2D:- Not Just Retro

Like many new technologies, as 3D started to emerge during the 90’s it was believed to be a replacement to what came before. All of a sudden it felt like everything was being made with the new dimension, Tetris, Space Invaders, Mario, Sonic and Rayman just to name a few. While I enjoyed a lot of new 3D titles such as Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot, for some reason I never took to all of my favourite games being changed away from 2D – I was actually overjoyed to hear about Rayman Origins and hadn’t played one since the original released in 1995. There was just something that felt too different from what I loved about the originals, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.

I grew up playing a lot of 2D platformers on the Commodore Amiga such as Chuck Rock, Superfrog and Fire and Ice. These were the games that inspired me to want to have a go at building my own one day, only by the time I finally learnt the skills required the times had changed and what use to be popular was now considered to be retro. Over the past few years however, 2D games seem to have made a bit of a comeback, possibly thanks to Indie game developers and maybe the arrival of mobile/tablet gaming. While some of these games rely on nostalgia to sell, I don’t consider them all to be retro, but rather a revisit to genres that had previously gone out of fashion. While they might be 2D in appearance, they can still make use of newer game design techniques and technology. 3D does not have to be a replacement to 2D, just another way of doing things – both have their strengths and their weaknesses.

As a hobbyist developer I prefer working on 2D games. It’s a big leap from 2D development to 3D, plus I enjoy art and feel that I can be more visually creative with just two planes. For a long time I thought 2D games were never going to be taken as seriously. It was a while ago now, but I remember when all of my friends wanted to have a go at building a game for the first time; I suggested that we work on a simpler 2D title first, but this resulted in me getting laughed at as if I had just delivered the best joke they’d ever heard. Since that point I have noticed a number of negative reactions in response to me telling people I’m working on a 2D game.

There are many good points to 2D games. The main one is precision. As suggested by Stephen Totilo in his ‘The Revenge Of 2D‘ article, 3D games come with problematic viewing angles and challenging controls. In a lot of 3D games we have had to learn how to control the camera as well as the character, while a 2D game doesn’t have this requirement. There have been a few instances where I have been left frustrated with a camera because I can’t look past my character to see what I’m doing. There is also the additional problem of simulation sickness, an issue that became more apparent as 3D gaming grew (See ‘Suffering From Simulation Sickness.’)

I think 2D games can also get away with enjoying a slightly more whimsical art style or sticking to simplified visuals, while in a 3D game it would appear flawed. I quite like this as it gives me that same feeling that I get while I’m reading a book; inviting my imagination to fill some of the gaps. Smaller teams or those that with a stronger programming skill may choose to simplify to make development easier and to focus on mechanics, such as Thomas Was Alone. On the other hand there have been some beautiful games like Dust: An Elysian Tail or Cletus Clay (in which photos of actual models were used.)

I prefer not to think of 3D games as automatically being superior to 2D games; There are many games I’ve thoroughly enjoyed regardless of the graphics. Instead, I think an informed decision has to be made with the games best interest in mind. It can after all have a really big impact on the feel of an experience.

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About wallcat

I have a strong passion for computing. In particular programming for which I am able to use a variety of languages including C++, Visual C#, Blitz Basic, Actionscript 2.0, Python and Lua. I also enjoy web-design and have some knowledge of HTML/CSS, PHP/SQL and Javascript. As well as programming I have a strong background in art and enjoy drawing in my spare time. When I’m not sat at my computer I like to keep fit by going to the gym or using my exercise ball.

2 responses to “2D:- Not Just Retro”

  1. Pasduil says :

    Interesting case in point… All commercial chess programs come with the option to see a 3D view of the board, but no serious chessplayer ever uses that. You understand what is going on much better from a 2D view!

    Less is often more with media, text can be better suited for many things than audio, audio can be better than video, etc.

    • wallcat says :

      That’s a really good example with Chess. I use to get excited by new flashy looking games, but I have come to realize that sometimes less can indeed be more. I suppose for anybody wanting to play professionally it’s better to have easy access to important information laid out as clearly as possible.

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