Camera Presets and Offsets

Ever since Second Life opened its virtual doors way back in 2003, it’s been saddled with one of the many bad decisions that were made by Linden Lab back then: the camera offsets, on which I’ve written quite a few times in the past. I’m certainly not the first SL blogger to write about it: many others came before me, and the first one to do so was Penny Patton, way back in 2011 with her seminal posts “A Matter of Scale” and “A Matter of Perspective” (archived, as some image links are now dead) and the JIRA she had filed. The default camera offsets greatly affect the way we see our virtual environment, the way we move inside it, the way we perceive the space that’s available to us, and the way we build, scale, and shape things – from our avatar shapes to our furniture and builds.

Before I go any further, allow me to demonstrate the default settings and how they affect the way we experience our in-world surroundings:

A view of an outdoors scene with the default camera offsets.
A view of an outdoors scene with the default camera offsets. While it doesn’t obscure your field of view, it feels distant and has serious disadvantages once you go indoors.
Indoors with the default camera offsets.
Indoors with the default camera offsets, rear view. Thanks to the tall ceiling, the camera isn’t pushed close. If the ceiling was lower, the camera would be popping through it.
Indoors with the default camera settings, front view. Not much better, as expected.

Unlike games like Doom and its clones and descendants, Second Life’s default view of the world is a third-person perspective: you see your avatar and the area around you. Now, among applications that use such a perspective, there are several different approaches. Let’s say you’re designing a third-person shooter; you want to see what’s happening on your left and right, what’s coming towards you, and what’s coming up behind your back. So, it makes sense to use a perspective similar to SL’s default, which itself seems to have been influenced by earlier third-person games like Tempest and Tomb Raider. I call this perspective the “radio-controlled toy car view”, because it’s so similar to the view you have as you’re holding the radio control unit, walking behind a radio-controlled car model you’re controlling. In SL, the camera follows you, floating about two meters above your avatar, so you operate your avatar a bit more like a toy than anything else, much less part of “you”, but we’ll get to that later. In 2005, Resident Evil 4 was released. It implemented an “over the shoulder” view. By essentially combining the character’s eye-level view of Doom with the third-person view, it soon became the industry standard, and is exactly the view Penny has been advocating since 2011.

A screenshot of Resident Evil 4. You can see the character is placed to the left of the screen, while the lens of the camera is looking over the character’s shoulder. Source: Mobygames

What we can immediately notice by looking at the screenshot above is that it places the camera far closer to your character. In a video game where close combat is the norm, such a camera offset is a better choice, as it puts you “right there”, fighting alongside your character and your team-mates. What does this choice achieve?

  • Better immersion: Rather than making you a distant, outside observer, placing the camera at your character’s eye level puts you right inside the world where your character is moving, fighting, interacting with its surroundings.
  • Improved usability: Another bonus is that this camera placement choice gives you a better sense of place, and gives you a far more intuitive “feel” of where your character is in relation to its surroundings. Furthermore, it allows you to navigate smaller, narrower places far more easily.
  • Improved environment creation capabilities: By using this camera placement, Capcom were able to create a realistically-scaled environment, where the difference in ambience and feel between open spaces and indoors places is a lot more palpable than it would be if they used camera settings like Second Life’s defaults, allowing for narrow, claustrophobic corridors and rooms, without making it hard for the player to navigate them in the heat of battle. In Second Life, such spaces would have been utterly unimaginable and would have required the user to constantly struggle with their camera controls, which brings us back to the topic of usability.

Why would we want improved default camera settings in Second Life?

For starters, let’s get something out of the way, right away: there is a very significant number of users out there who don’t even know they can change their camera settings. Therefore, they stick with the default ones for a very long time. This was especially true in older days, when you needed to dive into the “Advanced” menu and start fiddling with the debug settings (quite an intimidating term for beginning users who are afraid they might “break” something) to change your camera settings, or even do something as simple as change your camera’s aperture setting to alter the depth of field (DoF) for a snapshot.

Camera presets, yay…?

At least now, as of May 2020, we have the (long overdue) camera presets floater. This tool allows users to easily manipulate the way they see the world around them, giving them the ability to store and recall custom camera presets. It only took almost seven years after I had suggested it (along with a move to better default camera offsets) to Oz Linden at an Open Development User Group meeting. Back then, he was reluctant to steer his staff to implement improved camera defaults, citing the potential for “content breakage” and “user complaints”, but didn’t preclude the addition of an interface to enable us to change camera settings, store them and recall them at will. Of course, the bloggers who were praising the Lab for finally getting around to providing this simple capability “forgot” to mention who suggested it, but anyway. One of them was actually present in that meeting, as a matter of fact.

