2D TO 3D
people wonder why it has taken so long to get to where we are now in terms
of graphics capabilities. I mean, why can't you just 'draw' a 3D image?
The reason, at least in the early days was both a lack of computing power
and that much research was necessary in the 3D programming field also.
When computers first started being used as gaming devices, something that
is nearly as old as the electronic computer itself, the only thing that
could be managed was simple mono or sometimes two-colour graphics. The
reasons for this were, not just limited processing power, but also a severe
deficiency in the graphics department. These machines often had only 1kb
of memory, so dedicated video memory didn't even come into the equation.
Typical games from this era were all time greats like Space Invaders, Centipede
and Manic Miner.
things moved on over the next few years, 4 and 16 colour machines became
available to the home user. Processors of several Megahertz arrived and
memory shot up to 16kb, 48kb, 64kb and even 128kb at times. This gave rise
to games in which you could have many objects (or sprites) on the screen
at once, as well as allowing for slightly more appealing graphics. Machines
like the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 are the most famous from this
time, but, the Amstrad 464 and 6128 were also noteworthy, if a little underused.
At this point we begin to see simple attempts at 3D, Elite being a prime
example, using wire-frame graphics to generate a kind of 3D universe. Tempest
by Atari is another example.
Nintendo and Sega released the NES and Master System game consoles respectively.
Games like Hang-on, Outrun, Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog appeared looking
far better than previous computer games. These games consoles became very
popular as they were much cheaper than a conventional computer. If we move
on another year or so we see the release of the first truly great multimedia
machine. Coming from Commodore, the Amiga took the world by storm. It not
only had 256 colour capability, but, an 8 Megahertz processor, a 4 operator
sound synth and 1MB of RAM! The Atari ST was also a good machine, but,
was technically inferior. Also, around this time, the Sega Megadrive was
released as the worlds first 16-bit games console. All of these computers
used the revolutionary 68000 processor. Unforgettable games like Xenon
2, R-type, Sonic the hedgehog, Chase HQ and Outrun are typical examples.
In Outrun and Chase HQ we see the beginnings of attempts to make colour
3D-like enviroments, where the player is hurtling into the screen rather
than along it. However, this is a far cry from true 3D. This pseudo 3D
enviroment was generated using parallax scrolling backgrounds and more
detailed 2D sprites. You were limited to an extremely small degree of movement
the track or road. As we saw earlier, wireframe graphics could be used
to create proper 3D and some games did (Star Wars), but, sprites had a
more colourful and attractive look than wireframe and more computing power
was needed even yet to incorporate proper filled, flat-shaded polygons,
let alone add texture mapping and other detail.
there was room for improvement. New ways of making 3D enviroments needed
to be found. Enter the Super Nintendo with it's Mode 7 chip. This was a
special effects processor designed to 'twist' sprites and images into a
more 3D look. The effect was quite good, although it looks archaic now.
Games like F-zero used this effect to give the illusion of proper 3D. F-zero
was particularly convincing at the time. As technology developed though,
it became apparent that using polygons to make 'true' 3D enviroments was
not only more feasible, but, the only way forward from 2D sprites. Some
of the first good uses of polygon technology in games were in the likes
of StarFox on the SNES and Virtua racing on the Megadrive and in the arcades.
This was only possible using chips built into the game cartridges themselves
(the Super FX chip in StarFox and the DSP chip in Virtua racing). The popularity
of these games made it clear that this was what gamers wanted.
all this had been going on, the PC had developed from a text only 8088
business machine to the multimedia 386. The 386 was the first PC that was
really powerful enough to generate a significant number of polygons. 3D
as we now know it was beginning to take shape.