Posted by Matthew Vella on Oct 17, 2011

2D vs 3D: The Future of Video Games

2.5D graphics-it’s like old school with a modern twist. Is this the future?

It may be hard to believe but when you think about it, video games are still in a very experimental stage and for the most part are still trying to understand the concept of using 3D graphics. Many of our favorite franchises have been through ‘trial and error’ stages, experimenting through the style. Some have been wonderful such as Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda, some have dramatically changed the game’s original direction like Capcom’s Megaman Legends, some have seen a few hiccups and bumps along the way before finding something that actually works well such as SEGA’s Sonic The Hedgehog, whilst many other franchises have failed in translating through from 2D to 3D resulting in the franchise to die out, such as Shiny Entertainment’s Earthworm Jim and Accolade’s Bubsy. Hell when Capcom’s released their 3D graphic adaptation of Final Fight, Final Fight Streetwise, the reception was so bad it led to the demise of the developer Studio 8 was shut down. Now that’s bad!

The policy with such 2D to 3D games for most retro gamers is simple-pretend they were never made! Ah yes, ignorance really is bliss!

With time comes experience and developers have begun to learn what works and what doesn’t. Back when 3D graphics were the new and ‘hip’ thing to do, every franchise attempted to undergo a 3D transformation, and were slapped on a 3D at the end (or 64 in many Nintendo 64 exclusives) of it’s title to draw in gamers who were craving to see this new revolutionary experience in gaming-which sometimes would suck. This isn’t to say all 3D translations were bad however. Games like Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda, Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto and Squaresoft/Square Enix’s Final Fantasy made the translation with ease and were arguably improved the franchise for the better. These types of games are often seen as improvements over their 2D predecessors, usually because the third dimension helps add to cinematic experiences and adventure elements among other modern features, although there will always be some diehard fans who will always prefer the originals.

How many people do you know prefer 2D GTA over 3D GTA? None? Yeah, I thought so.

Going a step further, many genres are arguably a lot better with 3D graphics and some wouldn’t exist without them. Take First-Person Shooters for example, as they require a 360 degree view of your surroundings. Can you imagine Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3 in 2D? Nope, neither can I! 3D perception is a necessity for this genre, much like with flight simulation games like Namco Bandai’s Ace Combat which also benefit from this visual boost. Another great example of a genre that truly benefits from the third dimension is sport games, as multi-dimensial movement and realism greatly improves gameplay. Just ask EA Sports during their two decade-long career, who’s games arguably get better with each installment. Yet another genre that benefits from 3D graphics is the On-Rail Shooter of which Time Crisis, House of the Dead, Virtua Cop all have to thank!

This is probably what Wolfenstein 3D looked like to many gamers 20 years ago.

However a few franchises have seen some rather unfortunate translations into 3D that range from bad to just plain average. Some of which just felt too distant from the original title, some just were inferior and less fun, others were just plain crap. Other than Earthworm Jim and Bubsy as previously mentioned, but other prime examples includes the legendary Contra going 3D in Contra: Legacy of War, SNK’s Metal Slug 3D, Nintendo’s Wario in Wario World, Team 17′s Worms and Capcom’s Megaman Legends, although Megaman Legends did manage to gain a bit of a cult following. But you know what? Those three games all reverted BACK to 2D later on as popular demand from fans. Although to be fair, the Megaman Legends and the Worm‘s franchises did continue their spin off series in 3D, neither have reached the level of high popularity as their 2D counterparts which also have continued.

Calm down fan boys! I didn’t say Megaman sucks in 3D, just that it’s 2D titles have been more popular.

In one unique situation, one must make a note of the recently released Bloodrayne Betrayal. This title is unique in the way that the franchise had previously released 2 titles with 3D graphics and movement, and they received mixed criticism, and are considered to be average games. However, with the series third installment Bloodrayne Betrayal, the series took on a 2.5D approach, and has seen much kinder reviews. Could 2.5D be more suited for the Bloodrayne franchise? Based on these results, it’s easy to think so! In a similar situation however, the classic SEGA fighter Virtua Fighter 2 was famously ported to the SEGA Genesis in 2D, changing up the gameplay significantly delivering a much weaker gaming experience. This title wasn’t the first or last title to do so, much, much worse hardware ports from 3D to 2D have been seen throughout history, and there are WAY too many to name. Usually these titles were originally intended on a home console and were ported to a portable device such as a Gameboy Advance, and as a result sucked. Hard.

