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Experienced Points: Long Live 2D

By Shamus
on Friday Sep 4, 2009
Filed under:


This one is on my longing to see more elegant 2D games.

Below is some blather that didn’t fit in the article:

Velvet Assassin is the perfect example of the “hard to learn, easy to master”. Well, it’s not really hard to learn, but there are a lot of gameplay elements. You’re a swiss army knife, but there’s usually only one proper tool for the job. Gameplay consists of choosing that tool and using it. This is very different from (say) Mario, where you have one verb (jump) that can be used to accomplish many different things. It’s also different from a game like Thief, where the game presents you with a single obstacle but gives you a half dozen tools for the job:

A guard, standing in the open on a tile floor in a lit room:

1) Make a sound to lure him away and then sneak by.
2) Use a regular arrow to kill him.
3) Find another route.
4) Use water arrow to put out a light, and when he goes to investigate or re-light it, sneak by
5) Use a moss arrow to soften the floor, then sneak behind him and bop on head
6) If you’re an idiot, swordfight him.

Super Mario has one tool used in a half dozen ways. Thief gives you a half dozen tools and lets you weigh the trade-offs in using each of them. Velvet Assassin gives you six different things to do, and then makes you choose (or sometimes guess) the one and only tool that works on the given obstacle. Velvet Assassin is a three-dimensional game with one dimensional gameplay.

Comments (27)

  1. Rutskarn says:

    I hate those kinds of games. I hate them a LOT.

  2. Fred says:

    Actually, if someone made a new version of Planescape: Torment, I’d be in heaven. That game is still one of the best rpg’s I’ve ever played. I get a warm fuzzy feeling anytime I hear someone talk about it.

  3. Kdansky says:

    You could have mentioned the reason for 3D games being so complex to pull of from a control-perspective. Our input options are either 1D (buttons), or 2D (mouse/gamepad), and our output is 2D (screen). Of course having 3D content to interact with through less dimensions is troublesome. It’s like driving a car with only one eye and no analog steering control. Can be done, but it’s damn hard.

    Sadly, there has not been anything even slightly as good as Planescape Torment during the last years.

  4. Rutskarn says:

    Dammit, if I could find a copy of Planescape that wasn’t marked up all to hell, I’d be all over that mess. Supposedly some Frys stock old copies of it, but my local is completely dry.

  5. radio_babylon says:

    I don’t know why things went this way. We managed to invent the automobile without throwing away all the bicycles, why couldn’t we have 3D games without giving up the 2D ones?

    easy answer: graphics whores. i know that sounds flip, but im absolutely serious… the whole “graphics whore” culture, created by 3dfx/rendition and shrewdly continued by nvidia/ati, destroyed pc gaming. theyre STILL destroying it, actually, but thankfully many of them have moved on to console-brand-advocacy as an outlet for their nerd rage.

    (as an aside, if you want to play a fan-freaking-tastic 2d game, check out gratuitous space battles. it has completely eaten my gaming time the last few days.)

  6. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Planescape Torment, or Fallout…

    Or… *gasp* Vampire Bloodlines! I want another game like this one… :(

  7. Magnus says:

    I would definately like to chime in that graphics have taken the main stage for FAR too long.

    I’ve been playing the rather wonderful Ben There, Dan That and it’s sequel Time Gentlemen, Please! and they’re fantastic adventure games in 2D and with text rather than voices.

    This allows for easy world creation, plenty of dialogue and cheap startup costs, which has made them a fair few English Pounds to rub together.

    If they’d decided to make a spangly 3D voice acted thing, it would take them forever to make, cost much more, and therefore they’d get less profit out of it (not that profit is the only motive, but it does help a bit!).

    Many other developers should look at the possibilities to use simpler or more stylised graphical systems in order to make a beautiful or quirky looking game without having to gamble your future on one project. The lower costs would allow for greater risk taking as there would be less on the line if it fails.

    Also, I seem to have cast “wall of text”. Sorry.

