| The Introduction |


It was the Spring of 1995. The 16-bit era was in its twilight as the SEGA Genesis


(or Mega-Drive depending if you lived outside of North America) was clarified dead


as the games just stopped going while the Super Nintendo was reeling in the cash


as it discovered the that the generation still had some life left in it. In the light of


the more casual gamer it was all about buying a SNES for the current and past hits


or a Genesis to try out all the games they missed on. As for the more serious


gamer? Well to most the 16-bit era was phasing out. The attention was no longer


towards the bulky gray box or the wide black one. The attention was towards the


upcoming console war from new systems that was already taking place in Japan.


Though what interested gamers the most wasn't simply "the processing power", or


"the amount of pixels that could be on the screen". No gamers were interested in


something that on paper was much more basic then that. What sparked more interest


then anything was the most unfamliar. The fact that most games were going to be


three-dimensional.


See right now this doesn't seem like anything big, but back then that was huge.


Nearly every single game game players have ever played were two-dimensional,


pixelated, and were either in a side-scrolling, over-head, or isometrical manner. The


only "3D" games the majority of console game players had expereinced were Star


Fox, Virtua Fighter, DOOM, and maybe some of those obscure wanna-be psuedo 3D


games (3D Ballz, Space Harrier II, 3D World Runner).


In perspective it would be


like if in the next generation it was announced that all consoles would focus in the


void of virtual reality as well as included HD visors and sensitive gloves. I mean it


would just blow everyones minds, for years we thought virtual reality was the future


and now it's really here. This is the experience that was equivilant during that time.


For years people always imagined what it would be like to travel and interact with


fully realized worlds and now it truly had come true. What reason would there be to


not be pumped?



The rest is pretty much history. SONY pulled in a new market as it struck gold with


marketing games for a young adult (literally) audience with very cinematic, mature,


and impressive looking games. The Playstation really showed what the whole 3D


thing was really about with games like Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, and Twisted


Metal and even later with games like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid. Its


competitor, the Nintendo 64, was arguably even more 3D focused as it helmed the


term "64", which they marketed for more powerful 3D games due to it being 64


bits, as well as having features like the analog stick, camera controls, and a trigger


button which were designed specifically for use in 3D games. The system took 3D


towards a different approach compared to the Playstation as it focused more so on


interactivity, exploration, and transfering 2D formulas to the third-dimension as oppose


to the Playstation which mostly concentrated on giving the player a cinematic and


atmospheric experience.


Now this is really cool and all having all these new experiences...but what happened


to the 2D games? I mean games were built amongst this dimension and established


as well as built upon their formulas for practically two full decades at this time. With


something that was once so standard, how could the focus turn away in just a


matter of a few years? Well on console there were still a fair share amount of


developers still working with 2D. This was most obviously seen between RPG and


Fighting game developers. Though the market was changing and people wanted


something different then just over-head/isometric travel and firing hadokens. The


charts were totally 3D donimate and thus more and more developers (who haven't


already) started to shift into making 3D games.


2D gaming in general was in a crisis and the developers were forced to pick


between 4 options:


#1 To truly push 2D and show what 2D games can do that 3D games can't in a


then modern era


#2 To try and then "modernize" 2D games with the cinematic and atmospheric


philosophy gaming had taken in


#3 Ride the 2D train as far as it can take you


#4 Make 3D games instead


The majority of developers picked option 4 while the majority of the rest picked


option 3. And again the rest is all history, few developers on consoles continued to


make 2D games; and with the arcade scene in a continuing decline as well as


non-shooter PC developers finally moving on to make 3D games it became


increasingly obvious that 2D was on its way out. By the time the Playstation's


sucessor, the Playstation 2, came by it was set in stone that gamings philosophy


had changed. The market called for what it wanted and the publishers/developers


supplied those calls. And because the Playstation 2's purpose was solely to improve


those cinematic and atmospheric games anything that didn't fit that was widely called


into question and rarely given attention by the market or companies (I.E. 2D


Games, Arcade Type Games, Etc.). Since that time 2D was mostly focused on


handhelds due to the fact that they lacked horsepower to perform a satisfactory


three-dimensional experience and mostly took a backseat due to those systems being


weaker in horsepower compared to the previous systems 2D developers worked on as


well as the majority of developers working in that spectrum being string developers.


