3D in Strategy Games

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Carmine
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Greetings Armchair Arcade!

I was wondering if any other gamers saw the advent of 3D views in turn based and real time strategy games as a poor choice, perhaps even a devolution.

My knowledge base is not quite that of a true game historian, but I was coming into my gaming own during the mid-nineties when the industry was struck hard with three dimensional fever due to the success of Doom, Mario 64, Virtua Fighter and others. I thought it was great for those genres, but I never thought it necessary for strategy games, because I think strategy games immerse the player by way of an omniscient point of view rather than first person or "hey look I'm in the world now!" technique.

When Myth: The Fallen Lords came out everyone seemed to lose their minds over how advanced and unique and mindblowing the interface was. And it WAS. You could rotate the camera anywhere, pan it up and down, etc. It was a whole new way of experiencing a strategy battle on the computer. To me however, this feature was motivated by the game's overall concept. Myth is not about collecting and managing resources so you can beat your opponent in an arms race. It's about managing single units, having more control over them and emphasizing tactics therein. It makes sense to bring the player closer to his units in this case, because the game isn't trying to represent a massive war being waged over islands and mountain ranges etc. This all made sense to me and I think it was a great game.

Fast forward a couple of years and series' that were once 2D isometric views are now 3D. Examples of this are Civilization 4, Warcraft 3, Starcraft 2, and most regrettably Heroes of Might and Magic 5. These games are not about tightening the player's control on individual units and finessing small unit tactics. Most, like Warcraft, are about harvesting resources and pumping out units and technology in the most efficient manner. They are still much more about the "massive scale warfare" style of game than Myth, and honestly, feel less epic and fail to immerse me in the grandiose way the older 2D interfaces did. In Heroes of Might and Magic 3 I felt like I was often warring for control over a region the size of Eastern Europe whereas in Heroes 5 it feels like I'm trying to knock over Santa Barbara county. My experience isn't enhanced at all by the fact that I can drop the camera down to see each tree swaying in the wind, because to me we play upon maps in these games not run around in a fully modeled world.

Anyway I'm rambling. In essence some of my favorite series' lost some of their true identity for the sake of "keeping with the times." Is the current game industry one that demands every good game must be 3D?

Matt Barton
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I agree. Rejecting 2D as

I agree. Rejecting 2D as "old-fashioned" even when it makes perfect sense is just silly. I recently completed both New Super Mario Bros Wii (2D) and Super Mario Galaxy (3D). I'd say these are two different gameplay styles that are distinct enough to resist lumping them together in any single category of game (i.e., platformers). I enjoyed both, and surprisingly found Galaxy much easier (though many have complained about the great difficulty of NSBW). Nevertheless, the controls felt tighter and the challenges much more obvious in NSBW than Galaxy. I often felt in Galaxy that the difficulty was struggling with the camera and controls, whereas in NSBW the controls and camera felt tight. I also think a 2D game allows you focus attention better on precise jumping/timing sequences, whereas the 3D tends to draw your attention to the game world. When playing a 2D game, I tend to focus on the edge of the screen, whereas with a 3D game I tend to focus on what's happening right in front of my character.

I think "dumbing down" is really just a loaded term intended to get people upset. It's really just a different gameplay style, one focused more on action than on contemplation. It's possible to think of a purely turn-based game as just one big game of chess, with opportunities at each turn to take a break, think about the next move, etc. Some people are bored or irritated by that stuff and don't feel as immersed as if they are "in the game," running around with a sword or some such. I'd rather feel like a general playing these games than a soldier, which is probably why I prefer games like Company of Heroes to Call of Duty.

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Bill Loguidice
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Not necessarily a dumbing down
Rowdy Rob wrote:

I think the real problem you guys are having with these 3D games is not the 3D itself, but the "dumbing down" of the gaming experience to suit the masses. Using 3D to add "pizazz" at the expense of depth of gameplay is what's happening to a large majority of releases recently.

In my case, this is not true. In my case, it is strictly about being able to see more/better in 2D than 3D, i.e., being restricted to a single viewing angle. It's why I like Worms better in 2D than 3D. It's why I like Lemmings better in 2D than 3D. Etc.

The reason why I like my Super Mario games better in 2D than 3D is because I get lost in the 3D ones. There's too much to do, too many places to go. I like the "restriction" in 2D.

The other factor is as you say, a 3D game is typically different than a 2D one. A 3D Mario is a different game than a 2D Mario. A 3D Metroid is different than a 2D Metroid. A 3D Castlevania is different than a 2D one (they've never been able to make a good version of the former).

I guess the MAIN point is, at least in SOME of the cases, some games have been created in 3D for the sake of creating them in 3D. There's also the factor of playing games on a monitor versus a television. Even with a big HD TV (in my case, 50" at roughly 10 feet away), there are certain game types that I struggle with playing (RTS) versus a monitor where you're close up, simply because the pieces become too small and the screen too cluttered. What would mitigate that would be having a clear 2D playfield with larger pieces. Even many board games suffer from going 3D when they really should just be 2D. They can be tough to see. My favorite example of this (though old at this point) is Wrath Unleashed, which was a spiritual successor to Archon, but very much a disaster because the board - which should have been in 2D (the 3D battles could have stayed, push come to shove) - was impossible to make out what was what (again, at least for me).

It's an old argument and one I've (and we've) certainly made before. Just like deciding what art style to go with, what engine to use, etc., deciding on the perspective is critically important. Sometimes restricting your game - even if it's made entirely of polygons - to a 2D plane is the best way to go. Like I said, I do see this trend becoming more and more frequent, where it's not the whiz-bang tech that's driving design (after all, we haven't had a technological breakthrough the equivalent of the transition from sprites to polygons in ages, so it's only natural that things would start to settle down), but what works best for the game. You can still have something look amazing and look state-of-the-art.

