Patrice Desilets is both the creative director of the Assassin's Creed games and a jovial interviewee eager to advance game design. I thought he'd be troubled that we always stare at video game characters' backs.
See that Batman shot at the top of this post? I took it with my camera this morning. That's the view I get of Batman during most of my time playing the Dark Knight's new game, Batman Arkham Asylum. Patrice Desilets told me earlier this month during an interview at the Penny Arcade Expo, that he's also been playing the game — good game, he tells me, but Assassin's Creed 2 will be better — so I thought he might have something to say about staring at the backs of characters.
Desilets is the kind of developer who would dwell on such things. He likes surmounting game design cliches or at least smoothing out their awkward aspects. In the first Assassin's Creed, he grappled with explaining in the game's fiction why a game character is controlled with a controller and why a game might be presented in levels. The explanation for both involved an in-game device that enabled a modern-day character to explore his memories — the bulk of the playable game.
Back to Batman's back — and to the backs of the lead characters in Assassin's Creed games: I like the Batman game, too. And I'm impressed by how Batman's cape billows when I make him run or punch enemies. I do spend a lot of time looking at his back, though. When I played Assassin's Creed, I spent a lot of time staring at the back of that game's hero, Altair.
So, I asked Desilets about this issue — call it a "problem" if it bothers you.
It's not really a problem for him, he said. Because he won't let it be. His answer to my "back problem" question introduced me to... "The Patrice Mode Camera."
People who don't use the Patrice Mode Camera, regular gamers like you and I, typically stare at the backs of characters. Not Patrice.
He doesn't wind up staring at his character's back that much when he plays Assassin's Creed thanks to his special camera mode which really is named in the game's code after him. His development team has freed him of such rear-watching plight by programming this camera mode that runs the way he wants it to. It lets him switch off the game's default camera and have it never snap back into a computer-selected position until he gives it permission to.
"As soon as I touch the camera, I don't want anyone to change it," he explained to me. "I lock it on a guard and a guard will pass by. The camera will flip." The Patrice Mode Camera won't stay centered behind the Assassin's Creed hero. It will follow the guard, maybe putting the front of Desilets' own character in the shot, but never — ever — snapping back to a default, programmed camera position. That guard could be all the way down the street and around the corner. It doesn't matter. "Don't put it back to the way it's 'supposed to be,'" Desilets explained to me, espousing the concept behind the camera mode. He wants to be the cameraman. He wants to set up the shots.
I like this idea of doing one's own camera work in games. I've tried it in Mario platformers, lining up jumps better by switching to side views. But I tried Assassin's Creed again this morning, and even using its lock-on camera I was not able to engineer the effect Desilets described.
Perhaps Patrice Mode Camera will be in the sequel. Perhaps I'm just not skilled enough to use it yet. But if this frees us from looking at the wrong end of more video game characters, then I'm willing to learn something new. Bring on Patrice Mode, Patrice. I'm ready.