In most cases moving from 2D to 3D is an improvement, but from a 3D plane to 2D one is a seldom but interesting approach!

This leads us into the middle ground what appears to be Nintendo’s latest craze-2.5D! Many Nintendo heroes have been making come backs in recent years with 3D graphics on a 2D plane. Super Smash Bros, New Super Mario Bros Wii, Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland spring to mind. Nintendo isn’t the only company enjoying 2.5D graphics though, many huge titles have been released in recent years that have been huge successes from Sony’s Little Big Planet to Capcom’s Viewtiful Joe.   

If you think that 2.5D means less creativity, think again!

Now let’s look at some of the biggest competitors and longest-running franchises in the video-game world. For many, the transition has not been easy. In fact many games have even been made previously to ‘test’ out audiences before working on a major release. For example, the Street Fighter EX spin-off series tested the waters of adapting 3D graphics to the Street Fighter series, and didn’t see implementation into the main series until Street Fighter IV although it adopted just 3D graphics and remained on a 2D scale. Some have theorized that Rare’s Banjoe-Kazooie was released to test a test of the consumers tastes at the time to judge whether Donkey Kong 64 was worth developing, although there is little evidence to support this.

Street Fighter EX is loved by some fans and hated by others, but most will agree that Street Fighter IV is just simply awesome.

As for some games, a bit of trial and error has been necessary, experimenting with different ideas to perfect the transition from 2D to 3D. Easily one the biggest examples is Sonic the Hedgehog, who’s been seen in many different variations of his traditional gameplay in 3D form, but by sticking through it SEGA may have just found the perfect adaptation for him recently. Take SEGA’s 1996 title, Sonic 3D Blast (also known as Sonic 3D and Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island) for example, which featured 2.5D graphics on a Isometric viewpoint, that has been criticized as one of the hedgehog’s worst installments to date. However SEGA continued to experiment with Sonic and the third dimension, leading to Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast only a few years later, arguably some of Sonic’s brightest highlights in his career. But SEGA didn’t stop there, they had some hit and misses (ok mostly misses) with experimenting with adapting Sonic into 3D, with the interesting Sonic Heroes in 2004, and then Sonic The Hedgehog in 2006 which while one of the weaker games of Sonic’s, showed much potential. Soon to follow was a low period for Sonic, with a few titles that weren’t as warmly received as his previous ventures, Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic and The Black Knight and Sonic Unleashed. These games all experimented with different styles of play and control schemes trying to see which suited Sonic best.

All of this however eventually paid off, with SEGA finally getting things right in 2011 with Sonic Colours-a game tailored after examining previous criticism of previous titles. The game featured 2.5D elements to further entertain old school Sonic fans, switching between the two styles of play to satisfy both types of fans. SEGA also released a 2.5D title, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 within the same year, and plans to continue to do so alongside releasing 3D Sonic games in the future. Things are looking even brighter for Sonic fans now, as Sonic Generations will be launching next month-a title that further expands on the highlights of Sonic Colours, combining both 3D and 2.5D platform gaming.

2011 is a GREAT time to be a Sonic fan, weather you prefer playing on a 3D plane OR a 2D one!

Mortal Kombat has taken a similar, but less extreme path as Sonic the Hedgehog. Since the franchise has taken the leap into 3D in Mortal Kombat 4, it has struggled to find it’s way. The 5th, 6th and 7th installments that followed took on yet another style of gameplay with it’s grasp on the third dimension, and yet again took on another dramatic change in it’s following installment Mortal Kombat VS DC Universe, and each style (1-3, 4, 5-7 and MK VS DC) all played dramatically different from each other. The biggest flaw with the leap into 3D was a huge one-in a fighting game that focuses on projectiles rather than combos, projectiles are basically useless when they can be side-stepped in the third dimension. The most recent installment however, Mortal Kombat 9/2011 has solved many of these issues and has been considered by many the best 3D installment to date (if not for the entire series), featuring realistic 3D graphics on a 2D scale, helping to improve the combat system of the game itself.

Much like Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat has taken a few games to find it’s place with the third dimension, and the results have been beautiful!

