Popular camera angles used in video games

Popular video game perspectives
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There are many ways to classify video games today. In this post, we focus on the popular camera angles from which games are viewed.

Introduction to camera angles used in video games

Video games can be grouped or classified in many ways. These groupings are meant to make it easy for players to identify common characteristics which might be sought after.

Popular groupings for video games include genre/category/type, the hardware used, art style, dimension, audience, support and, of course,  point of view (POW). The POW is determined by the camera angle from which the game is viewed.

The point of view adds certain characteristics to a game and is often based on the type of game. Certain genres will always use the same POW while some games will have more than camera angle. The POW is also dependant on the technology of the hardware.

Popular points of view used in video games include first-person view, third-person view, top-down view, isometric view and side view.

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First-person view

With first-person video games, the player sees the game world from the main character’s point of view. It uses a camera view that allows the player to see the game world as if they are inside it.

The first-person view submerges the player into the game by being able to move forward, backwards and sideways in a 3D environment. This adds to the believability of the game world and improves the overall immersion factor. The effect of gravity, if present, can be visualised.

First, first-person games were already developed way back in the 1970s. Today, they are still popularly used for shooters, racing games, simulators, role-playing games, gun games and a couple more genres.

First-person shooters

The popularity of the first-person shooters (FPS) began to gain traction with starting with id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D (1992).

Even though the graphics were very basic back then, the idea was to make players believe they were actually inside the game attacking the enemies (or other players) themselves.

First-person shooter Wolfenstein 3D
Wolfenstein 3D (id Software, 1992) was one of the early popular video games that used the first-person view. The player views the game environment from the main character’s point of view with only the weapon showing.

First-person shooters are still very popular today. Games like Doom, Quake and Half-Life followed Wolfenstein — all of which are big multiplayer franchises today. Other popular first-person shooters include Overwatch (Blizzard Entertainment, 2016), Unreal Tournament (Epic Games, 1999), and many more.

First-person racing & simulator games

First-person racing and simulator games give players the opportunity to immerse themselves into the gameplay by putting them right behind the steering wheel. This experience can be enhanced even more by giving players a physical steering wheel or flight stick, cockpit or a motorbike seat to take control from.

Need for Speed II: Special Edition first person racer
Need for Speed II: Special Edition (EA, 1997). In many of the Need for Speed racing games, the players can immerse themselves into the gameplay by racing from behind the steering wheel.

There are many old and new racing games that use the first-person cockpit view. Some notable ones include Test Drive (Distinctive Software, 1987), Race Driver: Grid (Codemasters, 2008) and Gran Turismo Sport (Polyphony Digital/Sony 2017).

Not all racing games use the first-person view. Other popular points of view for racing games include top-down and third-person (see later). With some racing games, players have the option to toggle between first-person view and third-person view.

Simulator games aim for realism with regards to graphics and gameplay. First-person simulator games are made more realistic by placing the player inside the cockpit/game world as if it was real.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2021 cockpit view
An example of the cockpit view of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2021. Flight Simulator offers a vast amount of aircrafts and aeroplanes, and landscapes to choose from.

For me, the most memorable simulator that uses the first-person view is the (Microsoft) Flight Simulator series. Others include Euro Truck Simulator (SCS Software, 2008), the Gran Turismo series (1997~) and Dirt Rally (Codemasters, 2015).

First-person role-playing games

Similar to shooters, first-person role-playing games (RPGs) are also viewed from the eyes of the main character while moving through the game world. Unlike shooters, RPGs are more goal and explore-orientated. The first-person view creates a better experience as it seems like players are actually doing the game tasks themselves.

Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss first person RPG
Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss from Origin Systems is an old first-person RPG released way back in 1992.

Not all RPGs uses the first-person view. Some of them can toggle between first to third-person while others only use third-person, top-down or isometric views (see later).

Other popular first-person role-playing games include The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (Bethesda Game Studios, 2002) and Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment, 2010).

First-person gun games

With their fast pace and fast action, first-person gun games also use the first-person view in a  three-dimensional world. By moving and shooting (a light gun) as the main character, these games are made more believable which adds to the experience factor.

