Lunchtime Discussion: Dimensions

Recently I’ve been playing a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog and it’s sequel for the Master System. Sound familiar? Bear with me, it’s still a useful point to start from. Remember way back to the days of Sonic when pretty much every game was in 2D. Sure there were a few games that made an attempt at doing stuff in 3D, but for the most part you got a 2D game and you were happy about it!

Now I’m aware that some of our younger readers might not actually understand what a 2D game is, after all they’ve been brought up in an age where 3D graphics are thrown about like confetti at a wedding. See 2D was when you could only move your character side to side, and up and down (unless you were playing space invaders). There was none of this fancy moving towards stuff in the distance, oh no. No the distance was for parallax scrolling and things that looked way cooler than the stuff you got to fight, just like the backgrounds in Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

Apart from a few downloadable titles, pretty much every title these days takes place in a 3D world. There are still some gems like LittleBigPlanet that do incredible thing with only two dimensions, but for the most part we play in a 3D world these days and I’m not really sure we’re better off for it.

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Sure, some would argue that they make the world feel more ‘real’ and make it more immersive, opening up a lot more gameplay possibilities. The downside to this is 3D worlds are harder to create, the character models alone are a huge increase in work. By no means am I saying that developers are being lazy if they take an ‘easy’ option when building 3D models, but the simple fact of the matter is that 2D sprites are easier to create than a 3D model. The quicker and easier the creation process is, the more time there is to come up with something fresh and original.

With all the taken into account do you feel that 3D games have made it harder to innovate? They haven’t exactly stiffled it, but compared to the things that indie developers pull off exceptionally quickly with a 2D engine the mainstream industry seems slow and juddering. What’s your take?

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21 Comments

  1. In terms of quite a lot of asset creation, it’s more a trade off, really. You’re forgetting about animation. With a 3D model, it’s easier to create 100-odd individual animations, as well as applying ragdoll physics to them too.

    With a 2D sprite, you need to re-draw the sprite over and over in order to get each full split second of animation, and even then you might decide you want to go with 60Hz, so that means double the number of drawings you need to make.

    Of course, you can always use a 3D model to capture the images from in order to make a 2D sprite…

    Sorry if I’ve sort of glossed over a lot of things or sounded vague, I’m in a hurry, but wanted to be 1st before I go. :P

  2. Nice debate point. I think the 3D or not 3D (as Hamlet most certainly said) is key when it comes to the platform genre. Don’t get me wrong I think Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 are superlative games that play beautifully but (and for me this goes all the way backto Mario 64) I find the control method a bit fiddly / tricky. This is no slight on Nintendo as their controls are spot on it’s just, in my humble opinion, the nature of the beast when it comes to 3D platforming.

    The new Prince of Persia games (with the exception of the dull arty one) are great and seem to cover this well with some very generous physics (what I mean by this is that it’s quite difficult to die from a mis-timed jump and you don’t have to be pixel perfect).

    Also found LBP to be a bit tricky in the later levels as the controls were just not tight enough for some of the more complex platforming of later on in the game.

    Personally my vote goes to 2D when it comes to platform games and I’ll take 3D is most other genres. I’ve not played SMB Wii yet but want to in the near future and enjoyed SMB on the DS so am glad to see 2D games still hold a place in the industry today. I often think one of the reasons retro is loved more than ever today is that so many of the games / game types (look at Super Meat Boy – a new game but simplistic, involving and very tights) that we had ‘back in the day’ didn’t worry about making huge worlds with millions of textures and polygones etc etc but just concentrated on simple, fun gameplay. My train of thought is now over.

    • Apologies for the minor typos in my comment.

    • Super Mario Galaxy 2 gave me such a headache playing it, it was just to much all over the place.

