I overheard a conversation today by an experienced gamer who thought Third Person and Over the Shoulder views were the same.
It is because of that misconception that I mainly refer to my game as a First Person Shooter (FPS). It should probably be called an Over The Shoulder shooter. That is visually similar to a Third Person view. The difference is not in the visuals but in the control systems.
In a Third Person game the character rotates independently from the camera view. When you move forwards the character moves forwards in whichever direction it is facing. That means it could walk across the screen or even towards the camera in some games. Like a radio controlled car coming towards the person controlling it.
I find that control system very difficult and virtually never play games with a Third Person control system.
With an Over the Shoulder game the character is always aligned with the camera. If you rotate the character right the camera rotates right as well. When you move forwards it is always away from the camera.
That is exactly the same motion that you get with a First Person game. The only difference between that and an Over The Shoulder view is instead of only seeing your own arms you also see most of your body.
I like the Over The Shoulder view because you see what your own character looks like. It encourages people in multiplayer games to customise their characters because they see what others see. It lets you see some of what you are carrying without the need for an inventory system.
The other nice advantage is that it usually lets you have a wider field of view. It helps to avoid the blinkered tunnel vision feel that FPS games can have.
I like it which is why I've written my game using XNA with an Over The Shoulder view.
Addition added April 2012:
Here is my understanding of the various terms:
- First person shooter (Halo,
Call of Duty): No player model in front and the camera turns in direct
proportion to the input.
- Third person car or space ship game (Need for
Speed, Project Gotham): There is a model in front. The input moves the model
and the camera uses spring physics to bring the camera smoothly back behind the
- Third person fantasy game or shooter (Fable II): The input moves
the model separately to the camera so the model can walk, forwards, sideways or
even towards the camera. In that case pushing the camera away. No or
limited spring physics to return the camera. This is like a radio controlled
car and I personally find these difficult to play.
- Over the shoulder
shooter (GRAW, Gears of War): The input moves the camera directly like a first
person shooter but moves it in an orbit round the model with the character model
rotation catching up with the camera. Play feels like a first person shooter
but you can see yourself.
Unfortunately for me most people describe this as a Third Person Shooter because of the view, without taking in to consideration the control system.