.. your eyes are meant to be at the origin point of the virtual pinhole camera. If you set things up properly, like in an eyefinity setup, the lower FOV’s are typically the most realistic – because they result in a render that makes your monitor look like a window into the virtual world. To calculate the optimal FOV you need to factor in your screen size and the distance away from the screen that you sit.

    FOV in first person shooters is a total hack and it’s completely unrealistic whichever way you cut it. Also, the hands and weapon are usually fudged in and are rendered with different camera settings than the rest of the scene is.

    • Pyroteq

      When I say it’s unrealistic I’m not talking about cameras, distance to the screen, or anything like that.

      When I play a first person shooter I’m expecting the image on the screen to represent what my character is seeing, not what a floating invisible camera would see.

      So in real life if I’m standing in the corner of a room I expect to see the walls on either side of me in my peripheral vision. When I do the same thing in a game and my view is too narrow then it feels unnatural to me and I have to turn constantly to check corners, etc.

      I understand that some people might enjoy a narrow FoV sitting further from the screen, however there’s absolutely zero way for a developer to know how far someone will sit from their screen when they play, therefore it makes sense for the game developer to give a reasonable FoV and then allow players to adjust it.

      This way if a player wanted a narrow FoV they could decrease it (and potentially get a higher frame rate) and players like me that sit closer to their screens have the ability to play comfortably without motion sickness or using hacks to increase the FoV and making the frame rate drop too far.

      Of course, things like weapons and hands are going to be a bit weird in an FPS because while the games are striving to be realistic (to a degree), they want you to see what’s going on in the game at the same time.

      For example, most people wouldn’t walk around looking down the sight of the their gun for hours at a time, however this happens in most FPS because the developers want you to understand that action could happen at any time and you can shoot straight away.

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  • Arty McLabin

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