  3. 2D is definitely for the retro or more unusual title these days. Sonic 4 shows this well. It is good but is definitely one for the retro gaming fans. Funny really when you think how poo some of the early 3D games were

  4. Some genres are just plain better in 2D. Fighting games & platform games for instance. After SFII, MK, Double Dragon, Streets Of Rage, Final Fight and the likes they tried going 3D & failed. I think a lot of this has to do with precision. One good 3D fighter is Soul Calibur, though even there the 3D movement feels tacked on & needless.

    If you wanna take these games to 3D, make it 2.5D: 3D models with 2D movement (SSFIV does a great job).

  5. Im liking the return to innovative 2D games weve seen this gen, mostly through the psn/minis service. Actually enjoyed some of them on a similar level to the AAA’s ive purchased. Braid, trine, and more recently (as in yesterday) the monsters/WTF package impressed. I think 2D definately still has a place although reiterating icos words lbp whilst innovative just didnt get the jump physics right, also is it truely 2D? You can move in and out of the background etc.

  6. LBP uses depth and cheats a smidge but to great effect. However, awesome titles like PJ Shooter are just wonderful in 2D. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a great shooter and has allowed Pixel Junk to concentrate on the stunning fluid dynamics.

    I suppose it comes down to the developers knowing their stuff. Don’t try to crowbar a new technology into a format that’s tried and tested just because it’s the current thing to do (or embrace). Assess what the best vehicle is for you to tell your story or for people to enjoy your game and go from there.

    Sadly, Kris, you’re onto something about things being stifled although the word I’d use is “distracted”. We’re such a visual species that flashy graphics really do win over a lot of people. This means that developers spend a disproportionate amount of time working on the graphics engine and the emotion… the nuts and bolts… the feel of the game can often play second fiddle.

  7. Mario surely the epitome of everything platform related, sure it won the audience over with its amazing visuals, but the jump physics were perfect, you knew that when you died, you had died because of your own error, now when i ezio (or altier) runs up a wall i didnt direct him towards or doesnt leap of faith into the haybale ive clearly pointed him at, that can be fruatrating. In the transition from 2D to 3D gamea have lost a certain accuracy in their contoll system. I think that more than anything annoys me about the last 3 generations of gaming.

  8. Also sorry about the spelling, rushing things on a touch screen often does that.

  9. As long as a 3d game is on a current generation console or computer I’d say they’re on a winner.
    When it comes to games on my iPhone however, I would say most of my cheaper end (59p) 2d games are heaps better than the more expensive 3d games.
    I think if you’re going for a real feel of a 3d world it needs top quality graphics. Nothing worse than 3d games with dodgly polygons and rough textures

    • …and ‘dodgy’ polygons too.

    • Great point, fella. All the games I play are 2D on the iPhone. Know the limitations of the hardware too. This, for me, is where the PSP fails miserably compared to the stunning 2D games offered on the likes of iTunes.

      • If they bought out nsShaft or nsTower for the iphone I’d be in my element. Simple but highly addictive 2d games I used to play on the mac non-stop about 12+ years ago at work when I was a wee nipper, Unfortunately I can no longer play them as they only run on system 9 – I hated the leap to OSX.
        Anyway, back to the point, they’d be brilliant on the iphone. Now gonna see if I can find them on youtube and reminisce

  10. Well, if you want to try to incorporate LittleBigPlanet as an exemplar of the limits of so-called “2.5D” games, it might be sensible to consider Joe Danger as part of its canon. Both games ‘cheat’ by using the possibility of a world with depth, albeit a limited dimension.

    I think that the quality of 2D games now, most definitely depends on the originality and inventiveness of developers. It’s certainly a difficult decision to plough money and time into a 2D creation, and in a way it speaks very well of the bravery of some development companies who are willing to try something that looks different. It’s certainly easy to imagine that without PixelJunk, Braid, Joe Danger, LittleBigPlanet and Minis the platform as a whole, and the PlayStation Network would be far weaker.

    Immersiveness shouldn’t be the goal of every developer, for low-budget games a preference on playability is far healthier. Consoles certainly aren’t hurt by diverse products.

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