Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Game Invader : The Third Dimension.

This article first appeared in my weekly 'Game Invader' column for The New Indian Express.

While 3D is the de-facto standard for today's games, it wasn't always the case.

For a long, long time, videogames played out in a flat, 2-D world. You could run sideways, climb up ladders, slide down poles. You could duck under obstacles or jump over them. And everyone was happy.

After that came the Battlezones, the DOOMs and the racing games, and their simulated 3D action. Suddenly, you could go into a screen. Things came flying out of it, and straight at you. It was wonderful. And everyone was happy.

Then, the evil genius John Carmack created Quake. And you didn't have to cheat your way through 3D anymore. The object, and the world, were all true 3D objects, with depth. Gaming was never the same again. 3D meant that suddenly, artists didn't have to draw a creature or an object from every possible angle the gamer would see it from. They just created a model once, and then, with a simple rotation of the camera, could view it from any possible angle. This cut development costs down, and gave developers the power to cretae more believable, immersive environments. Everyone was delirious with joy.

Eventually, 3D became the only way to make games. And, mostly games were the better for it. FPS titles suddenly could create ramps, moving obstacles, enemies that could attack you from above and below. Level design went through a major renaissance, and FPS became the world's most popular type of game. RTS was another genre to benefit greatly – you could suddenly zoom in and out, and rotate the camera to get the best possible view of your raging battles. Role-playing games were better off for the revolution – huge worlds such as those of Morrowind and Oblivion were a delight for role-players to explore every inch of. And everyone knows what happened when GTA went 3D. Even traditional 2D stalwarts such as the Mario and Metroid series were brilliantly reinvented to take advantage of 3D enviroments, eventually resulting in all-time classics such as Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime.

Worms never quite made a successful transition to 3D

But was it all good and happy chocolate cake all around?


Worms is my favourite example. Team 17's beloved series never quite made the jump – Worms 3D being a failed attempt at taking the classic Worms gameplay and ruining it by needlessly adapting it to 3D and losing the plot altogether. Thankfully, the series returned to its tested formula for further iterations. Escape from Monkey Island, though a fairly good game taken at its own merits, was a come-down in terms of sheer quality from the impeccable Curse of Monkey Island, that most gorgeous and enjoyable of 2D adventures.

In both cases, the designers compromised several core values that made the originals great, simply to accommodate the third dimension. A case of introducing 3D, just for the sake of 3D. What's the old saying about not fixing things that ain't broke?

Thankfully, games like Braid and Bionic Commando Re-armed are showing us that people will buy and play great games, regardless of whether they're in 2D or 3D. Which just goes to prove that the medium must serve the message, and it's more about gameplay than about technology, whatever developers and publishers may like to believe.

I just hope no-one's working on a 3D remake of Tetris.


  1. From Pong to GTA 4 ,..It has been a wonderfull journey eh..
    Glad to find a passionate gaming enthusiast like me in the Indian blogosphere(a lil older one though :P )

    Great post ...and you have been BLOGROLLED!!

    peace.. :)

  2. Thanks for reading, and the blogroll, Nishanth. GTA 4 is totally awesome. As was Pong, especially with the speed dials(how many remember those?) turned up!