RPS Asks: Depth Of Field, Motion Blur?


So here’s a discussion I’ve been having on Twitter and elsewhere: do you turn off depth of field and motion blur effects in games? I recently realised, when looking at some Borderlands screenshots, that I now do that by default, and didn’t wait more than a couple of minutes to kill the depth of field in that game. It was most scream-worthy, in my opinion, in Stalker: Clear Sky, where reloading the gun put everything except the gun out of focus – precisely when I wanted to be looking into the distance and judging my next barrage. So I’ve asked about, and opinion is clearly divided on the issue. For some people it’s a clear cut decision, while others see depth of field and motion blur effects as welcome prettiness, and beneficial to their experience. If that’s the case, can any of you point to situations in which these effects are useful, rather than just pretty? And if these things are merely visual spangle, then are they an effect too far? Have we reached a point in graphics where there’s too much extra processing? Or am I just getting too old to deal with these new-fangled visuals with my decrepit visual cortex? Speak your eyes!

227 Comments

  1. Heliosicle says:

    I like a bit of field of view, but i turn off motion blur, it annoys me (and slows fps down alot)

  2. Zyrxil says:

    Depth of Field, except maybe in non-interactive cutscenes, is pure stupid. My eyes happen to do to Depth of Field internally. Whereever I’m looking at on the screen is amazingly clear while where I’m not looking is unclear. I don’t need where I’m looking to become blurry because some guy thought it looked cool.

  3. CogDissident says:

    I turn off motion blur and depth of field instantly. The biggest complaint I had with the new wolfenstein game is the motion blur effects. Gave me the worst headache when playing through the game.

    Honestly, I’m one of those weird people who would put field of view at 120 degrees (with the slight fishbowl effect that comes with that) just to see more of the game at once.

    • Premium User Badge

      Damien Stark says:

      And that illustrates it for me right there – the focus of this discussion seems to be whether the features improve your tactical efficiency, rather than immersion. A few people say it looks good, and a few others say it looks bad, but the bulk seem to be more concerned that it prevents them from pwnxoring n00bs.

      Like Vinraith (a fellow single-player die-hard) I find myself confused, and looking to improve the atmosphere and immersion of my experience, rather than improving my Optimzed Dude Shooter Program. I’m also not sure it’s fair to characterize that as simply “pretty”.

      Surely we can find merit in the visual presentation of STALKER SOC, without calling it “prettiness” ?

  4. subedii says:

    Well in Crysis I keep them both on, but for different reasons.

    Depth of Field looks nice with the long viewdistance, islands and mountains miles away.

    With motion blur, that’s actually a judgement call. The thing about motion blur is that it eats up quite a bit of processing power, which can reduce your framerate. However, it can also make your game look smoother. In Crysis I find that the benefits of having motion blur on (in terms of how smooth things look) outweigh having the framerate upped by a few more FPS.

    If motion blur is overwrought it can be an annoying effect, but they have a slider for that.

    Also, if you’re talking in-game narrative and cinematics, or just trying to create the right visual effect, depth of field is a good way of focussing the player’s attention on certain aspects of the picture. It’s used in film all the time for precisely that effect.

  5. jti says:

    My own sight is enough of a visual impairment, don’t need that stuff on screen too. It doesn’t work and people should really know better than implement this kind of effects in games. Do these guys know anything about how vision works and that player has to watch the screen to watch the battlefield?

  6. Thirith says:

    My answer to this is boring, but that’s because I think the question is silly. Motion blur and depth of field are visual effects that can be used well or used badly. If they’re overused, they tend to be bad, just like lens flares. Doesn’t mean that there aren’t games, visual styles or moments when they are extremely effective.

    • subedii says:

      Come to think of it, it’s been ages since I’ve seen a game try to use Lens flare. It was such a huge thing in 3D games back in the mid-to-late 90’s. Now it seems to have been largely replaced by Bloom. Bloom everywhere.

  7. Vinraith says:

    Crysis is, I think, the only game I’ve played that had these effects. To be honest, I haven’t even noticed motion blur. Depth of field, I think, adds a nice touch of reality. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to turn it off, anyway. It sounds like I probably would in Clear Sky, though, as reality is broken in that example by the fact that I wouldn’t be focused on the gun in that situation.

    So I suppose my answer is: it depends on whether it deleteriously affects game play in an unrealistic way, or adds a nice visual flourish and bit of extra reality to the proceedings.

    • Starky says:

      Crysis is also one of the very few games that got motion blue AND depth of field right.

      But then that game got pretty much everything graphical spot on.