The above was just a mere introduction of the transition of 2D to 3D games and at


a look with the path 2D games followed. I'm sure that some are still in question to


as of how 2D games were abandoned so fast, but one must remember some things.


Before the Playstation arrived unless the game was first party (this usually just


consisted of Nintendo and Sonic), by Squaresoft or Enix, or of an existing license,


the game more then likely sold poorly. I mean I'm sure that there are a few


exceptions that I have missed but the majority of games struggled to get past the


quarter million line. Despite what many old-school gamers say about "the good ol'


days" there was very little market for games outside of kids (even then it still


wasn't anything to jump about). SONY grabbed hold of a huge market and expanded


gaming in general with its philosophy and due to people getting bored or not


intrested with the old philosophy of gaming. Add this with what I've stated above and


it comes to no question why 2D's importance faded away from gaming so quickly.


|The Problem|


Now today we are seeing somewhat of a resurgence of 2D games. To me this is


due to a number of factors as handhelds are gaining a bigger piece of market


share, the rising independent development scene, 3D losing its awe factor do to it


being standard for so many years, a much bigger and ever growing market, as well


as Nintendo's new philosophy gaining ground.


Personally while I am looking forward to games like Wario for Wii, playing "Contra 4


"for my DS, and planning to eventually purchase "Noitu Love 2" for my PC, as well


as having my jaw drop over the impressive visuals of "King of Fighters XII", "Oboro


Muramasa Youtoden", and "The Whispered World" there is still something that makes


me feel unsettled. While I'm looking forward to playing these games as much as the


next game player what distrubs me from these games that are already out as well as


from the looks of the ones coming out is that they in no way push the


second-dimension.



No I'm not talking about graphics here but purely from a design, technical, and


presentational points. To put into words so that you, the reader, can understand (or


understand more clearly) I have never or very rarely ever seen 2D games since that


era truly push themselves to create or evolve a set design. Nor have I seen to


many games use modern technology to harnass things such as physics, A.I., and


other features. Dividing these points up seems to be the best solution in this topic.


|Create and Evolve|


Early I stated that one major problem is the fact that few of these games bother to


create or even evolve game design. Using examples Super Metroid would be a


showcase of a created formula. Yes while Metroid predated the up, down, right, left,


traveling design, but it  was far to limited to be used in other games due to the


NES allowing Intelligent Systems to experiment only so much. Super Metroid however


is where the design was able to truly flourish due to the extra horsepower behind


the SNES (I think the best comparison to this would be GTA III's whole


"free-roaming" and "sandbox" experience was so new and impressive for the first


time despite earlier games like "Body Harvester" digging their claws into the formula


first"). This was a major breakthrough due to at the time the only designs avaliable


for a side-scrolling game usually embodied set straight paths (Contra) or at most


large (for the time) non-linear paths that lead to the same end (Turrican). As


time past by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night would set in and make its landmark


in gaming. The biggest reason for this is because it evolved the current design set


in by Super Metroid and applied towards side-scrolling games, like the series itself,


and made the entire game one huge plaforming, whipping, boss fighting, epic


extravaganza.


Now here is a simple question. What was the last 2D game avaliable that has even


touched towards what these games have done? The game doesn't even have to be


an action-adventure game, the game actually doesn't even have to be in a


side-scrolling format. My question is when was the last time a 2D game took big


steps in terms of breaking walls to progress design that pushed the dimension? In


all honesty I have seen extremely few over the years (which I will come about in


due time).