Nintendo’s mascot Super Mario is largely responsible for encouraging the leap from 2D to 3D for many games. The immense success of Super Mario 64 in 1996 was a major revolution in video game history. However as amazing as the game and it’s many sequels which have stuck by a similar formula but with gimmicky twists (Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2), Nintendo and many of it’s fans have noticed the franchise distancing itself from what it used to originally be in the 2D era. This led to the release of New Super Mario Bros (DS, 2006) and New Super Mario Bros Wii (Wii, 2009), which were multiplayer 2.5D games much more like the original 2D games. It’s become quite clear that players get a very different experience from the 2D and 3D Mario games. This could probably be what has led to the release of Nintendo’s upcoming 3DS game, Super Mario 3D Land, which whilst still contains 3D graphics and movement follows a more straightforward path, similar to the side-scrolling 2D days, creating a style of play reminiscent of early Crash Bandicoot games. Much like Sonic the Hedgehog currently is doing in recent years, Mario’s latest adventure will combine elements of traditional side-scrolling Mario titles, such as linear-based levels with a modern open world feel found in recent Mario games, such as moving Mario in three dimensions.

I’ve been praying for this game since 1996. Thank you Nintendo!

However it’s games like Super Mario 3D Land that make gamers dreaming about the future a little confused. Does this mean all Mario games from now on will follow this structure, or is this just a spin-off, once-only thing? This is especially the case with franchises like Nintendo’s Metroid which has recently just made the jump to 3D less than a decade ago. Metroid Prime 1-3 all took place through first-person, but the following title, Metroid: Other M was viewed via third-person, although it did include occasional first-person elements. What may confuse many gamers now is-what direction will Metroid take from now on? Was the first-person view just for the Prime series, or will that continue throughout the entire Metroid series from now on? Or will it be more like Metroid: Other M as it did simulate the original experience slightly more accurately? Chances are, not even Nintendo don’t even know!

 

Nintendo don’t even seem to know which direction they’ll take the Metroid series at this point.

When looking back at the history of video games, it’s pretty clear that both 2D and 3D gaming have their advantages and disadvantages, and both styles suit different franchises and different genres differently. In some cases both can work well for a particular game, it’s all up to the developer. Regardless of how many dimensions a game is programmed in, the only limits are of the imagination. New concepts are being thought of everyday, and there are many more successful 2D games yet to attempt to enter the 3D world and vise-versa. Heck Icarus Uprising is coming out soon! Will Kid Icarus be a good translation into 3D? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

                                                                                            
High hopes for Kid Icarus: Uprising!

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  • Michael Irving

    I agree with just about all of this. Neither is “better” than the other, they bring different things to different franchises. The design choice of 2D or 3D is an interesting and important one, and should be taken into consideration with what experience developers are trying to create.

    I just clocked GTA: Chinatown Wars, the 2D top-down Grand Theft Auto on DS, and it was awesome. It was a different experience to GTAIV, spicing things up with very creative use of the touchscreen. And both were great games.

  • David Esmart

    The plane drawn sprites or bitmaps made​​, is a more mature or avanzaada the polygonal graphics. Today they get finished more organic and warm, while polygons give a more cold and synthetic. Puppets or dolls seem mechanical rather than cartoons, and this is why they were created to achieve photorealism.

    Does the article refers to graphics or gameplay mechanics 2D and 3D?

    I
    have read in a video game forum, that “as two-dimensional or 2D have
    been carried into the background for 3D graphics, design games that
    allow more complex and have become the economic engine of the industry
    and the general public ,
    becoming the most money that it generates. This is because the novelty
    as for a general audience, are much more attractive than the 2D games.
    But 3D only real novelty to have made four genres:

    1 º. Simulators such as Flight Simulator After Burner Climax
    2 °. FPS First-Person Shooters (Duke Nukem 3D Call of Duty, Halo, Half Life, Quake, etc …)
    3 º. Driving (Gran Turismo, Forza, PGR, Ridge Racer, Sega Rally, etc …)
    4 °. Action adventure and exploration (Tomb Raider, Splinter Cell, Soul Reaver, etc …)

    The
    remaining genera could have benefited from modern technology and
    delivering better results to be in 2D platforms, fighting, shooter, beat
    em ups, shooters run & guns, adventure game, strategy and some RPG.

    There
    are some examples of the genera cited above that have not worked with
    graphics Full 3D, arcade games, like Sonic, Mortal Kombat, Castlevania,
    and Metal Slug, are examples…. ”

    What do you think about this?A greeting.