Time Crisis first person gun game
Time Crisis (Namco, 1995) was a popular first-person gun game in the arcades on various PlayStation platforms.

Popular first-person gun games include Duck Hunt (Nintendo, 1994), Time Crisis (Namco, 1995), Crisis Zone (Namco, 1999) and House of the Dead (SEGA, 2003).

Third-person view

The third-person view, also known as the “over-the-shoulder” view, is another popular view for video games these days.

As with the first-person view, the game world is also in 3D, but instead of viewing the world from the game character’s eyes, the camera is placed just behind the character. In other words, the player can see the game character while playing. This view allows the character to be able to move in any direction.

Third-person video games add an advantage over first-person video games of being able to see the character’s moves and seeing a larger part of the game world.

The third-person view is commonly used for racing games, action games, sports games and role-playing games.

Third-person racing games

Racing games very often use the third-person view to show the vehicle that is driven. In addition to having a nice view of your set of wheels, the size of the vehicle, the game environment and other vehicles can be observed better this way.

Ridge Racer third person racer
Ridge Racer (Namco, 1993) is a third-person racing game made for the arcades and was later ported to the Sony PlayStation.

In the case where the vehicle is not a motorcar, players can appreciate the vehicle better which adds to the game experience. By using the third-person view, players can also interact better with the environment.

wipE′out third person racer
wipE′out (Psygnosis, 1995) was the start of a series of futuristic third-person racing games where the player takes control of a craft racer. The third-person view allows players to better interact with other racers and the environment.

The third-person view is used in many other racing games. Popular third-person racing game franchises include Test Drive (1987~), Cruis’n (Midway Games, 1994~) and Need For Speed (Electronics Arts, 1994~).

Third-person action games

If you own a game console or a PC, chances are that you’ve played a third-person action game. The third-person view not only makes it more fun to see the characters do all their (crazy) moves but also views the character itself — often the reason the game is played in the first place.

Tomb Raider third person-action game
Tomb Raider is probably one of the first really popular third-person action/adventure games for the PC. It was released in 1996 by, then, Eidos Interactive.

There are so many popular third-person action games over time — many of which have become established franchises.

Older third-person action/adventure games include Tomb Raider (Core Design, 1996) Darksiders, Devil May Cry (Capcom, 2001), and Afro Samurai (Namco, 2009), while newer ones include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Entertainment, 2017), World of Tanks (Wargaming, 2010~) and many more.

Third-person sports games

Third-person sports games are popular because the player can get a better idea of the playing field, and view the main character from behind (or from the front). Baseball and cricket video games are good examples of a popular subgenre of sports games that uses the third-person view.

Baseball Stars 2 third person sports
SNK’s Baseball Stars 2 was a third-person view sports game back in 1992. This view allows the player to see the batsman and the pitcher at the same time.

Although not all, many other sports games use the third-person view while older classic sports games used the top-down and side-views (see later).

EA Canada’s Cricket 07 is a good example of a popular cricket video game.

Third-person real-time strategy games

Third-person RPGs are similar to third-person action/adventure games, but with lots of puzzles and more interactivity with the game world. Third-person role-playing games are also often strongly dependant on the character and its background, which makes the third-person view perfect for these types of games.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt Red, 2015)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt Red, 2015) where the main character is viewed from his back.

Not all RPGs uses the third-person view. The first-person view (see earlier), isometric view and top-down view (see later) are also popularly used.

Other than The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt Red, 2015), The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, 2017) and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Ubisoft, 2020) are RPGs that also uses the third-person view.

Top-down view

The top-down view, also called bird’s-eye view, overhead view or helicopter view, is where the camera is angled downwards to show the player/character and its surrounding area from above. This view can be used for 2D and 3D games. With 2D top-down view games the effect of gravity is usually not visible to the player.

Top-down view video games can either have a single screen background, a vertically scrolling background or a large background that becomes visible as the character reaches it or appears as the character enters it.

The top-down view should not be confused with the isometric view (see later). Although they are both viewed from the top, the isometric view gives a more 3-dimensional look by adding depth in the way the graphics are generated.

