I know what you’re all doing right now. You’re all sitting there nodding your head in agreement. Yes, Ninja, three-dee really was da’ pits. It’s amazing now, but man did those graphics suck b4 the Pee-Ess-Two and Ecks-Bocks. Well I ain’t buying it! I know a Yes-Man when I see one, and you and I both know you’re full of crap.
You see, the difference between you and I is I actually thought those graphics sucked at the time they were considered amazing. This isn’t some new revelation because I can see what 3D is capable of now. I always thought this and actually preferred 2D to 3D for a very long time because of it. I can name maybe five games I thought used 3D well before around 2004 (give or take a year), and that’s pushing it.
Part of the reason I still haven’t seen Toy Story is because I think it looks like absolute garbage. That’s one of the reasons I can’t stand Donkey Kong Country either. How did any of you see what’s going on in that game? Kong looks like a ball of excrement bouncing along a plastic background. It has some of the worst, most uninteresting graphics I’ve ever seen in a video game.
The problem was the video game industry was trying to go well beyond their capabilities and those of the hardware they were using. Both video game companies and movie studios, at the time, either wanted to create a 2D animation look and feel or make 3D look realistic. Why? Here was this new medium and rather than seeing what it could do in its own right, they wanted to recreate what could already be done better through other means.
Did any of you actually look at some of the crap they passed off as amazing? Go back and play some of those old games. Download them on your new-age systems. GoldenEye? Mystaria (a.k.a. Blazing Heroes)? Legend of Dragoon?! More games that look like a blotchy polygon mess! Sure they were playable (some of them). Some were even fun to play, but those graphics were atrocious even then.
I’m sure many of you remember the trailer for Final Fantasy VIII. It starts off with that drumming sound. Daaah Dun Dun Dun Dah-Dun. Dun-Dun-Dun. Daaah Dun Dun Dun Dah-Dun. The other instruments kick in. Squall is standing on a boat, his blocks of hair doing their darnedest to move naturally in the wind. Then we’re treated to a montage of love, action and sorrow. We were hooked. Some of us. But you know what I remember about the trailer? My lasting first impression:
Squall looks like Chucky!
And this was supposed to be the best of the best?! At the time Square Enix (then Square) was at the forefront of great visuals in gaming. Look at how plastic those characters are with their Gumby-like limbs. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why they bothered trying to make games look realistic. And the cartoonish approach wasn’t much better. Take a look at the cover of Legend of Legaia.
What the hell is that? They look like deformed Anime characters, and Anime characters already look like deformed aliens!
And let’s not forget the crème de la crème of old 3D: disappearing, reappearing surfaces. Shouldn’t Bahamut have fallen out of the sky when, three frames into his animation, his wing suddenly vanished? Shouldn’t your character have dropped dead when the camera punched through the back of his head in .hack, leaving you to view the faux-fleshy interior of his face? Or what about when the floor randomly disappeared in some games? Sorry, Chris. Wesker’s getting away because you didn’t have the same faith Indiana did in invisible floors. (Although these glitches still haven’t been fixed, as Teach has pointed out.)
What’s more, graphics aside for a moment, most games couldn’t even perform well in their own 3D environments. Controls were clunky and sometimes broken, and the animation was just plain goofy, making for a whole list of games that people probably want to see remade. I mean, I can’t think of a darker time in video game history. There’s a whole span of years with nothing but awkward, ugly games.
There were a few titles that did things right. Rather than try and make Lara Croft look like a living human being or bring Link into 3D (don’t even get me started on the graphics in Ocarina of Time), they actually learned to use 3D well within its limitations. Metal Gear Solid comes to mind. They used somewhat stylized graphics, even for cinematic scenes, and it looked fantastic. Vagrant Story followed suit, and I still count it as having some of the best visuals in any game to-date.
I’ll admit, nowadays 3D is amazing. Games like the God of War series, Shadow of the Colossus and even Dragon Quest VIII and DeathSpank have shown us what 3D is finally capable of, realistic, cartoonish or in-between. But back in the early days of 3D there were too many limitations and too little of what was trying to be accomplished succeeded. These games were hard on the eyes and often difficult to play.
Take the Street Fighter series for example. Isn’t Super Street Fighter IV amazing? It’s the best Street Fighter game since Alpha 2. But Capcom tried 3D characters on a 2D plane once before. Anyone remember Street Fighter EX plus Alpha? What abysmal graphics that game had! The technology just wasn’t there yet.
Now I know what you’re all thinking. All right, Ninja. You’ve made your case, but these men were innovators. They paved the way for what was to come. What did you expect when this new technology was at their finger tips? Really? Do you even have to ask? All right then, but I suggest you sit down because this one is going to hurt a bit:
Don’t make the game in 3D.
Seriously. What else is there to say about it? If they couldn’t use the technology well, they shouldn’t use it at all. Test 3D on your own time, but don’t sell me your garbage experiments.
And here’s the final word:
Close your eyes and picture a 2D game you once played. Now go back and play it. The game probably looks just the way you remember it. Now try that with a 3D game of the past. I’ll bet your reaction is like most people’s: Man, I remember this game looking a lot better. Yup, and that’s what I was seeing back then when you all thought it looked epic.