Function of Vistas and Views in Game Design

Ketul Majmudar
Jun 30 · 6 min read

Views in video games are observation points used to highlight a lot of objects into one frame or shot using a special camera move. Vistas are special types of views that show distant objects, mainly far off landscapes.

Certain games use vistas as one-off moments (like Uncharted and Tomb Raider) where a special camera move will highlight the vista for the first time. Other games like Zelda: Breath of the Wild allows the players to look at views and vistas as they like without a special camera move. Other than showing off beautiful art, these views and vistas perform some important functions in game design. Let us take a look at them.

1. Pacing

Image for post
Image for post
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons — Interacting with benches in the game is optional but provides a nice breather moment between back to back puzzles

2. Highlight goals and landmarks

Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Assassin’s Creed games make good use of this technique.

Image for post
Image for post
Zelda: Breath of the Wild — The large castle and volcano are major landmarks in the game that guide the player around the world at all times. Designers have tried to include them in as many vistas as they can.
Image for post
Image for post
Assassin’s Creed Unity — When the player synchronizes with viewpoints, the player can see other landmarks in the distance

3. Highlight future gameplay paths

4. Show a previously explored path or area

A cleverly placed observation point will show previously explored paths and hint at future paths at the same time.

5. Show a large puzzle scenario

Tomb Raider is a great example of this, especially challenge tombs, which culminate in a final puzzle room with large mechanical elements.

Image for post
Image for post
Shadow of the Tomb Raider — Highlighting puzzle elements as soon as Lara enters the main room
Image for post
Image for post
Shadow of the Tomb Raider — Highlighting puzzle elements like water wheel, moving platforms and large structures all in one shot

6. Hint to a new mechanic or system

A great example of this is the paraglider in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While the player is still on the Great plateau (starting area), they can see far off gameplay spaces. Yet, reaching there seems impossible as the starting area is at a much greater height than the surrounding gameplay areas. Therefore, any attempt to jump or climb down to those areas without the use of a paraglider (which the player has not yet received) will result in Link falling to his death.

7. Highlighting the theme of an area

On a lighter note, there could be a festival going on in a town, and taking it all in, in the form of a vista, can tell the player the story behind the festival and how people enjoy it. All in one frame!

Image for post
Image for post
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — A view of the Kakariko village gives a warm and inviting feeling to the player in the wilderness. The view reflects the calm yet inviting nature of the villagers

8. Tell a story outside the gameplay space

Image for post
Image for post
Halo: Reach — Noble Six looks toward a ship planning to level a nearby city

9. Increase the world size

While a lot of games use this trick, my favorite examples are vistas in shorter single-player adventures like What remains of Edith Finch, where the playable area is limited to a large house and a path to the house.

This shot from What Remains of Edith Finch cleverly shows the whole island that the house stands on, making the world seem bigger than it really is.

Image for post
Image for post
What Remains of Edith Finch — Opening shot of What Remains of Edith Finch

10. Emotional rewards

Image for post
Image for post
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End— A quiet vista of Libertia (the city that the player has been working hard to discover) feels like a strong reward after 15 hours of gameplay trying to find it
Image for post
Image for post
God of War — This vista is a strong emotional reward after reaching the highest peak in all realms

It is important here to distinguish between an emotional response and an emotional reward. All vistas might trigger an emotional response (because of the beautiful art) but not all vistas are emotional rewards. Vistas work as rewards when players work hard to reach the high vantage point that triggers the vista.

Conclusion

Here are some more reads on the use and creation of views & vistas in video game design:

  1. https://gamedevelopment.tutsplus.com/articles/level-design-views-and-vistas--cms-25036
  2. https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MateuszPiaskiewicz/20140817/223513/Composition_in_Level_Design.php
  3. http://www.mikebarclay.co.uk/my-level-design-guidelines/

NYC Design

A publication for designers of New York & design lovers from all around the world.

Ketul Majmudar

Written by

Game Designer

NYC Design

A publication for designers of New York & design lovers from all around the world. Design thinking is what makes us share with the whole world.

Ketul Majmudar

Written by

Game Designer

NYC Design

A publication for designers of New York & design lovers from all around the world. Design thinking is what makes us share with the whole world.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store