To give this comparison towards 3D games of the previous generation; Grand Theft


Auto III introduced "sandboxism" as your choices were unlimited in a full explorable


non-linear 3D map, Games like KillSwitch and Resident Evil 4 introduced the 3rd


Person Over-the-Shoulder viewpoint along with the mechanics attached to it, Devil


May Cry greatly extended the arms of what was once known as "3D Action Game".


Now obviously there shouldn't be as many or as big breakthrough innovations with


2D then 3D of the previous generation due to the fact that 2D was far more


matured with it being concentrated on for 2 straight generations, but there is no


reason why there should be little to no progress.


What reason is there for 2D games not to introduce similar things. The formula left


by Super Metroid could greately benefit from seemingly transition maps. With an


exception of Castlevania (and from what I've heard Megaman ZX) I can't think of


any games that have done similar things. Imagine a 2D platformer like Donkey Kong


Country or Sonic having similar design. How interesting does it sound to have one


full non-linear area to explore as you jump or glide across platforms choosing your


path? Imagine Contra or Gunstar Heroes as one huge non-linear map? And the


thing is that these are all series that were designed for linearity, one could only


imagine how much full effect of these designs could be harnassed with new IP's


geared towards them.


Though evolving isn't the only factor here. There are such things that need to be


establish and set in. Something that many 2D games have been tickering around with


but haven't set in is Z-Axis Travel. Ever play a game in side-scrolling format where


the end of the map is reached and you see a door with an arrow pointing down on


it saying "Exit" and the only way to continue is to press up on the D-PAD to


transfer to the next map? Yes that is what is being refered to here. If more recent


examples are needed then look no further then Super Paper Mario or Odin Sphere


for a memory refresher. To me this is much like how map transitions were tinkered


with pre-Super Metroid with games like the Wonderboy Series, but it wasn't until


Super Metroid where the formula was set through. Just think how cool it would be if


the current Castlevania's offered slick Z-Axis travel?The possiblities of how other


franchises could use this could give a huge benefit to what many of these games


are trying to achieve.


Level design isn't the only key here. There are plenty of other things that these


games haven't taking note of. Why are most games still limited to one type of


attacking? I can always either attack physically, with a gun, or with a blade. In 3D


games I can attack in various ways like in Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, and


Grand Theft Auto. Though I've played few 2D games that offer this choice. Just


imagine a side-scrolling action game that had the aiming Super Metroid, the sword


play of Samurai Shodown, and the fighting of Street Fighter III.


Truth be told I could go on with the examples like object interaction, changing


angles, more deals with map explorations (in other ways then previously listed),


and what not, new viewpoints and perspectives, but I just wanted to give the reader


a little insight of how much is left unexplored in this dimension.


|Mix and Match|


"Let's mix this genre with this genre and see what we get." "Hey let's see if we


can do this in 3D!" Consistently we see developers experiment by taking what


they've seen and applying it to something else. Retro Studios took on the brave task


of not only applying the Super Metroid formula to 3D but applying it to the first


person viewpoint as well. Games like Portal mix puzzle and first person shooter.


Personally I can't even remember a 2D game doing such things.


Why the lack mixing of genres? How cool would it be to mix up the formulas of the


fighting, beat-em-up, and action-adventure genre to create a game as deep as King


of Fighters, feels as fluent as Turtles in Time, and is as epic as Zelda? This is


just one example though. Shoot-em-up meets RPG in an overhead perspective?


Adventure meets Light Gun Rail Shooters (Snatcher oh so teases)? Examples could


constantly be given, but I would imagine that those reading this can think of their


own awesome mix ups.


