I’m A Leg Man

In any first person game, the first thing I do is look down. In the vast majority of them, the second thing is I do is sigh in disappointment.

No legs. Dammit.

I’m not entirely sure why I want the legs to be there. Rare is the first-person game in which they doesn’t look faintly ridiculous if they are included: these distorted stumps which move unnaturally and are wildly out of proportion to my own body, as well as being at an impossible angle in relation to my real hands. I understand why most games don’t do it, because seeing those wee little pins floating somewhere in front of you, rather than believably attached to or under you, is actively disruptive to the idea that your own face is somehow stuffed inside this world.

You become two people, the difference between you-you and game-you emphasised to sometimes inadvertently comic effect. And sometimes to simply infuriating effect: I can’t see down this ladder I’m trying to climb or through this hatch, beyond which lurks a legion of hideous, murderous monsters, because my screen is filled with digitised trouser. I’ve been there, man. I’ve died because of trousers. I know the pain.

But I do like to see the legs. I like to see a little bit more of what my usually unseen character looks like, how he or she moves, and most of all how they are placed in the world. Without the legs, I am essentially a floating orb spewing some manner of death from a disembodied hands. With the legs – and of course with the torso they should be attached to, unless something really weird is going on – I am controlling an entity.

A stunted and misshapen entity who looks like they’re being forcibly crushed by some horrific gravitational force whenever they try to crouch, yes, but an entity. And look at how I’m existing in this space. For instance, FEAR is an essentially boring game entirely redeemed by the fact that you have legs and can karate-kick people with them. Mirror’s Edge could have felt like catching a greased pig, but instead it seems so very tactile because you can see your lower-half slip-sliding and colliding across those pristine rooftops. The Chronicles of Riddick gave good leg; I’m not entirely sure I can encapsulate why, but there was an inherent physicality to that game which I strongly feel would have been lacking where Digital Diesel’s body not rendered.

Even bad game legs lend a game this slight sense of virtual reality, that I’m somehow in-game rather than an observer pressing keys from the exterior. Truth to be told, all first person legs look a little like a woefully over-excited videogame-themed audience challenge show from the mid-1990s, something where Craig Charles bellowed improbable bullshit about amazing astoundingly real it all was to an awkward teenager in an over-sized turquoise t-shirt. I think that might be why I like first-person legs too. Yesterday’s idea of gaming’s future, today. It was certainly the case in Duke Nukem Forever, very much a game stuck in the futurology of the past, and if I’m being generous to the point of absurdity, it lent the tortured shooter some of the living cartoon ethos it was striving for.

I think legs have so much more to offer, however. One of the reasons I’m excited about VR is because of legs. Leaving aside any arguments about whether traditional games are going to work well with a facebox or not, one of the things they’re all going to do is massively amplify the sense that you are inside the game, rather than just outside, looking in.

In this new frontier, legs are going to be unavoidable sometimes, and while that’s almost immediately going to run into problems because no currently announced VR hardware monitors exactly where your legs are, so we’ll have cognitive dissonance about our doing one thing and the character doing another, it’s also going to lead to some really fun body-modelling.

Sitting in Elite: Dangerous’ cockpit and being able to look down and see my entire body remains a strange highlight. It’s me, being a whole person in an actual spaceship! I might have to get a chair which reclines just so in order to ensure I’ve perfectly replicated my character’s pose IRL.

And oh God, imagine some VR Mechwarrior game in which I can look down and see my pretend legs pressing down on massive steel pedals. Or I can switch to some Mech’s eye view and see my robo-legs stomping across the landscape. Gigantic leggy bliss.

We’re about to enter a new age of gaming leg, of that much I am sure. And if someone comes up with some terrifying wireless anklet that I can strap on to have my real legs’ motions reflected in game, I assure you that I will back that Kickstarter.

This post was made for the RPS Supporter Program. Subscribe and your money will go towards funding great new articles and videos. Already a member? Thanks for your support!

73 Comments

  1. Banks says:

    I don’t know if I’m missing a joke or something but… god, why did I read this?

  2. Premium User Badge

    X_kot says:

    Bless you, Alec. For me, this goes right along with the “my face is not a lens” issue. I need gams to gambol!

  3. caff says:

    I’m a breast man.

    When I look down, there’s no breasts dammit.

    [i]But I’m playing as a male character.[/i]

  4. Hydrogene says:

    What games are the second and third screenshots from?

