If you ever happen to be in Sydney on a reasonably nice day and find yourself near any one of the plethora of famous landmarks around the city, take a look around. Chances are you’ll see more than a reasonable number of selfie sticks in the hands of tourists and sightseers, all looking to capture as many shots of themselves standing in front of things as their devices will hold.
It turns out many of us like to see ourselves doing things, even if that means doing them with a camera phone pointed at our wide-opened gobs. There is something about a new perspective that is enamouring. That’s a minor problem I have with selfie culture, at least in that instance: it removes us from the moment we are in, instead focusing on capturing it.
I have the same problem with photo modes in video games. Not the selfie modes that you find in open-world games, like Watch Dogs 2 or Dead Rising 4. I think they're super-creative ways for people to fool around in and explore those worlds, much like people with selfie sticks do today. I’m talking the more traditional photo modes, the ones with twenty different sliders that you can’t quite tell what they all do.
Don’t get me wrong; I think ‘in theory’ they could be something really excellent. I love how they give you a chance to look at a game’s finer visual details, often boasting how detailed and full some game worlds are. The problem is that they’re often quite unwieldy for someone like me, who doesn’t have an ounce of photographic talent in his body. They also tend to remove you from the gameplay, which sucks any of the immersive quality of what you’re doing from the air like a hole in the hull of a space station, vacuuming out the atmosphere.
The developers at Square have come up with their own, rather clever adaptation of the photo mode which gets around this very problem. Despite personally falling off of Final Fantasy XV only a few chapters in, I’ve found myself unable to escape thinking about how bloody cool their idea of a photo mode actually is.
Enter Prompto. He’s one of the ‘boy band’ from the game’s main cast. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who he is or if you haven’t played the game, all you need to know is that his special skill is photography. At the end of each day, when you take the team somewhere to rest for the night, Prompto will show you through the ten or so pictures he’s taken of you and the rest of the group, as well as some other things that you all experienced during their day.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who he is or if you haven’t played the game, all you need to know is that his special skill is photography.
He displays a remarkable eye for a good picture at times, occasionally taking some shots that are truly breathtaking by picking interesting angles and filters, and even playing with lighting in interesting ways. It doesn’t always come out perfect, but those images are better than anything I could do with a photo mode. Besides, it’s too funny to see Gladio’s head clipping through the arse-end of a monster during a very serious battle. Flicking through what feels like a hand-picked set of moments from our day not only serves to bring the player closer to the four main characters, but they become special moments for the player as well. The whole concept plays to our vanity in the same way that selfie sticks and selfie culture have demonstrated so thoroughly in recent years.
Now just imagine if this feature were in other games? Imagine seeing images of you as Agent 47, sneaking up on a target before ruthlessly taking them down. Imagine a camera that recognised when you were standing over a mark, Silverballer in hand, aimed squarely at their head, then knew to take a stylised shot from any number of incredible angles for you to look over later if you wished? I’m getting chills down my spine just thinking about it.
Replay modes in sports and racing games already give us a taste of this, providing instant video flashbacks of the lush overhead goal we just scored, or the huge, four car pile-up on the track that just happened ahead. But video replays tends to provide a different sort of emotional attachment to them. There is less mystery to a video when compared to an image, which only captures a fleeting point of time where it’s up to the viewer to fashion in their minds what may have come before or after it was taken.
That doesn’t mean replays don’t play on our vain nature in the same way as images, though. For years I've loved watching old replays of races I have raced in, or goals I have scored in various versions of Pro Evolution Soccer. It’s fascinating to me to watch my in-game feats back from every conceivable angle, but it’s so much better when I can just sit back and watch it, rather than have to place the camera, set the zoom and faff about with all that stuff myself. Many of the best sports games offer comprehensive highlights packages that play back post-match, allowing you us to re-live our glory in all its egocentric wonder.
I suppose in Hitman’s case it could be argued that Agent 47 is a man who works in the cover of silence, out of sight, and the very idea of some image of him standing over a target existing somewhere, even in an arbitrary photo mode of some kind, directly works against the premise of the character. But despite this, given the cinematic nature of modern video games, it makes sense to me to play on that aspect as much as possible.
Don’t just give us the chance to create our own ‘bullshots’. Take the shots for us while we play, while we’re doing the awesome things we can do in your game, then spring them on us later. If there is anything I want to see more of in 2017, it’s more developers embracing the idea of making their players feel awesome while playing their game. I reckon a revamped photo mode could be just the trick.
What do you think of photo modes in games? Do you use and enjoy them? Which games would you most like to see a FFXV-style photo mode in? Sound off in the comments below.