So, excuse me if I can’t exactly wax lyrical over this new functionality we were given last year, nearly seven years after I had suggested it. And the Lab still needs to provide decent camera settings as default settings, under the pretext of “avoiding content breakage” – more on that later. In fact, the decision to adopt default camera offsets similar to Resident Evil 4 should have been made way back in 2005, when SL was still a very young, almost experimental, platform and it was much easier to make very drastic changes to it. But back then, everyone was busy singing the praises of His Holy Philipness who couldcan do no wrong.

So, although it’s possible for the users to change their camera settings, although this has become easier now, it’s a fact that everyone builds for the defaults. If the default settings are wrong, it’ll all go downhill from there. I’ll explain how and why.

Content breakage, you said?

So yes, back in 2013, when I suggested that LL switch SL’s default camera settings to Penny Patton’s, Oz had cited – as I mentioned above – a fear of “content breakage”. This argument holds no water at all. In fact, I’ll go out and say it openly that it’s LL’s choice of camera settings and its intransigence in ignoring the advice of knowledgeable people like Penny Patton, that has caused most of the in-world content to be broken beyond fix. When I adopted Penny’s camera settings (which I’ve been tweaking ever since), what happened was that I saw just how shitty the existing content was. You can’t say content “broke” when you suddenly realise it was sub-par (to put it mildly) to begin with.

At any rate, I’m still justified. The Lab adopted a proposal I had made, even though they were reluctant at first. More and more content creators are adopting consistent scaling for their products – not least because they’ve branched out to other online markets of 3D content, where the insanity (e.g. different scaling factor for each axis) that had been the norm in SL simply doesn’t fly. I’m not going to write a tutorial here about how to use the camera presets floater; other bloggers have already done so, and I’m not even sure I need to, anyway. Anyone who’s read the posts Penny, Ciaran, and I have written on the matter will know how to make their viewer show the “Advanced” menu and how to access the debug settings. After all, the “Camera presets” floater is just a very simple, almost self-explanatory, user interface. I’m actually surprised its programming and implementation took seven years.

Regardless of that, it works and it’s given me incentive to tweak my older settings a bit further, creating some extra presets for when I’m in confined spaces. So, without further ado, let’s jump to the new settings:

My new camera offsets

First of all, I need the “standard” view from the rear, which I use for walking around. I use it as my default rear view, both for outdoors and indoors settings. This setting, inspired by Penny’s, brings me closer to my avatar, gives me good visibility of the space ahead of me, and also provides a bit of perspective correction, avoiding the downward convergence of the verticals – an effect you’d achieve by using the lens movements of a view camera or a tilt-shift lens on an SLR or DSLR camera.

The rear view. Please observe that the verticals remain parallel to each other.

The values are as follows:

Camera offset (CameraOffsetRearView):

X: -1.800

Y: 0.000

Z: -0.500

Focus offset (FocusOffsetRearView):

X: 1.800

Y: 0.000

Z: 0.500

Camera offset scale (CameraOffsetScale): 1.400

Now, let’s move on to the front view. Rather than merely removing the “-” sign from the X-axis of the Camera offset, I opted to tweak it a little bit.

Front view.

And here are the values:

Camera offset (CameraOffsetFrontView):

X: 1.850

Y: 0.000

Z: -0.700

Focus offset (FocusOffsetFrontView):

X: 1.850

Y: 0.000

Z: 0.300

Camera offset scale (CameraOffsetScale): 1.200

Side view: This one’s not a million miles away from Resident Evil 4‘s view. Here, you see my avatar offset to the right side, leaving the centre of the viewing area open. Honestly, I don’t find it particularly convenient for moving around, so I stick with my rear view for most of the time.

Side view.

The values are as follows:

Camera offset:

X: -1.700

Y: 0.800

Z: -0.550

Focus offset:

X: 0.700

Y: 0.800

Z: 0.550

Camera offset scale: 1.000

Narrow rear view: I use this setting for when I’m exploring more confined spaces – narrow corridors, small rooms, etc. It brings the camera closer to my avatar, while maintaining good visibility of the road ahead. I chose to make a compromise regarding the height of the camera, because I wanted (as was the case with my normal rear view) to avoid having the camera pop through ceilings.

Here are the values:

Camera offset:

X: -1.950

Y: 0.000

Z: -0.750

Focus offset:

X: 1.950

Y: 0.000

Z: 0.650

Camera offset scale: 0.600

The narrow front view serves a similar purpose as its normal equivalent, but (of course) this one is for confined spaces.

And here are the values for it:

Camera offset:

X: 1.400

Y: 0.000

Z: -0.600

Focus offset:

X: 0.000

Y: 0.000

Z: 0.650

Camera offset scale: 0.800

As always, these are my preferred – at least for the time being – settings. As far as I’m concerned, they work really well both in the typical oversized SL surroundings and in realistically-scaled environments. Personally, I prefer them to not only SL’s default settings, but also to Penny’s. I’m sharing them with you so you can experiment and see what you like.

The photos were taken at Drune Babalon (rated: Adult)

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