Another thing that gives me an itch is that few 2D games try to attempt the formulas


left from 2D. Imagine if a 2D platformer took on the route of the N64 platformers


(such as Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64). Imagine a 2D-Sidescrolling taking


in the fast past action left in from Devil May Cry. The best attempts I've seen are


the half-assed ones from the Gameboy era.


|Modernize|


At times I really do question if the games I am playing on the DS are on hardware


that is (arguably) more powerful the Playstation and the Nintendo 64. Because most


of them certainly don't feel like it. This is probably due to the fact that during the


time those two consoles reigned interaction and presentation went through the roof. In


terms of interaction these games seem no more interactive then a SNES game. I still


can't climb and scale trees and/or buildings (especially in platformers), nor can I


pick up things objects laying in the street or damage my surroundings. Let's not


even mention things such as physics or A.I. Though Little Big Planet is focusing on


the former it doesn't really seem like a..."full game", but I'll still give it credit


regardless, A.I. however is at the complete opposite spectrum. Most games still work


around the whole "enemy come straight to you and attack" or "enemy come and


then stops and shoots" or the classic "enemy stays in the same spot as he appears


in the screen and shoots". Expectations would lead to believe that these games


would at least go past of what has been set up since the 8-Bit era.


Within the realm of presentation, well it is as it sounds. Most of these games just


don't present themselves as well as the traditional console game. Though this is


pretty obvious due to the fact that they are taken less seriously since they are


usually found in handhelds and downloadable services, this is still a problem whether


or not their is a logical excuse.


The best way to address my point is to compare it to a game that has fufilled what


I am talking about. The World Ends With You was a recent game that was released


for the Nintendo DS that just blew me away. Despite the pixelated sprites and the


less then stellar animation, production values led the game to have a strong


presentation. The cutscenes, the backgrounds, the soundtrack, the setting, the plot,


the characters, all of it came together much like the lastest blockbuster console


game. It truly felt light years beyond the majority of handheld games I've played and


did many things right. If only other games in its dimension would take note of what


it had done.


|Final Thoughts|


Well it's all as I've been saying, to me games in this dimension just haven't taken


any reconizable steps. Actually saying that isn't entirely true. 3 recent games (2 out


the other still in development) definately have taken some steps. Super Paper Mario


took the term "2.5D" to a literal gameplay idea as it was possible to flip between


dimensions. The upcoming indie game Fez looks to improve upon this formula by


adding a full rotating camera and the use of "trixels". The recently released Aquaria


brought the free-roaming action-adventure formula from the NES Zelda and took it to


a side-scrolling perspective, put it in an underwater setting, used tunnel level design


(think of the underwater levels from Donkey Kong Country but far more flourished),


and used huge interconnectable maps. Now the botherable thing about this is that 2


out of these 3 games are by independent developers. I mean Aquaria was made by


2 people in 2 years and truly did something new and phenomenal with the


action-adventure genre in the 2D spectrum. However IGA can barely change the


Castlevania formula as every new entry to the series has been riding on Symphony


of the Night's tailcoat save Portrait of Ruin (even then it didn't really do too much


new).


Now please don't think of me as some 2D fanatic who only plays 2D games and


hates 3D games. The think of me as of that would be ridiculous. I love games like


the Metal Gear Solid series, Half-Life series, Team Fortress 2, and what not. Hell


I'm not different then any other gamer you see posting in the forums, I mean if I


didn't like 3D games then why would I even own recent consoles? Wouldn't I just


game on handhelds as well as only play retro games? Sorry if this sounded too


forced and out-of-the-blue but I don't want anybody to get the wrong idea here.


Sorry if this sounded too forced and out-of-the-blue but I don't want anybody to get


the wrong idea here.


Also I in no way am belittling games that still use the tried and true design. After


all if it's still fun and entertaining then there can't be too much wrong with it.


Though I am just being bothered by such very little games over the past years


taking a step up from those designs.


