Released in 2014 by Sucker Punch Productions, inFAMOUS Second Son brought one of the first photo modes to PS4 and featured the use of realistic camera settings, a clean and simple UI plus a concerted effort to add compositional freedom to the tethered orbit camera. Followed soon after by inFAMOUS First Light, which changed the photo mode button binding and added 3 more colour grading filters, the series soon boasted two very capable virtual photography tool sets that could take advantage of excellent lighting, striking visual effects and highly realistic wet shaders to achieve some great results.
will the new photo mode build on its heritage or be hindered by past mistakes?
Since then though, new photo mode standards have been set, bars have been raised and the inFAMOUS camera tools have become, well, slightly infamous for being unintuitive and fiddly to control. Mainly stemming from the rather unorthodox analog stick combination of a third person orbit camera paired and Southpaw directional look, with one inverted and the other is not, mastering the movements for image composition admittedly does not come naturally. There is reasonable logic behind this setup though and Sucker Punch's previous photo modes may offer a significant insight into how that of their upcoming game, Ghost of Tsushima, will handle.
The recent State of Play preview gave a pretty good idea of the camera features that will accompany you while wandering through 13th Century Japan and the studio's lineage was certainly clear to see. As well as a host of new and novel creative tools, several elements of the photo mode are familiar and seem to be directly inherited from inFAMOUS titles. This is perfectly understandable given that both open world action franchises share a third person perspective and likely some degree of underlying technology, but will the new photo mode build on its heritage or be hindered by past mistakes?
With that in mind, here is a retrospective look at 7 things from the inFAMOUS photo modes that should be changed, and 3 things that definitely shouldn't.
7 Things from inFAMOUS photo modes that should be changed:
1. Simplify the LS control bindings
A consequence of the effort to add freedom to the orbit camera, Sucker Punch's existing photo modes see no fewer than 5 different functions assigned to the LS depending on which menu tab is currently selected. Switching the same input between Pan & Tilt, Forward & Back, Zoom, Focus Distance and Filter Strength compounds the unorthodox camera movement and leads to frequent, frustrating mistakes. From the preview, we can already see that this has been at least partly remedied in Ghost of Tsushima's photo mode with Forward & Back moving to the L2 / R2 triggers.
2. Add exposure settings
With no exposure or brightness settings in the photo mode, getting the best out of inFAMOUS' bright visual effects and dark Seattle streets can be tricky, with many shots coming out too dark, especially when viewed on a smaller screen. The in-game brightness setting and high / low contrast option can be used to help to a certain extent, and the time of day can be manually selected after completing the story, but the ability to change the exposure of a shot within the photo mode would add a much greater range of possibility.
pan & tilt controls allow the camera to be used for more than looking directly towards the character
3. Centre the orbit camera on the character
I am not a particular fan of a tethered orbit camera in photo modes, but it certainly can be useful for character portrait photography where orbiting around a subject is a quick way to find new angles. However, as the inFAMOUS photo modes repurpose the orbit camera from the game controls, the camera actually attaches to the point at which the HUD reticle was aiming, usually around 0.5 m above the character's head. A vertical orbit and tilt adjustment easily corrects the intended line of sight but it would simply function in a more natural way if the tether was centred on the character.
4. Separate camera collision from the orbit tether
Camera collision itself is not a problem in a photo mode and it helpfully prevents unwanted conflict with the game's geometry. Much like Death Stranding though, inFAMOUS detects any object along the length of the orbit tether and moves the camera in front of it to maintain line of sight. Allowing the tether line to pass through objects would mean that the camera could be positioned more freely for shots that peek around or through gaps in nearby structures.
5. Pan without affecting camera roll
The LS pan & tilt controls are what allow the inFAMOUS photo mode camera to be used for more than looking directly towards the character. With full 360° range you are free to aim in any direction but curiously, panning left or right also results in a downward tilt and slight shift in camera roll. Even if the tilt is compensated for with the stick position, the roll remains and actually begins to shift in the opposite direction once panning beyond 180°. It is a manageable flaw but one that requires frequent manual corrections to realign your shot which is distracting at best.
a more natural way to move a camera and make it simple to reposition a subject
6. Longer zoom
With a range of observable Field of View angles covering 35 - 120°, users are able to narrow the shot and "zoom" using equivalent lens focal lengths of approximately 10 - 57 mm. At the longest end (57 mm) this is only a little more than a "normal" lens so it would be great to see some higher zoom levels (narrower FoV) to get closer to distant objects or for a bit of scene compression, handy when trying to isolate a subject.
7. Add a planar movement option
OK, so this may be contradictory to the first point but the simple fact is that planar movements such as truck, dolly and crane are a more natural way to move a camera and make it simple to reposition a subject within the frame without needing to make multiple adjustments. Perhaps a mode toggle option such as that seen in Marvel's Spider-Man would be a "best of both" solution.
3 Things from inFAMOUS photo modes that should remain:
1. Depth of Field control
In any photo mode, the use of realistic and relatable units is made all the better when the resulting effect is equally authentic. Sucker Punch's Depth of Field controls not only use real world aperture values, ignoring the implausible f/999 limit for a moment, but also produce realistic behaviour when used in combination with manual focus. Unlike various other games, which essentially apply a degree of blurriness to objects deemed beyond the point of focus, inFAMOUS creates a true DoF effect which also de-focuses the foreground at wide aperture settings. This lends a great authenticity to shots and is something I would love to see more of.
2. Change settings with UI hidden Photo mode UI's can be home to a multitude of useful features and settings that are able to dramatically alter the look and feel of your work, but even the most subtle of menu overlays obscure part of the image. Being able to alter settings while the UI is hidden, as well as when it is visible, allows the user to concentrate on the results instead of the settings. Something that inFAMOUS delivered 6 years ago, this feature remains all too uncommon in even the latest photo modes and should not be overlooked.
3. UI simplicity
This final point is one that is seemingly confirmed from what we've already seen of Ghost of Tsushima but I wanted to make it anyway. The clean, vertically scrolling UI of Sucker Punch's previous games does a great job of keeping out of the way and it is great to see a similar concept returning in their newest title. The redesigned interface now comes complete with helpful visual embellishments that depict the function of each setting and appear to fade away when not in use. Although what we have seen so far may not be final, I really hope this UI philosophy makes the cut.
So there you have it, very capable in their day but 6 years on, the inFAMOUS Second Son and First Light photo modes are definitely showing their age. Excellent camera authenticity is muddled by a far from optimal control scheme that is the root of most aspects that I'd like to see change. There is no doubt that Sucker Punch's established photo mode tools can provide a sound basis for their latest offering but, along with the exciting new options for creating motion-based capture art, let's hope that the basics are also brought up to date to give their beautifully cinematic new title the photo mode freedom it deserves. Do you agree with the points above or have any others you'd like to mention? Let me know in the comments below, thanks for reading.