    I agree with Alec, we need more legs in FPS. Death to the hovering viewpoints and eyes like camera lenses! (no more lensflares, please.)

    • Alec Meer says:

      FEAR and Riddick, respectively.

      • Hydrogene says:

        Thanks! It’s strange but I don’t remember the legs in Riddick. Must be the effect of all this violence on my brain…

        • w0bbl3r says:

          I think you don’t remember them because as the article says they were actually very well implemented, especially in comparison to legs in most 1st person games.
          So they were there but didn’t stand out much.

  5. Premium User Badge

    G-Lord says:

    And here I thought I’m alone on this one. Always like to see my body in first-person games.

    • aleander says:

      And then, like in Star Citizen, you look down, and see that you’re actually an entity hovering over an empty (yet still mobile) space suit.

      • Premium User Badge

        G-Lord says:

        Heh, it gets even more surreal in Elite: Dangerous in Rift mode, where you can move out of your body ;).

  6. Scrape Wander says:

    I do this every single time I play an FPS as well.

    An early game I remember finding legs in (fantastic sentence, that) was Arx Fatalis. They weren’t particularly well-designed legs, if I remember, but they were there. (I think they were anyway…now that I’m trying to remember, I’m not sure if I’m thinking of the right game)

    ANYWAY, just wanted to express my leg solidarity.

    One more quick point: I recently played an Oculus Rift title at a gaming event where you lay inside a coffin and wait for someone to find you, and you have to try and explain to them where your coffin is. In that game, when you look down with the Rift, you see your gamelegs, which is a particularly odd experience. The singulegity, if you will.

  7. BLACKOUT-MK2 says:

    I do like being able to see my legs in a game. They really help immersion. I feel less like an ethereal Lieutentant Dan if I can see my knees and feet, as opposed to a shadow reflecting what isn’t there.

  8. woodsey says:

    I remember being so excited for Crysis – in part, at least – because you could actually see your legs. And I heard you could beat a man to death with a chicken.

    10/10.

  9. Stellar Duck says:

    One of the reasons Left 4 Dead is a lot better than Left 4 Dead 2.

  10. rotane says:

    And let’s not forget about hands, please!

    Remember Half-Life 2? I believe you could see your hands holding your guns, right? But WHY were there no hands steering your boat? Talk about disconnect…

  11. Chaotic Entropy says:

    Amen to this.

  12. Cockie says:

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks this.
    One of the first mods I installed for Skyrim was to add legs. :D

    • JohnGreenArt says:

      I was so disappointed that, after modders were able to ad legs and first-person character shadows to Skyrim (as well as Fallout 3 and NV), that Fallout 4 was back to “floating hands/guns.”

      I keep hoping that since modders are recreating the same mods for each game Bethesda would finally take a hint. Heck, make things like that optional. How hard is it to have a “visible legs?” tick in a menu?

      • JonWood says:

        You just doubled QA time, as the game needs to be played through with and without legs to check nothing breaks.

        Oh, who am I kidding, this is Bethesda we’re talking about. Double nothing is still nothing.

  13. DevilishEggs says:

    This should really give developers a leg up as they design future character models.

  14. Turkey says:

    Last time I looked down in a FPS and couldn’t see my feet it took 3 months of immersion therapy to recover.

    Also, I had to go to the hospital so they could rebreak my immersion cause it wasn’t healing right.

  15. Yoofaloof says:

    And there was me thinking looking up was a thing.

    • Will the wtf says:

      Its never been right! I want to look up till I fall over backward, and forward till I roley-poley.

  16. criskywalker says:

    Wow! F.E.A.R. graphics look so primitive nowadays! Amazing game though and FPS games should take more from it.

    • rabbit says:

      i was pretty stunned by that too. can it really have looked like that?

      • MattM says:

        That’s a pretty low res shot of the game. FEAR has aged, but I replayed it last year and the visuals hold up pretty well on max settings. Low texture quality and lower poly counts are noticeable on the world geometry, but characters look pretty good and the lighting is pretty dramatic if a bit too sharp.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          and it was always best in (slow) motion with all the flying bullets and paper and breaking glass.

  17. BigPrimeNumbers says:

    I’m totally with you on this. The first thing I do when playing a first-person game is look down and see if I have corporeal representation in the game world (legs and a body!). If it’s not there, you’re just a floating gun – or sometimes in games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter just a floating camera. Having the body representation, even if it isn’t always accurate in its movement, goes a long way to make your avatar feel grounded in the game’s world.

