Game Design – Setting Invert Axis

Being able to look around in a three dimensional environment is a fundamental requirement for so many modern games, so I can understand the frustrations of the axis inverting minorities who complain that they have to search through the menus of every new game to invert the axis.

It’s an immersion breaking experience and can be annoying, it’s also an uncomfortable feeling the first time you try to look up and end up starring at your feet. Games have tried to overcome this by putting the axis selection into the game itself. Halo was the first game I remember doing this, asking you to calibrate the spartan armor at the start. A good fix but still breaks immersion by asking you if you’re sure you want to keep the axis the way they are or invert them, and people from one of the two camps (invert or uninvert) are still going to have their first moment of control in the game feeling silly that they looked the wrong way.

So could there be a better way, here’s what I think:

The One Setting For All Games Solution

I think this would be the easiest, but would require the cooperation of the hardware developers. My proposal is that when you make your profile account on your Xbox or Playstation or Wii, you get to choose your preference for invert axis. Now your profile has your ideal setting, it can share this information with the games you play on the system. So instead of a new FPS asking you to make the selection, it is already set how you like it before the action starts.

This idea could be applied to other preferences too: Do you want blood and gore turned off where possible. In a driving game, do you prefer manual or automatic, do you like a third person, front of car or driver seat view.


The Hidden Selection Solution

This method could be tricky, but I’d be intrigued to try it and see if it works. I imagine it would require some expert game design. The idea is similar to the Halo calibration except it doesn’t require some thinly veils euphemism to ask you what setting you want, instead it observes you and adjusts accordingly without the player ever being the wiser. 

Basically the scenario would go as follows, once you’ve given the player control, you immediately give them a reason to look up or down, it could be a low down video monitor with some essential information, some exciting event happening above your eye-line like a creature you need to shoot at, or just someone at the top of some stair shooting for your attention. The idea being that the player would naturally be inclined to look up or down. Now say you put a monster up high to shoot at then players will naturally attempt to do this in the manner most accustomed to them or for inexperienced players, which ever manner seems most natural to them. Either way you will get some people pushing up on the analogue stick and some pushing down, but the game will look up no matter which they choose. This way the game could see what their preference is and adjust accordingly from then on the game could carry on using the preferred setting and the player would never be any the wiser.

I can foresee problems with this, some people when given control for the first time in a game will just go wild and mess around with the controls. The reason I didn’t suggest telling the player implicitly to look up is that many people will immediately do the exact opposite when given the order. Perhaps this method would require two or three tasks involving looking up and down to make the assessment, or perhaps you can only continue after performing a certain task, so once they’ve played around with the controls the game can measure their preference by say following a moving object with a laser or just the reticule.


I’m sure that with one of the above methods games could implement a way to keep everyone happy without forcing some to start every game in the options menu.


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