2D Gaming Makes Unexpected Comeback

2D Gaming Makes Unexpected Comeback

With all the talk lately surrounding 3D gaming and 3D video game systems like the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo 3DS, it bears repeating: Even in 2010, 2D games remain 100% relevant, thanks to a variety of original free 2D online games, top new releases and retro remakes/updates that wow with their old-school 2D game play and charm. (Not to mention a number of effortless and intuitive new ways to enjoy the best 2D games of yesteryear courtesy of digital distribution, online game downloads and software emulators.) As our friends at 2D-X were kind enough to point out in a recent clip, The State of 2D Games remains perfectly healthy today, buoyed by a recent rise in interest in retro gaming classics; upswing in independent game development for the iPhone, iPad and other mobile and smartphone platforms; and a number of new 2D titles such as Super Street Fighter IV, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and Mega Man 10 (this last one styled to look like a long-lost Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) cartridge).

We highly recommend giving the article a read: As it points out, 2D games aren’t just easier and cheaper to make and generally focus more on top-notch gameplay than audiovisual gimmicks, offering indie game makers with innovative ideas a possible backdoor into an industry otherwise dominated by big-budget blockbuster productions. They’re often even prettier to look at than 3D games, depending on your preferred artistic tastes, and can many times be more engaging and user-friendly. On top of this, 2D MMORPGs and other forms of new 2D games found online (some of the best including social network games and free online games which run right in your Web browser) also remind us of a simple fact. Specifically, that 2D gameplay was never broken to begin with, and remains as aesthetically and conceptually relevant today as the day it was invented. Small wonder then that the feature basically sums up the current state of the 2D world as follows: “Nostalgia combined with slight tints of innovation.” Those who grew up worshiping at the altar of the Atari 2600 and Sega Genesis should consider it ample reason to keep the torch burning.

The State Of 2D Video Games

Critical Hit — By Jeffrey L. Wilson on January 2, 2010 at 11:12 am

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I don’t think everything needs to be 3D, or that just because we’re seeing more 2D games now, that everything’s going to shift back to 2D. I think that what’s going on is that people are realizing the benefits of a 3D game, and at the same time, remembering what the benefits of 2D games were. When going to 2D, you need the courage to not be so attached to visual appearance of the games and to really pursue the gameplay experience. –  Shigeru Miyamoto

2009, for many of us that still cling with warm hearts to gameplay styles of days past, was a banner year for 2D video games. In fact, it would be relatively safe to say that 2009 was the  return of the 2D game. There wasn’t just a splattering of 2D titles in niche genres; it was an industry-wide renaissance.

Fighting games were represented with the marvelous Street Fighter IV, the beautifully spastic BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, and the criminally underrated King of Fighters XII. The masterful Shadow Complex held down the action realm. Dungeon Fighter Online magically blended a traditional beat ‘em up with MMO elements. Downtown Smash Dodgeball displayed the power of 8-bit-styled, arcade sports. Plants vs. Zombies proved to be one of the most accessible tower defense games ever crafted. Scribblenauts forged a new genre.

So how was it that 2D games, which were the primitive, outdated black sheep within the gamingverse since the rise of the Nintendo 64/PlayStation, have become the darlings of the  industry? The answers are many.

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The Eternal 2D Style
“It was never broken to begin with– 2D art never goes out of style, and 3D doesn’t necessarily mean better,” said Scott Steinberg, publisher, Digital Trends. “Adding another dimension doesn’t mean you’ll get higher quality art, and in some cases you’ll see a drop off in quality.”

Fifteen years ago, with the rise of polygon-based games, developers abandoned the sprite and 2D gameplay in favor of the fresh 3D technology that was pushed to move systems. The push for games that replicated the look and feel of the real world, unfortunately produced a slew of first-generation games that, in retrospect, look absolutely brutal.

“3D requires a much greater suspension of disbelief because realism is what you’re shooting for,” said Steinberg. “2D is a much more whimsical, natural style, so you’re willing to let your mind wander.”