  8. guisim says:

    I like both.

  9. The Innocent says:

    I’m torn. In Borderlands, which plays fast and loose with reality, it felt odd to stare down iron sights and have things blurred around the small cone that I was supposedly looking at. In Stalker: Clear Sky, on the other hand, one of the things that endeared me to the game was how seriously even the sci-fi elements were treated, and as such I appreciated that my mercenary character had to actually look at his weapon when he reloaded it — the little details like that made me feel less like a beefcake badass and more like a human being who was just very very good at what he does.

    But from personal experience, I dislike the notion of depth of field blur when looking down iron sights. I own three guns — a Glock, a shotgun, and an AK-47 — and am relatively proficient with their use. If you’re sighting down a rifle at a target and you see something peripheral (motion off to the side), you can look at the other thing without moving your gun at all. You do something novel: you move your eyes. That’s what bothered me most about the depth of field blur in Borderlands — in real life I could look to the side without having to swing my gun around, so why can’t I just see things without an unrealistic added effect (added for realism’s sake)?

  10. Alexander Norris says:

    I tend to keep these on for two reasons:

    a) it’s pretty and since I have a gaming computer I’ll be damned if I don’t turn all the bells and whistles on (TF2’s motion blur and CoD4’s depth of field make both of those look a bit prettier);

    b) it adds to the game, as in ArmAII or STALKER.

    In ArmAII’s case, the motion blur is very strong, specifically because it’s supposed to be a simulation and you can’t exactly execute a 180 degree spin while retaining complete awareness of your surroundings. A couple of my friends have turned it off because they found it annoying, but I didn’t pick up a soldier sim to get another mildly tactical FPS – I picked up a soldier sim to have every realism slider dialled to 11.

    With regards to STALKER, it makes sense, since you can’t really reload a gun without paying at least some amount of attention to what your hands are doing, especially in the middle of a firefight. Short of having the ability to dynamically change the strength of the depth of field effect every time you reload (so you can set it to 50% of what it’s supposed to be but you have a 50% chance of dropping your magazine due to not paying attention in combat, natch), I’d rather have it on if the game I’m playing is at all attempting to be realistic.

    I never understood the people who turn all their settings down in order to get a minute fps advantage in competitive gaming, though.

  11. eain says:

    I’m with you on this. Turn em off.

    Originally, depth of field and motion blur were visual artifacts generated by our own imperfect visual processing gathering and processing systems (the eyes and the brain). Let’s not simulate these biologically-generated mistakes, please.

    And don’t even get me started on lens flare in video games. *stabby stab stab stabby stab*

  12. Starky says:

    Motion blur I usually turn down, I like a little bit of it, just enough to take the jitter out of turning and fast moving objects, as even at 60fps it is noticeable. Sadly some games seem to go a bit overboard with it. A light sprinkling of blur is all you need.

    Depth of field is the same, when it subtle and done right it is amazing, but sadly most games over use it.
    Borderlands is the PRIME example (which I’d imagine you’d agree with given the screenshot) of a game that makes you feel like your character is so near sighted he probably couldn’t read.
    Turning off DoF in Borderlands is almost like giving your avatar contacts, I feel deeply sorry for console gamers that they can’t turn it off.

    Still, when done right it can add to the experience, unfortunately that is rare and depth of field is usually an on/off choice, not something you get with a slider.

  13. nabeel says:

    We most certainly are in a period where these various screen effects are being used gratuitously, just like with bloom a generation ago, but I do enjoy their additions in some games. I think depth of field is done pretty well in Batman: Arkham Asylum, like when you silently take down somebody and you can see the oblivious other guards in the distance, slightly blurred. Motion blur is quite costly to performance, so I tend to have it off unless it makes very little effect on my framerate. So I don’t really place that much value on the effect, and consider it sacrificable. If sacrificable is a word.

  14. Zaphid says:

    Disable both, Most games blur out everything that is further than 10 metres and to keep this short, screw that. I wouldn’t mind if they blurred some ugly low poly building on the horizon, but most games aren’t that intelligent.

  15. Sagan says:

    I turn off Depth of Field but I turn on Motion Blur.

    Sometimes both can be annoying, but I find that Motion Blur especially helps in racing games, where it suddenly feels, like you are driving much faster.

  16. Midnight says:

    Depth of field makes for great screenshots, but that isn’t a good enough reason to include them in a game. The effect isn’t realistic since you won’t always be focusing on the centre of the screen, or your weapon during a reload etc.

