Survival Horror Tank Controls

Thoughts on the good ol’ tank control survival horrors of the past?

I never played any of them, but from a control and production standpoint it’s really obvious why they did it.

From a production standpoint, the original playstation 1 wasn’t really that powerful. To get around these limitations they employed the old trick of prerendering graphics using more complex computers, then drawing them as static backgrounds from fixed camera angles (which devil may cry later went on to imitate, being originally a resident evil game, except because it was on a more powerful system, the camera could afford to rotate). This meant that they could have really nice looking backgrounds and high fidelity character models at the same time, with the limitation that the camera could not rotate, it was stuck in the same position.

Previous to the playstation, cameras couldn’t freely rotate on older hardware. A lot of the 3d camera conventions we have today didn’t exist because they were just figuring out the rules. This meant they didn’t know the modern solution of preserving movement directional orientation across camera cuts by temporarily mapping the controller to continue moving the character in the same direction in world space as long as that direction is held on the controller (you’ll see this in the DMC series). This means if you cross a camera cut, and the angle is shifted 180 degrees or close to it, you might end up going back the direction you came, and going across the cut again, ending up in a loop of transitioning between the two rooms. In 2d games, they were usually strictly oriented to a plane, so this problem didn’t come up, your directional orientation was always preserved across cuts.

So what’s a solution to this? Having forward move the character forward in world space irrespective of camera orientation. ie. tank controls.

Of course in retrospect, that shit is jank as fuck, but it’s probably all that occurred to them at the time. In retrospect, it has the apparent benefit of making it hard to avoid enemies, but it’s debatable how helpful that is or how much that adds to the game. Having weird and counter-intuitive control schemes can sometimes help a game, like God Hand, but it depends on context. I haven’t played these games, so I can’t really testify as to whether it works for them. I doubt it does, but I don’t really know.

One thought on “Survival Horror Tank Controls

  1. ANEM February 17, 2021 / 12:17 pm

    The entire game was built around the tank controls, so hopefully that’s contextual enough. The difficulty does mostly come from these controls and the static camera, and the inventory management aspect. So I suppose “in-game” it’s mostly the micro-positioning, and the games do a nice job of using the level design (obscured angles) to this effect. I know you’re not big on vibes and atmosphere, but the pre-rendered backgrounds and static camera add more, honestly, than any other camera system wants to claim.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s