  8. Sam says:

    In response to your question at the end of your article, I wouldn’t resurrect any classic 2D title. I love the older days of gaming. I still have my old NES from 1990 or so, and if I so choose, I can haul it out of a box, pop in Megaman 2, and have endless amounts of fun. But I would never, ever want anybody to “update” the game by bringing it back with spiffy new 2D graphics, a fully orchestrated soundtrack, and particle effects the like of which have never been seen before. 2D games to me have their charm because of their simplicity. Or, at least, their relative simplicity to the games of today. I love many old games, but I wouldn’t want to see them updated. If they’re just rereleased (as the Wii Shop Channel used to do before it was overrun with user-made content), I’d be happy. But updating these games is entirely unnecessary. Just look at the unfortunate case of TMNT: Turtles in Time. The game was fine, even great, as it was, but it was rereleased with a coat of pseudo-3D graphics on it, and it (to me) looks hideous. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    I do agree with you, though, that there should be more 2D games released. I applaud Capcom for Megaman 9. It was a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stagnant gaming world. A ridiculously difficult breath of fresh air, but fresh nonetheless.

    Two consecutive casts of “wall of text.” You are now stunned for 1d6+1 rounds.

  9. Nate says:

    I’m not sure how you can discuss 2d gaming without bringing up rougelikes. By abandoning graphics and relying entirely on procedural content they can be very cheap to produce (as little as 12 days for a single programmer) and have nearly infinite replayability.

    A commercial game would need a good tileset, but once you had a good proprietary engine you could reuse it allmost endlessly with different tilesets and item and monster lists. You could also sell to anyone with a computer ratherr than only those with high end gaming machines, which will only become more important in the present economy.

  10. SAJ says:

    Two-D games are still around…. look at the success of Popcap. I don’t think any of the games I have looked at on their site are 3D.

    Plants vs Zombies? Fantastic modern 2D goodness.

    Just two nights ago, I downloaded Pixeljunk Monsters on my PS3–it looks 2D to me.

    Maybe you are wondering where the AAA titles in 2D have gone? I guess they are things of the past, but the so-called casual games are often in 2D.

  11. Heron says:

    I think Trine is a good example of a “return of 2D” game (even though I only played the demo). The game is Mario-like in that you’re playing in a 2-dimensional space, but the graphics are 3-dimensional.

    I was going to go on, but you should just grab the demo and try it yourself…

  12. Mark says:

    You’ve been saying a lot about the Thief series recently, Shamus. Is there anything to that?

  13. Maldeus says:

    Thief 4 is coming out soon, isn’t it? I don’t really keep track of that one, being I haven’t been able to get my hands on the first three yet, and the Pirate Bay continues to tempt me with it’s honey-tongued offers of instant access at no personal cost and negligible odds of negative consequences. Blackguards.

    Anyway, is there any reason you only get two pages, Shamus? Others on the Escapist put three or four out pretty regularly.

  14. Benny Pendentes says:

    From the main article: is Rage’s “virtual texturing” the same thing as “procedurally generated textures”? I’m off to read up on it now, but thought your viewpoint might make more sense than half the stuff I’ll find so it’s worth a shot asking.

  15. Groboclown says:

    @Benny Pendentes
    Rage’s “virtual texturing,” as I understand it, allows artists to create textures as large as they want, and the vitural texturing code shrinks it down to a scale appropriate for the player’s machine.

  16. TehShrike says:

    Triplane Turmoil! You fly a little triplane from the side view – you control the plane by pulling up, pointing down, and rolling. You can fire bullets and drop bombs.

    I played the battles a ton – the game would split the screen into thirds, horizontally, like so: http://koti.mbnet.fi/jonneweb/img/pelit/kuvat__/triplane_turmoil.jpg

    When you flew off the right side of one third of the screen, you showed up on the left side of the section below. It was awesome.

    The other 2D game that I played a ton of was Liero – it’s like Worms, but in real-time. Ninja ropes, tunneling, and tons of weapons. I rocked.


    Side note: to my surprise, both of these awesome games were made by small Finnish developers. Weird.

    Side side note: both games are, at this time, FREE! Go play them.

  17. Scourge says:

    In Response to #9:

    I also had the idea, one nifty engine that creates a whole gameworld randomly, with only a few maps pre definied. Random Monsters, time (Sci fi, fantasy, medieval, etc)
    The idea was that you could save your world you tuned to your liking and send the file to someone else so they could load it up with the engine.