The top-down perspective is popularly used in platformers, snake games, 2D puzzles & card video games, RPGs and shooter games. This view is also used in older racing games and probably in many others.

Top-down platformer games

The top-down view is often used for platformer games, especially for older platformers. The aim of these games is often to figure out a path from a to z using some basic movements, so it makes sense to view the game world in its entirety.

Single-screen Platformer video game Frogger
Frogger, released in 1981 by Konami, is a popular classic example of a top-down single-screen platformer video game. The aim of the game is to get the character, a frog, over a busy street and a moving river five times. Frogger can move up, down, left and right enabling it to avoid obstacles. Ribbiting stuff.

Not all platformer games use the top-down view. The side view (see later) is also popularly used for this genre.

Another popular example of a top-down platformer is Galaxian (Namco, 1979).

Snake games

The concept of Snake games started in 1976 with the game Blockade. It has started to gain traction and even its own genre when the game Snake was preloaded on Nokia cell phones.

Snake game
The aim of snake games is to avoid touching your own body while getting longer each time you eat the item.

Most snake games use the top-down view where the length of the snake (or other line-like character), which increases by collecting items, is the obstacle of the game itself. There is no gravity effect.

New snake games can also be in 3D where the third-person view is used. By using the top-down view, players can see the entire playing field where they can use to manoeuvre the line.

Top-down 2D puzzles & card games

2D puzzle games and card games often use the top-down view to allow the player(s) to view the entire playfield on one screen or view playing cards from the top as if they are lying on a table. They are also often single-screen games.

Solitaire classic tabletop top-down card game
Video game versions of the classic Solitaire tabletop card game uses the top-down perspective which makes players see all the cards and playing field at once.
Minesweeper top-down puzzle game
Minesweeper, a top-down puzzle game, was released by Microsoft on some of their Windows operating systems starting from 1992.

Not all puzzle games use the top-down view. The side view (see later) is also popularly used.

Top-down real-time strategy games

The top-down view is probably most often used in real-time strategy games (RPGs). This perspective allows players to see large parts of the game world which allows for easy interaction.

The game world or environment can either be broken up into single-screen portions or into one large world. Sections of the world can either be introduced when the player reaches an entry point edge or is scrolled as the player moves towards its direction.

Top-down RPGs were popularly used with pixel art games. These games were 2D and there is no gravity effect.

The Legend of Zelda top-down RPG
The Legend of Zelda released way back in 1986 on the NES was in 2D and started to use the top-down perspective.

With 3D top-down games the effect of gravity is visible.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening top-down 3D RPG
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening released in 2019 is in 3D and uses the top-down view.

Not all RPGs uses the top-down view. The first person view, third-person view (see earlier) and isometric view (see later) are also popularly used.

The Legend of Zelda series (Nintendo, 1986~) is probably one of the most memorable top-down RPGs. Pokémon (Game Freak, 1996) is also worth mentioning.

Top-down shooter games

Although shooter games, also known as “shoot ’em ups”, can be broken down into many subdivisions, the majority of them use the top-down view. With this view, the effect of gravity is most often not visible.

19XX: The War Against Destiny top-down shooter game
Capcom’s 19XX: The War Against Destiny (1995) is a top-down shooter game.

The popularity of the vertical scrolling top-down shooters is said to have started with the 1978 arcade hit Space Invaders (Taito). This genre became very popular in the early 1980s when technology progressed to having moving backgrounds and its popularity continued to grow in the 1990s.

Vertical-scroller Gun.Smoke
Although not agreed by all, Gun.Smoke (Capcom, 1985) is also said to be part of the “shoot ’em up” genre.

The background usually moves vertically from top to bottom and gives the impression that the objects/characters move within their world.

Galaga (1981, Namco) single-screen top-down shooter game
Galaga (1981) was the sequel to Galaxian (1997) and was both released by Namco. They are also both early-years, single-screen, top-down shooter games.
Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games, 2012) top-town shooter game
Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games, 2012) is a 3D top-down shooter game that uses a large game world as the background. The player can move in any direction and the background scrolls to keep the player character in the middle of the screen.

