I’ve noticed that the wagon wheels in Red Dead Redemption have that counter-spin effect on the spokes when in motion. Why?
That effect is rare in real life – the human eye seldom perceives spokes in natural light (sunlight) as moving backwards. It is, rather, a side effect of frame rate. A video camera captures so many frames a second, yada yada yada, wheels on film appear to be rotating backwards.
Why has this filmic convention been imposed on Red Dead Redemption? Certainly, there are a number of tropes borrowed from westerns in the game…in fact that pretty much IS the game, but there’s no lens flare, no grit or film-grain on the screen. There’s nothing else to indicate a movie camera presence. Yes, blood gets on the “lens” when you skin an animal, but that’s not quite the same.
We’re aware that there’s a lens through which we view the world. This isn’t a first person game, there’s no conceit about us looking through Marsden’s eyes, so giving substance to that imaginary lens doesn’t seem all that alien. After all, it has presence – just press L1 (or the Left Bumper, depending on your system) and the weapon selection overlay pops up, a two dimensional presence that exists on, or just in front of, the lens.
But the frame-rate issue that creates the impression of spokes rotating backwards has nothing to do with the video game lens. Video games (for the most part) don’t run at a fixed frame-rate, the frame-rate is determined by code, processing power, number of objects on-screen, etc., and it changes constantly.
It seems like the majority of developers and players, when talking about what makes games special or how games are growing into a legitimate artistic medium, value the ways games a different from movies. Personally, I think games should be looking to literature to inspire their growth and development, rather than movies (read Don Quixote, that book prefigures the exact struggle video games are undergoing in their infancy), but that’s a post for another day.
So why are the spokes on the wagon wheels spinning backwards? Why is cinema allowed to invade this world? Because people expect spokes to move backwards on screen? Video games can be so much more than movies, and it’s time to start changing expectations. Let the wagon wheels spin how they’re rendered.