  18. Sin Vega says:

    I guess it’s tricky in some FPS games in particular because the perspective has to make up for the lack of proprioception that forms a natural part of using weapons. Guns, even pistols, jammed up right up against the screen in a way that would be awkward and look ridiculous in reality. Plus the 2d nature of computer screens make for a different sense of depth and literal perspective to our 3D vision, so bodies and arms on screen can look unnaturally stretched or out of proportion with the world. And in games with both a third and first person mode, it can actually be harder, as you have to make both look good while also matching, which can have very odd results (Hitman 2 and mount and blade come to mind).

    That’s not to say it’s entirely justified in all cases, as there are games that have done first person leg having simulator quite well, but I can see why it’s often omitted.

    • rabbit says:

      god, looking in mirrors in hitman 2’s first person mode was horrible

      • Sin Vega says:

        It made the handguns look tiny and weird too. But on the plus side, it transformed the knife. In third person using the knife triggered a slow, clumsy and immobilising stab with a long recovery period. In first person it slashed as fast as you could click and didn’t affect your movement at all. If you just kept running and attacking you could become death incarnate. It was great!

    • Buzko says:

      I love what I have seen of that show. It’s really not for kids, is it?

  19. DanMan says:

    I find myself liking 1st person increasingly less than 3rd person view anyway. That may very well have to do with wanting to play games from my couch, and the latter tend to work better there.

  20. catscratch says:

    Couldn’t agree with you less.

    When you walk around normally, your brain filters out head bob and other physical side-effects of, well, being a human. You just generally get from place to place and you don’t think about it. It’s there, but you’re so used to it it may as well not be.

    But put that sort of stuff into a game, and it starts becoming distracting, sometimes even to the point of inducing physical discomfort. Screen flash, head bob, low FOV, all of that stuff contributes to certain FPS games being not very pleasant to play.

    What does this have to do with legs? Well it usually goes hand in hand with a game that tries to accurately simulate real human movement. And that usually coincides with well-rendered legs.

    This is even more of a problem in games that try to have fluid animations for everything your character does and are still in first-person perspective. In an FPS game, you don’t see the animations that your character is performing most of the time, and yet if the game requires you to complete an animation before moving onto another one, your controls will feel like there are delays between giving a command and your character responding. A great recent example of this is Fallout 4. Bethesda insisted on parity between first-person and third-person playstyles, and as a result your character has animations that you can’t see from first-person perspective but which have to be completed before certain actions can take place – for example, you can’t cancel a reload animation into sprinting. This means that you’ll often hit the sprint key, and nothing will happen because you’re stuck in an animation, and if you die because of it it feels like the game isn’t responding to your inputs.

    Movement in FPS games needs to feel effortless. In the real world, you want your movement to be effortless even when it isn’t. Because games are escapism, you want them to reflect this, and when they don’t, they become fourth-wall-breaking.

    I’m probably not wording my argument very well, and there are logical leaps and bounds here, but after playing shooters competitively for what feels like forever, this is what I think.

    Agreed on the issue of your point of view not being a camera. I don’t get the whole glass cracks, blood and water droplets, etc on your screen. If you dip your head underwater and take it out again, are there water droplets running down your lens? No, because you’re not a lens. Games should reflect this.

    • apotato says:

      “and nothing will happen because you’re stuck in an animation, and if you die because of it it feels like the game isn’t responding to your inputs.”

      I kinda disagree. Simply because this can be used as a limitation. As an obstacle. If you’re being shot at and out of bullets, you need to think twice before reloading. It’s another layer of choice.

      I mean, they could make it so you could cancel one animation into another. It would feel as awkward in third person as it does in any FPS. They didn’t, though, and not just because of how it looks, but because of how it makes you play.

      If I die because I was reloading and couldn’t run, I don’t blame the game. I blame my own inability to learn and work with the game’s rules.

  21. MattM says:

    I really prefer the floating orb approach. Most 1st person games don’t give me too much trouble, but when they really exaggerate the headbobbing and strafe tilting I get a nasty headache. The floating orb may reduce the sense of a physical body, but after little bit it disappears from my conscious attention and lets me connect to the game more directly.

  22. kwyjibo says:

    I’m a floating death camera man.