    The only time I imagine it would be worthwhile including it would be if there was a camera that monitored where your eyes are currently focusing and process the depth of field accordingly (this technology already exists, but not everyone has a decent webcam etc).

  17. DXN says:

    DoF based on where you’re aiming is a bit problematic because you don’t always want to look where you’re aiming, although it is quite pretty. However for reloading, like in Stalker, I think it’s a good thing – not in the sense of being ‘helpful’, but by increasing immersion and realism. You’re not supposed to be able to look around and judge your next barrage – you’re busy reloading, so find some cover! It just makes things that little bit more tactical. Of course, given the ambitious-but-sloppy nature of combat in Stalker, it becomes kind of moot, but.. well, I like it in principle. I think it could work especially well in something like, say, Gears of War (I forget if those games have DoF or not).

    I’m pretty ambivalent about motion blur; my rig isn’t great so I usually turn it off in the interests of frame-rate.

    • Jad says:

      I don’t think there was DoF in Gears, although I may be wrong. That game did do great stuff with FOV, though, as when you “stuck” to cover the FOV would narrow slightly and zoom in. It was fairly subtle stuff, but great. It meant you had an instant visual reminder that you were in the cover mode rather than just standing near a wall. Then when you went into aiming mode it zoomed in even more. Maybe there was some blurring there, I don’t remember.

      Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever turned off DoF, and I generally don’t bother with fiddling with motion blur settings unless its really inappropriate or annoying.

  18. Dominic White says:

    Both are good effects, but only if used properly. Motion blur shouldn’t really be noticable unless your character is actually moving really fast. Any blur while turning should feel natural, and actually make things look more realistic than if you were just spinning a polygonal world around.

    Depth of field can look really nice as well, but can be horribly overdone in places. In static scenes, it’s a great way of drawing the eye to a certain piece of scenery, but in action, it’s best used only mildly. In a first-person game, it should be off on everything but the most distant scenery, and if you’re looking down the sights on a gun, it should only slighty fuzz anything you’re not looking at, providing a level of feedback that makes you feel like you’re really zeroing in on a target.

    Crysis pretty much nailed both.

    And as mentioned, motion blur actually makes low framerates look a lot better. Keep in mind that gamers often freak out over framerates around 30fps, but films are only 24fps, and nobody complains about them being jerky.

    • Starky says:

      True, but also not quite true – film us usually projected in such a way that each frame is flashed 2 or 3 times which fools the brain into smoothing out the image for it (It’s also the reason video interlacing works).

      There’s also the fact that film cinematographers know how to film at 24FPS – avoiding fast pans (moving the camera more than X degree’s per second based on focal length) because it will cause jitter just as you get in videogames or home movies at 24fps.
      Also tricks like in the editing process adding blur filters to mask any fast camera movement, or selective blur that wasn’t possible during filming itself.

  19. TacoClone says:

    I personally just like it for the immersion effect. If you’re reloading a gun or whatnot, you’re going to need to focus on the gun.

    Granted, I’ve never even really noticed that effect. Maybe I just saw it as pretty and filed it away as the way things should be. Or, perhaps, it’s mostly because I’m mainly a console gamer, and they often don’t have all of the options to turn off different effects like the PC does.

    I could just be assuming things and the consoles don’t even normally have these effects. XD

    Regardless, I’ve never even really noticed this is my video game career, and I’d like to think I’m a pretty big gamer (but, again, only on consoles for the most part).

  20. Yargh says:

    I found turning off depth of field in on Borderlands helped reduce visual fatigue, which made those stupidly long play sessions that much easier on the eyes (of course, going to work the next day was another matter)

  21. shiggz says:

    Glad this got some attention, I turn off both instantly. Also instantly turn off film grain, HDR, and bloom.

    I also set shadows to low or medium aa to 2x af to 8x and max textures. To me its all about textures detail for immersion. Smooth 50-60fps and high nicely filtered textures is the best gaming experience IMO. Why so many people want LSD like special effects ill never understand.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Frosty says:

    Both seem a little pointless to me, if not incredibly irritating. I mean why add in something that our eyes should be doing automatically? Half the time it just looks messy as in Arma II where I found it a real pain in the arse.

  23. Lagmint says:

    Motion Blur doesn’t make any sense. I was working on a shooter, and the lead designer added Motion Blur, and asked us what we thought. I told him to go for a run outside and tell me how much his vision blurred while it happened – it’s unrealistic, and annoying. It adds nothing.

    Depth of Field has a purpose, in that it focuses you on a specific area – but that isn’t how your eyes work, so it’s disorienting. I turn it off too.