Shooters also popularly use the isometric view or the side-scrolling view. (see later).

Other memorable shooter games that use the top-down view include the 19XX series (Capcom, 1984~), the Gradius series (Konami, 1985~) and Helldivers (Arrowhead Studios, 2015).

Top-down racing games

Way back in the late seventies, when vertical scrolling backgrounds became popular, top-down vertical scrolling racing games saw the light. One of the first really popular ones was Atari’s Street Racer released in 1977.

Vertical-scroller Atari Street Racer
With Atari’s original Street Racer (1977), a top-down, vertical-scrolling racing game, movement is simulated by the background objects and other vehicles that move from the top to the bottom of the screen.

In 1977 Atari also released Indy 500 which was a top-down single-screen racing game where the entire track is visible to the player(s).

Indy 500 top-down racing game
Indy 500 (Atari, 1977).

Because of its dimension limitation, 2D top-down racers are less popular than other perspectives such as first-person, third-person and isometric.

World Rally Championship (Zigurat Software) was a popular 3D top-down view rally racing game from 1993.

Isometric view

The isometric view is similar to the top-down view in that the camera hovers above the world, but it is angled about a quarter inwards. This gives the impression of 3D, even with 2D graphics, and the effect of gravity, if present, can be visualised.

This view is often used with pixel-art graphics. Visually, a third dimension is represented with equal angles and proportions. The angle between the axis is usually 120 degrees.

As with the top-down view, the isometric view emphasizes large game worlds and is often used for video games where exploring is important.

This view is often confused for top-down view (see earlier) and sometimes confused as side view games (see later).

Popular genres that use the isometric view includes real-time strategy games, shooter games, Sim games, and racing games.

Isometric real-time strategy games

Because the game world can be emphasized, the isometric view is often used in real-time strategy games (RPGs). The third dimension that this view adds creates a slightly more realistic look which can make interacting more believable.

Diablo isometric RPG
Diablo (Blizzard Entertainment, 1997) is a series of action RPGs that also use the isometric view.

Isometric shooter games

The isometric view is also popularly used with shooter games. Large parts of the game world are visible to the player(s), allowing more enemy characters on one screen.

The 3D effect allows for realism and detail, showing the effect of gravity and easy identification of characters and objects.

Alien Shooter (Sigma Games, 2003)
Alien Shooter (Sigma Games, 2003) is an action shooter that uses the isometric perspective.

Isometric Sim games

Many construction/building/management games use the isometric view. Think about Sim City, Theme Park and Theme Hospital.

The isometric view gives these types of games a nice, realistic feel and allows large portions of the game to be viewable on-screen.

SimCity 2000 isometric view
SimCity 2000 isometric view (Maxis, 1993) was one of the early popular Sim games and uses the isometric perspective.

Isometric racing games

Probably not so popular anymore, but there was a time when the isometric view was used for racing games — especially on the PC.

Super Offroad (Virgin Games, 1989)
Super Offroad (Virgin Games, 1989) used the isometric view which was perfect to create a 3D effect and a large playing field.

Other views for racing games include the first/third-person view and, less popular, top-down view.

Side view

The side view is one of the more popular views and is still used today. It is mainly used in 2D games, but 3D games can also use this view where the game world is viewed from the side.

The movement of side view video games is usually left to right, but can also be right to left. Vertically, the player can move up or down through climbing, jumping, flying and/or falling. If present, the effect of gravity is towards the bottom of the screen.

Although depth is not always utilised (except maybe in beat’em ups), a layered background can add to its effect and create stunning game worlds.

Traditionally, as the player advances towards a screen edge, the background shifts or scrolls in a certain direction (usually left) to adjust for the player’s movement.

The side view is popularly used for side-scrolling games, shooter games, platformers, beat’em ups, fighting games, and many more.

Side view scroller games

In most cases of side-view, side-scrolling games, the player travels horizontally and is approximately centred horizontally on the screen.

One can’t have a list of side-view scrolling games without having Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins in it. It was originally released in arcades but has since been ported to multiple game consoles and other gaming platforms.