    Legs in FPS’s will stop being shit when they manage to correctly model head and body movement, and make the controls somehow fit. Until then, they’re a waste of time, their implementation a task handed off to the intern to get a tick on the back of the box when boxes were still things.

    New Halo! XBOX Exclusive! With FULL-BODY-AWARENESS! Feel the Dew! Fuck off Halo.

  23. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I tried a Gear VR with CCP’s Gunjack head-turret-shooty-game. I looked down, and there was my body. I looked behind me, and screamed in horror as I beheld my own neck, ended in a stump.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      It’s important not to lose your head in a situation like that.

  24. Ingall says:

    y’know…. I don’t think I have ever looked down in a game to see my legs.

  25. Doganpc says:

    Mechwarrior Online does render a body in the cockpit that does things as you press keys. It’s kinda of cool.

  26. cannonballsimp says:

    That anklet thing you’d back on Kickstarter: they could even call it Kickstarter!

  27. onodera says:

    Hear, hear!

    I like seeing my legs in FP games. I hope with VR we will no longer have tyrannosaurus arms and will be able to have both arms and legs in their rightful places.

  28. Arathorn says:

    Return to Castle Wolfenstein had a pretty pathetic leg that was only visible if you were kicking something or someone. It was particularly odd if you were kicking while crouching through a duct or something.

  29. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    YOu know what really bugs me? Things like lens flare and blood splatters in a game with a first-person perspective. No, the character I’m playing usually does not have a camera for a head.

    • LionsPhil says:

      But muh cinematic immersion!

      Battlefield 3’s stupid lens-dirt just mades me want to clean my glasses every time I saw footage of it.

    • Awesomeclaw says:

      A lot of the time you can pretend you’re wearing eye protection of some kind. Doesn’t really excuse the lens flare though.

  30. Alanpurus says:

    You must have *really* hated that bit in Quake 4 where your character gets de-legged.

  31. Mindestens says:

    FEAR is an essentially boring game

    You, sir, should feel ashamed for writing such horrible, horrible things on the Internet. Boooo, sir, booo!

  32. Adamfostas says:

    Disappointed that you missed out Far Cry 3 and 4, which had some of videogames’ best legs. Skidding down a hill without being able to see your legs just wouldn’t be the same.

    • onodera says:

      They were kind of transient legs, you only deployed them when skid-stopping into a crouch.

    • Awesomeclaw says:

      Dying Light also has excellent legs, used as they are for drop kicks, slide kicks, and regular kick kicks.

  33. tonicer says:

    You should give Interstellar Marines a try. Full Body Awareness is really important for me when i want to be immersed in a game. Sadly Fallout4 is lacking that mod … right now. I have a feeling (or hope) it will hit the nexus pretty soon.

  34. GWOP says:

    If you were any more obsessed with legs, Alec, I would have assumed you were a K-Pop enthusiast.

  35. jbal695 says:

    I am the walrus
    cu-cu-cu-chu

  36. Yglorba says:

    This reminds me of Hacker’s Guide to Sin, which analyzed the protagonist of the original System Shock and determined that he was a legless drugged-up monster with (invisible) 13-foot-long boneless tentacles for limbs.

  37. melanie43 says:

    Start your home business right now. Spend more time with your family and earn. Start bringing 82$/hr just on a computer. Very easy way to make your life happy and earning continuously. Start here…

    ++++++++>> http://www.CareersBuilder.TK

  38. jnyms says:

    Sorry Alec, but you really should have added a trigger warning before you referenced the show “Cyberzone” with Craig Charles. It’s taken me twenty-odd years to block that out.

    Actually I’m really excited anyone else remembers it! That was the faintest strangest memory. Craig in a big leather jacket, coked off his tits, running around the studio shouting AWOOGA AWOOGA at terrified members of the public on treadmills.

    I remember the prize for winning was amazing. You could have whatever you wanted in the world. Anything you wanted, rendered in horrific Cyberworld 3d. It wasn’t really clear how you’d access it. If you asked for a helicopter, would they hand you an .OBJ file on a floppy disk? Is that really a prize? I presume that no-one had a full immersive Cyberworld suite in their house (with treadmill, smoke-machine and projector screens).

    and here it is for the uninitiated…

  39. monkey_mischief says:

    I’m a shoulder man. What about shoulders and biceps?
    When I look to the side I wanna see some shoulders !!!!!!!!!
    AND….if my character is REALLY flexible. I should be able to see my own buttcheeks.