    I also turn of Bloom, which has always confused me. What does it DO for people, exactly? Make things harder to see? Any game that has it looks TERRIBLE.

  24. Dzamir says:

    I think that both Zeno Clash and Left 4 Dead 2 use these effect in a real good way

    • Thirith says:

      Chances are that half the people who categorically say no to these two effects don’t even notice them when they’re done well and with subtlety, as in Left 4 Dead.

  25. Wulf says:

    I don’t think motion blur is a bad effect, if used tastefully and in limited amounts, such as limit it to when a character is really running. If motion blur is on all the time, it makes me feel nauseous, so I have to seek out the ability to turn it off real quick.

    Depth of Field always goes off, right away, immediately. It’s migraine inducing, it makes me feel as though I’m totally going blind, and whilst cameras work like that, the human eye doesn’t. Depth of Field makes me feel like a camera-man, who’s got an ancient, crappy analogue video camera. The problem is that most games don’t have the draw distance of human sight, and at the edges of human vision, things do blur out. Bu something that’s almost right on top of you shouldn’t be blurry.

    However, with depth of field in almost every game I’ve seen, the effect is on even things very close to the player, the effect is on things close to the player in a very heavy handed way, this leads to the short-sighted-camera-man-wot-has-crappy-equipment effect I spoke of earlier. If depth of field was restricted to only the furthest away things, and was very mild, then it would work.

    So yes, I always turn those two off right away.

  26. Jon says:

    The blur in Clear Sky was clearly going some way toward simulating the attention you’d give toward reloading a gun IRL, so it was supposed to get in the way. Other DOF effects are similarly case specific – when looking through ironsights, for example, I much prefer a blurry sight, and I’m sure there are people who’d rather see everything as it was rendered. I suppose in some cases this depends on whether you’re looking for a functional or aesthetically pleasing experience. I’ve never been a fan of DOF in a players normal view, though, because you don’t really see it in real life.

    As for motion blur, you wouldn’t turn it off in a CGI movie, right?

    • Wulf says:

      If a CGI movie had the amount of default motion blur that Grand Theft Auto III had, I would simply get up, leave the cinema, and possibly demand my money back on the grounds that I hadn’t expected the film to actively try to get me to throw up. :p

  27. Arnulf says:

    I happen to like the use of depth of field in Borderlands. It applies when you’re aiming your gun. And it is pretty useful for me. (I’m visually impaired too.)

    I’m with Thirith here: If used well effects like these can enhance gameplay pretty much. Overused they tend to be annoying. We’ve seen it all with lens flare and bloom.

  28. westyfield says:

    I leave them both on, if only for the prettiness. Also, TF2, HL2e2 and Portal did motion blur really well – it gave a great sense of speed and it’s nice to see things distort when you spin around. CoD4’s depth of field is ok, but a bit annoying when you’re lying in some grass and it focuses on the blade in front of you, rather than the gun-wielding baddie 75m away.

  29. unclelou says:

    DoF – it depends. Don’t think it’s ever useful, but it can look pretty (even if it’s mostly implemented badly yet).

    Motion Blur, as others have pointed out, does more than that. If it’s done well, like in Crysis (when a bit toned down) makes movement just look a lot smoother and more natural. I also loved how motion blur was applied not only to player/camera movement in Lost Planet, but also to quickly moving objects. It makes things literally pop out of the screen.

  30. kylegetsspam says:

    Depth of field and motion blur are done just fine by my own (and everyone else’s) eyes. I don’t need a game doing it a second time. It’s quite annoying and I always turn these things off. They make screenshots look good, yes, but whilst playing they are unnecessary.

  31. nakke says:

    Both are very game-dependant. For example the new Source engine games IMO do motion blur really well (looks especially good in TF2), and for example Crysis does DoF really well. So, if I think it looks crappy (like, for instance, in Mass Effect), I’ll turn it off, but otherwise leave it on.

  32. Railick says:

    Of the two I generally keep on depth of field and turn off motion blur if I notice it at all. (Normally I just leave it at default settings if it runs well the first time I paly the game. My computer is old and messing with the settings can lead to dramatic frame rate drops for me when newer games.)

  33. kikito says:

    Same as lens flares: only use it if it makes sense, not for the shake of it (See latest Star Trek film)

  34. Xander51 says:

    I enjoy them both purely for their prettiness. Sometimes they seem a little gratuitous, but I think they give games a more cinematic look, which I appreciate. As others have mentioned, motion blur can also help give the appearance of a smoother frame rate.