Side scroller 2D game Ghosts 'n Goblins
Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a classic side-scroller released in 1985 by Capcom. Other than being a side-scrolling game where the player remains in the middle of the screen and the background scrolls with it, it also provides inspiration to gamers today in the form of difficulty and beautiful graphics.

Side scrollers are different from platformers in that the background scrolls as the player moves. Platformers are often single screen and movement is heavily geared to be vertical, as well as horizontal.

Although side-scrolling games can have platforms or levels to jump on, their goal is achieved on a different part of the level — usually in the form of defeating a boss character.

Super Mario Bros. world 1 boss fight
As with many side-scrollers, the boss fight in Super Mario Bros. (1985 Nintendo). Super Mario Bros. is probably one of the most known video games of all time.

Other popular side-scrolling side view video games include Castlevania – Symphony of the Night (Konami, 1997) and Commander Keen (1990, Apogee & id Software).

Side view versus fighter games

The popular genre of fighting games started with, and many still use the side view.

Whether 2D or 3D a great experience is created by viewing both (all) characters at once while all their moves can be seen by the players(s). The main characters can move left and right over the screen which might lead to a short extension of the background.

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior 2D scroller
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991) from Capcom is a classic example of a 2D fighter that uses the side view. Here Ryu is performing a special move that launches him into the air to cause damage to his opponent.

Side view beat ’em ups

Beat ’em ups also use the side view, but add another dimension by being able to move up and down creating a 3D feel. As with fighting games, characters are viewed while they are performing attacks and special moves, which makes these games more enjoyable.

Streets of Rage side scroller beat 'em up
Sega’s Streets of Rage was a popular side scroller beat ’em up released in 1991. Here the 3D effect is shown by having different characters higher and lower on the screen than the main character.

Other memorable video games in this format include and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (Capcom, 1994). Boet Fighter (Califourways, 2019) is a beat ’em up made in South Africa.

Side view platformer games

Single-screen Platformer video game Pac-Man
Pac-Man, released in 1980 by Namco is a single-screen platformer video game.

Platformer games are defined by the player(s) jumping on platforms in a fixed playfield. As with side scrollers, platformers are also viewed from the side, but are different because the player’s character jumps on or under platforms to achieve a certain goal.

Most platformers are also single-screen games with a predefined background. Being dependant on jumping, the effect of gravity is visible by using the side view.

Single-screen-platformer game
Donkey Kong (1981 Nintendo), is a very famous single-screen platformer 2D game released in 1981.

Many platformers use the top-down instead of the side view for their perspective.

Other popular side view platform games include Tapper (Marvin Glass and Associates, 1983), Bubble Bobble (1986, Taito), Mario Bros. (1983, Nintendo).

Side view shooter games

Similar to side-view scrollers, shooter games can also be viewed from the side. Apart from moving forward and backwards (scrolling from left to right), emphasis is also given by being able to move up and down (like in the air, for example).

Gradius side-view shooter
Konami’s Gradius is one of the first popular side-view shooters released in 1985.

Shooter games also popularly use the top-down view (see earlier).

Side view puzzle games

Side view puzzle games are those where there is a gravity effect from top to bottom and the view is from the side.

Popular ones include Candy Crush Saga (King, 2012) and Tetris (Alexey Pajitnov, 1984).

Tetris platformer
Tetris has seen many variations. This is the arcade version released in 1988.

Side view sports games

The side view can effectively be used to give players a sense of how fast something is moving or how far something has moved. Angles can be projected and height can be used. All these make the side view appealing for sports games.

Track and Field side view-sports game
Track & Field by Konami (1983) uses the 2-dimensional side view perspective to view their events.

Other views used in sports games include the third-person view.

Conclusion

The main popular points of view for video games include first-person, third-person, top-down, isometric and side view. Over the last decade, some views become more popular than others. Some points of view are more popularly used for certain video game genres.

About the author
Renier busies himself with improving his English writing, creative web design and his websites, photoshopping, micro-electronics, multiple genres of music, superhero movies and badass series.
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