The only time I can think of the experience being "dumbed down" is in the case of today's RPG's versus classic RPG's, but it's arguable that that's more streamlining than dumbing down. I'd be hard pressed to call a game like say, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, or Fable II, dumbed down (depth-wise) in any way from what came before. They're just different.

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Rowdy Rob
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3D can be MORE clear on a 2D surface
Keith Burgun wrote:

Clarity is extremely important in an RTS game - possibly more so than any other genre. 3D graphics on a 2D surface (a monitor) are ALWAYS less clear than 2D graphics on a 2D surface. StarCraft 1 is far more clear than StarCraft 2, but a game with pixel art or solid-color vector art would be even more clear. It's time that game developers stopped letting technology drive their artistic choices and started going with what's best.

I ask you this, which is clearer: Super Mario Galaxy, or Super Mario Brothers?

I must disagree (a bit) with this point. 2D visuals, at times, OBSCURED the action in games, and in these cases, I longed for a 3D camera view (or at least a game engine that allowed the action to be viewed from a different perspective). In several 2D games I've played, the perspective was from a 3/4 perspective, and when your characters walked behind a wall (or building), you couldn't see them. Sometimes, there was a DOOR on the side of the building that the player couldn't see!!!

I've been playing "Company of Heroes," a WWII-based RTS game, and it uses 3D polygons, but looks just as good as any 2D RTS I've ever played, if not better. It's not perfect, but it's no worse than a 2D game engine that I've played. And because the engine is polygon-based, it allows for more functionality (and graphical/physics effects) than what I've seen in a 2D-based game.

As for Super Mario Galaxy, I've never played it, but what I've seen really looks cool, and it delivers a different game experience than the original 2D Super Mario Bros. game. The 3D game engine allows for a wide variety of gameplay mechanics that would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in a 2D environment.

I think the real problem you guys are having with these 3D games is not the 3D itself, but the "dumbing down" of the gaming experience to suit the masses. Using 3D to add "pizazz" at the expense of depth of gameplay is what's happening to a large majority of releases recently.

Keith Burgun
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3D Graphics on a 2D surface...

Clarity is extremely important in an RTS game - possibly more so than any other genre. 3D graphics on a 2D surface (a monitor) are ALWAYS less clear than 2D graphics on a 2D surface. StarCraft 1 is far more clear than StarCraft 2, but a game with pixel art or solid-color vector art would be even more clear. It's time that game developers stopped letting technology drive their artistic choices and started going with what's best.

I ask you this, which is clearer: Super Mario Galaxy, or Super Mario Brothers?

Carmine
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Joined: 09/05/2010
Hmmmm I do agree that the

Hmmmm I do agree that the interface or view should best suit the type of game. That's a good way of putting it in perspective. When making a movie scene, be it the picture edit or writing a shotlist, you ask yourself, "What is this scene really about? How can I use my tools to bring it forth for the audience to feel?" I think the same goes for game design. A more modern example of this would be Shadow of the Colossus. Every aspect of that game stems from the core concepts behind it and the result is a work of art.

I hadn't thought much about it yet, but Bill does point out an interesting trend in games, particularly those in XBLA respecting roots and understanding their identity. However I feel as though 2D, and turned based for that matter, strategy games have been left behind by this trend. Side scrolling beat em ups have seen a revival with Castle Crashers and Braid and Shadow Complex certainly got the attention they deserved, but I don't think it's crossed any publisher's mind that 3D took anything away from the strategy genre. I'm not sure why this is, I can just feel it. Any insights? I brought it up here on this forum because I've never seen or heard anyone criticize it before. I'm actually surprised to see people in agreeance.

Matt Barton
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I couldn't agree with you

I couldn't agree with you more, Carmine. So many developers (or probably the publishers) have pushed the latest graphical innovations whether or not they made ANY sense for the game in question. How much sense did Metroid Prime really make? As it happens, it was a playable and fun game, but would anyone have been disappointed by another 2D Metroid (I think not given the hooplah over the latest Metroid game). Bill already mentioned New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The thing is, perspective isn't just "obsolete or advanced," it's a radical shift in the gameplay.

Bill is 100% correct--you go with the perspective best suited for the game. I enjoy being able to move the camera around and such, but if it gets annoying to do that (or it's irrelevant), just give me 2D or isometric. I don't want to be fighting a camera all the time like I did with Dragon Age.

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Bill Loguidice
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We were actually discussing

We were actually discussing something similar in another topic a few days back. While your statement, "Is the current game industry one that demands every good game must be 3D?", was all too true even a year or two back, I think recent trends indicate a shift in the other direction, and one that we've advocated for countless years here at Armchair Arcade, which is simply to use the viewpoint or perspective best suited for the game, not just 3D for the sake of 3D. New Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter IV, Braid, Limbo, Peggle, etc., are all fairly recent and popular examples of games - big budget and small, targeted to hardcore gamers and casual gamers - that, while sometimes offering polygonal elements rather than just sprites, still kept to a mostly 2D plane/playing field, and were the better games for it. I think publishers realize now (for the most part) that a particular game will not sell better just because it's fully 3D, complete with movable camera, etc.; it will sell better if it's a better game with the correctly chosen design, including perspective and playfield type. With all of that said, there is still a ways to go before it's a universal truth, and I think you correctly point out that in certain game series and even genres, developers/publishers are still struggling with maximizing modern technical elements with classically proven gameplay. I wouldn't lose hope though, because like I said, I think we are seeing positive trending...

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