  35. kikito says:

    mmm.. maybe he should have gone driving on the highway at midnight. He could have seen some motion blur on the passing streetlamps.

  36. Vengeance Orbs says:

    We’re making videogames with visual effects that emulate cheap camcorders in the name of realism. Give it five years time and these games will look extremely tacky.

  37. Mr Chug says:

    The only time I’ve thought the depth of field effects actually added to a game was World at War- part of the joy of the game was the immersion, and having the battle raging blurrily around me while I was trying to shoot a man in a face with my iron sighted gun made it that much more of an ‘experience’ (and for a game with about 400 different ways your vision could be blurred, I didn’t get sick of it). Motion blur never really works for me (in first person shooters, at least) with the notable exception of Mirror’s Edge, where it was so artificial that it didn’t matter.

  38. Schaulustiger says:

    I have yet to see a game that manages to do DoF the way a real lens does.

  39. leeder_krenon says:

    real people actually have this shit turned on? crazy. i think it looks fucking ugly.

  40. skalpadda says:

    I tend to turn those off as well, but there are exceptions. As others have said the Depth of Field felt pretty well done in Crysis and never annoyed me there, so I left it on, but I think that’s the only exception. The option to decide how much motion blur you wanted was a nice touch there as well, but it seemed to be either too much or not enough to be noticeable so I turned it off.

    I don’t think either effect serves that much of a purpose: It looks nice in screenshots and videos, but when I’m actually playing I only notice them when they’re bothering me (like the Clear Sky example mentioned).

  41. linfosoma says:

    I like object based otion blur (like in crysis and GTA) but I turn off screen based m. blur and I hate deph of field.
    I also hate bloom, and turn it off whenever I can.

  42. Railick says:

    What I really don’t like is games that add grain to the picture (I believe L4D2 does this) but at least most if not all those offer the option to turn it off.

  43. Biscuitry says:

    I got sick of this kind of visual gimmickry a few years ago when bloom, HDR and related effects were all the rage. This really doesn’t seem any better.

  44. Jayt says:

    Single player, sure.

    Multiplayer, hell no.

  45. Nick says:

    Whenever possible in FPS games, god yes. I hate them with a passion, moreso motion blur. Fucking Left4Dead2 hasn’t got the option to turn it off without disabling other stuff too, which really annoys me.

    Whats worse is being stuck with a console oriented FoV that hurts my eyes.

  46. bhlaab says:

    In clear sky, you’re reloading so your character is meant to be focusing on the gun instead of the barrage. When aiming in Crysis it’s meant to simulate tunnel vision. I think that these should be left on because they’re part of the gameplay.

    Motion Blur’s primary focus seems to be to make the framerate seem slightly smoother while drawing in new objects during quick turns, but it’s also useful for simulating the disorienting effects of a quick spin round. The reason we don’t see motion blur while turning is because, well, we don’t actually “turn” in real life, we are able to use our inner ear and reflexes to just snap to the position we want to be in. Yet another leg up we have on FPS characters are moveable eyeballs.
    Keep in mind that motion blur also applies to objects, and if you wave your open palm in front of your face you’ll see that object motion blur does have at least some grounding in reality.

    • Dominic White says:

      “Keep in mind that motion blur also applies to objects, and if you wave your open palm in front of your face you’ll see that object motion blur does have at least some grounding in reality.”

      Now, don’t you go using none of those fancy ‘facts’. Didn’t you read about the game developer above who doesn’t believe that motion blur exists in the real world?

  47. Phoshi says:

    Mostly no. Yes in Call Of Juarez, because using it is totally optional, and looks brilliant (I already play it like I’m in a western, the quick zoom effect is awesome)

  48. Spoon says:

    Personally it comes down to a case by case basis. I will leave it on, see how the game utilizes it, and then turn it off if I don’t like it. If it is overused, off it goes.

  49. David says:

    I think they’re pretty much just visual spangle, but I like both motion blur and depth of field a lot. Not least because they look absolutely *gorgeous* on my pair of Radeon 4850s.

  50. Persus-9 says:

    I like to play games in the way that the makes considered best. If the makers want motion blur and depth of feild make the game the prettiest then I’ll go with that because I want to experience the game as it was intended. I don’t wear tinted glasses in art galleries and I don’t turn down visual effects in games (except to get a decent framerate). I’m really not bothered if visual effects get in the way of playing the game. I did find on occation during Borderlands that when trying to snipe that guy way over there when the game had decided I wanted to focus on the rock in the middle distance that I was using for cover but it only annoyed me a little bit and not nearly enough to make me want to turn it off.