    After thinking some more about it did I realize how difficult that will be though.
    If someone would manage to create such an engine, with all content created when you wanot to, then that would be a very successfuöl company since you can easily make games with low cost, and probably low space, all they would need is the engine, and perhaps not even that
    *pointing to .kkrieger, a 469kb 3-d shooter game that looks like from 2003*

  18. kelvingreen says:

    See also the rise of 3D animation, to the extent that you barely see any proper 2D animated films any more, unless it’s from Japan.

  19. Sydney says:

    “Read” Yahtzee’s take? It wasn’t an article, dude.

  20. Volatar says:

    I have recently been playing AI War a TON. Great game.

    Basicly, its a 2d co-op macromanagment space RTS. Without enough time to describe it fully, I will just point you to it and say that it is totally freaking awesome.


  21. David V.S. says:

    Back when Tetris was big and Welltris made its brief debut into video arcades, as a mathematician I wondered about a 4D version.

    What if the screen worked as in Welltris, but what you were actually seeing was only 3 of 4 dimensions? This would be frustrating, for falling pieces would appear to get stuck for no visible reason.

    But adding two more buttons for rotating the view along this new dimension would yield a game that was easy to program and made mathematical sense. Would playing it, especially if a kid started at a young age, allow someone to more easily mentally picture a 4D shape?

  22. Benny Pendentes says:


    This goes off-topic, but your post reminded me of something from back around when I first read ‘Flatland’:

    I recall a series of exercises I read about around 1980 where you would picture 3D figures (sort of like complicated multicolored 3D Tetris pieces) in various rotations, and it would train your visualization capabilities. Then there was a section on how each dimension looked when it transected another dimension: a line through a plane is a dot, a plane through a plane is a line, a solid through a plane is a polygon,… the point being that there was some sort of space where a 4D object pushed into a 3D space would look like a system of spheres or cubes or something. Then there was a bunch of new age speculation, trying to establish that a hypersphere would look like a (Newtonian) atom or a solar-system when constrained to 3 dimensions. There were analogies about how if you stuck your fingers through a plane, they would each make a shape that appeared to be independent to someone who lived in the plane, who was oblivious to the greater truth of the whole hand… so (they posited) there must be some ‘greater truth’ of 4D reality, where unconnected things in 3D were just projections of objects in 4D. This continued upwards until somewhere down the line you get a Supreme Being that is an infinite-D object reflecting off of itself through infinite dimension reductions to create the complexity of the universe.

    There were programs in the book that I typed into my Atari 400 and saved on tape. They rendered very crude approximations of the ideas in the book, eventually devolving into ‘trippy’ computer art display. (YMMV as to how ‘trippy’ 16 color / 320*192 pixel graphics could be.)

  23. Vegedus says:

    Wow, that article really struck a chord with me. I agree a hundred percent… about everything. 3D games are great, but we need 2D too! 2D games have an odd purity about them. Newer games are often hard to learn (or at least takes a good while and amount of tutorials) but easy to master. Yup, you’re a goddamn mindreader.

    However, I do believe the seeds for this kind of development have been sown. Nintendo released New Super Mario Bros for the DS, which were a true blood 2D game. There’s GTA: Chinatown wars for the same platform, which looks very much like the old Grand Theft Autos. Now there’s that new metroid Other M thing, that also looks to be a return to the original Metroid style. Personally, I never felt that the prime series was really “metroid” but that’s besides the point. And the quite large amount of titles in the casual and indie industry shows there’s definitely a market for it. Braid received about as much coverage as many mainstream titles when it came out.

  24. rofltehcat says:

    I bought Streetfighter 4 this weekend and somehow I miss the 2D I was used to on my SNES :(
    Still a good game but I think 2D graphics could have given the game much more than that 3D-style that still tries to make everything look like comics but doesn’t really achieve that. Oh, and now everyone has dragon ball Z muscles :/

  25. Vyolynce says:

    I’m currently playing Muramasa: The Demon Blade on Wii. That’s some 2D goodness (the Vanillaware guys are kind of 2D geeks), and it’s gorgeous.

  26. Stringycustard says:

    Great 2D games are still coming out, albeit from Indie publishers. Take a look at Spelunky (http://spelunkyworld.com/). It’s a roguelike platformer with a bit of Indiana Jones in the mix. Also, still in production is a collection of games (No Quarter) which includes the likes of “Hitlers Must Die” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoKSCbNyjgA)

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