Some modern 3D games, despite the advancement in visuals, still have to overcome the challenges of polygon clipping, awkward character models or movement, and problematic camera angles.  Other than animation, 2D games rarely, if ever, had to deal with these issues.

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Indie Developers’ Impact On 2D Games
Gaming’s biggest boon in recent years wasn’t the product of the traditional video game house, but a computer company from Cupertino, California: Apple. The iPhone/iPod touch “apps” platform is the enabler for  a number of indie developers (who wouldn’t otherwise have an ecosystem to create and sell product) to crop up and thrive.

For example, Red Knight’s Arr! Pirates vs. Aliens used cartoony visuals and a simple control scheme to create an incredibly accessible and time-consuming title. These casual and semi-casual mobile games often cost less to develop than a 3D title, which increases the company’s profitability.

“[3D is] more expensive and time consuming to produce,” said Steinberg. “So what you’re seeing is the resurgence of indie games, small titles, downloadables, and teams returning to this comfy 2D feel.”

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8-bit Love
20- and 30-somethings with nostalgic memories of two-decade-old computers and consoles have reclaimed the lo-res, lo-fi visuals of yesterday to produce stunning sprite work, chiptunes, and de-makes of popular 3D games.  There is a desire to call the 8-bit revival a fad, but the attention and loving care applied to these works makes it difficult to brand it as such.

“The keen simplicity of 8-bit graphics is lodged deep within my psyche as a symbol of what gaming is without its hype, graphics comparisons, DLC, online cretins, and fanboys,” said Brittany “Molotov Cupcake” Vincent, co-Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Spawnkill.

The 8-bit movement extended to developers that are attempting to recapture past magic. Capcom, after years of fending off criticism that it tanked the Mega Man franchise, sought redemption with Mega Man 9, a brutally tough (yet thoroughly satisfying) game that featured the Blue Bomber returning to his NES roots, complete with glorious 8-bit visuals. The game proved so popular the Capcom recently announced a sequel (the appropriately titled Mega Man 10), that maintains the old school look and feel. Miracle Kidz, a development team made of ex-Technos workers, returned to 8-bit shenanigans with the Downtown Smash Dodgeball, which borrowed heavily from the now-Million-owned Super Dodge Ball license that they created two decades earlier.

For gamers like Vincent, 8-bit represents gaming in its purest form. Graphic whores, meg counts, and excessive hype hadn’t yet polluted the hobby; fans loved their favorite titles because of the fun factor.

“8-bit is real–no bells and whistles, just you and great gameplay,” said Vincent. “And I think that’s something that could only be accomplished via the look and feel of where the heart of gaming used to lie.”

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The Future Of 2D Video Games

So where does this leave us as we prepare to enter a new decade of gaming? The evolution of 2D video games may require a successful melding of the old and the new to not only appeal to fans of the style, but to attract those that may not normal give 2D titles a fair shake.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii has arrived to appropriately glowing reviews, some of which attest to the game’s place alongside the original “canon” of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World as one of the series’ true gems,” said Matthew Kaplan of Gameinmind. “Ever since Super Mario 64 came along and shattered expectations about what a platformer could be when thrust into three dimensions, the Mario series–and perhaps Nintendo as a whole–has struggled to reconcile its “vintage” 2D gameplay with more technologically impressive 3D games.”

Where New Super Mario Bros. Wii succeeded, according to Kaplan, is that it successfully balanced the past and the present. Gamers were instantly drawn to the traditional side-scrolling hop-n-bop gameplay, but modern technological achievements enabled 4 player co-op that allowed players to work together to discover secrets.

And this, for better or worse, is the state of 2D platforming today: nostalgia combined with slight tints of innovation,” said Kaplan.

About Scott Steinberg
Scott Steinberg is CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global, and a noted keynote speaker and business expert. Hailed as a top tech expert and parenting guru by critics from USA Today to NPR, he’s also an on-air analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN.

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