When I started writing this article it I noticed a recent resurge of production valued


2D games. This was in the effect of handhelds being taken more seriously, the


upbringing of the Fighting genre, and titles like Starcraft II and Warioland Wii being


shown. Very little time has past since then and more huge hitters like Megaman 9


and Diablo III get confirmed and revealed to be in tradional 2D design. Though I am


excited to play these games, I am somewhat disapointed. Take Megaman 9 for


instace, why I applaud Capcom with the awesome retro throwback, a part of me


wished for the game to use the Wii remote for 360 degree shooting. As for Diablo


III well Blizzard hasn't shown everything about it yet however Blizzard knows how


rough around the edges their fans are so I doubt they'll take too many risks (I


mean hell they are pentioning against the game being too colorful...). And just


think about it, the examples I gave were just some things 2D games could do.


Could you imagine if a game where to came out that used Z-Axis travel, huge


map design, combined multiple genres together, had spectacular presentation,


used good physics and great A.I., and its design was matured? Personally I doubt


that anyone could imagine what sort of game that would be like.



Developers and publishers usually avoid retail for consoles and PC's when releasing


games in the 2nd dimension. When asked why the mostly give the hint that too


many people think that because the games are in 2D that they assume that they will


play like Super Nintendo games and therefore won't buy them. The funny thing is that most of these games


essentially do.

Posted by Punk Rebel Ecks Fri, 04 Jul 2008 05:35:29 (comments: 18)
next >>
 
Fri, 04 Jul 2008 15:13:59
Punk guess this one. Ptatforming like Mario. Shooting like Contra and item collectio like Zelda. Which game am I talking about?
 
Fri, 04 Jul 2008 15:59:04
Metroid?
 
Fri, 04 Jul 2008 17:56:03
Blog is epic.
 
Fri, 04 Jul 2008 18:00:49
Yay! Thanks. Grinning

So what you think about the topic gamingeek, agree, disagree?
 
Fri, 04 Jul 2008 20:03:34
What happend to the formatting.  Anyway I read it and totally agree.  There is still plenty of areas to explore in 2D games, for some reason people think we dont want to see it.  There is no reason why every 2D game must play like every old 2D game, they can make a 2D game as complex as any 3d game today.  As for MM9 I love the idea cause the concept of that is to go back to simplicity. But for say a new Zelda 2D game it should be as grand and epic as any of the 3D ones, but they just get shorter and easier.
 
Fri, 04 Jul 2008 21:11:31
Exactly. I mean why not the move to put the 2D Zelda series in an isometric type viewpoint with a splendid camera system? Have Link be able to interact with everything with destructable enviornments as well as a great physics system. Why isn't there more of an inclusion of different layers (yes they've been toying with this, but why not make it more standard?)

I could go on, but the things that would impress us the most are the things we couldn't think of (I mean isn't Nintendo known for that?).

I mean the DS is a full generation in specs over the GBA. Some games get this Apollo Justice/Phoenix Wright (though to be far this series was on the GBA but it was WAY ahead of its time), The World Ends With You, Hotel Dusk & Megaman ZX from talks, Lunar Knights, Yoshi's Island DS, and a few others do, but most just haven't taken a hint.

I mean the technology is there why not use it?
 
Fri, 04 Jul 2008 21:15:22
Anyway I just hope that the progression of the DS's games goes on as some are really breaking many molds in terms of production values.

I just really hope that with Nintendo's next handheld 2D won't fade away like it did with the N64. Then again the PSP has a steady list of 2D titles.
 
Fri, 04 Jul 2008 21:22:22
Yep Metroid is the correct answer. The reason castlevania is not evolving is because they fail in 3D and metroid has not evolved a lot in 2D, so they can't steal any ideas from there.

P.S. the most awesome 2D game I played, are the 2D gravity levels in Super Mario Galaxy. Platforming upside down FTW!
 
Sat, 05 Jul 2008 05:46:47
Gravity. I could see many 2D games using this.
 
Sat, 05 Jul 2008 08:46:39
Did you read my idea for a game to use gravity in GG weekly at 1up a few weeks ago?
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