To 3D or not to 3D

An article by Gabez, posted on July 15. 2004.

You decide!

3D IS THE NEW BLACK

We’ve heard it all before. 3D is the way forward, not 2D! Forget 2D! It’s ancient! It’s old news! Only baby-eating barbarians living in huts in 6th century AD England use 2D! That’s how old it is! In fact, to illustrate my point through the magic of the analogy, 2D is the man who unblocks all the waste from your toilet, and 3D is some hunky underwear model living in Madrid! Superfluous use of exclamation marks and long drawn-out analogies aside, the point is that 3D is undoubtedly the way to go.

article image
Just look how far Half-life’s graphics have come on – why shouldn’t Monkey Island be the same?
...Or is it? Okay, so admittedly 3D is necessary for games like Half-life and Black & White, but there nevertheless remains a question over whether adventure games really need it. Most of the them are, after all, just a series of locations strung together through a maze of puzzles – nothing in there to warrant fancy 3D upgrade-or-you-won’t-be-able-to-play-it graphics. The way of the adventure game needs to change, though (see my article "Evolve or die"), and so maybe the concept of using three dimensions in an adventure game needs to be more seriously addressed by this community.

FLATLAND

But before we begin on this tour de force of intellect that is this article, a brief lesson in the wonderful world of dimensions is necessary. First, what do we actually mean by three dimensions? Well – technically speaking, the computer 3D is actually 2D, as the images are presented to us on our flat screen showing only width and height, but that goes without saying really. Instead, when we say "3D" we mean that the computer visualises the object in the game as having width, height and length, which means that it can be told to, say, turn said object 90 degrees to the left, thus revealing more of the object.

article image
“Phwoar, look at those legs” – a non-cut scene screenshot from Half-life 2 demonstrating how 3D can be pushed to the most amazing limits.
In 2D terms, the computer is told nothing of the sort. If asked to turn the object it would yell back at you that it can’t, because it doesn’t have any data outside the two dimensional parameters. Instead, the animator would have to fool the player into thinking that the computer thought that there were three dimensions by, er, animating three dimensions even though, according to the computer, there are only two. Stop if I’m going too fast for you.

There also seems to be general confusion about the other dimensions out there: one rather enthusiastic forum poster called out to LucasArts to “KEEP IT 1D”. This is, of course, ridiculous, unless we want Guybrush to take the form of a line stretching out onto infinity for his next outing. Similarly, no dimensions must also be ruled out for Monkey Island 5’s graphics, as this dimension consists of but a single point in space. It would simply not suffice. The fourth dimension is time and space, which the third dimension needs in order to show change. The fifth dimension is right out.

IT'S A BIT OF FUN

Just from that very brief (and largely inaccurate, I’d wager) lesson on dimensions, we can already spot a problem for a 2D adventure game. Since the animator has to "fool" the player into thinking that the objects presented on the screen are 3D in the game world, it can seriously limit the amount of freedom the player can take in the game. The way Guybrush rotated in Escape from Monkey Island would, for example, have been very difficult to accomplish in a 2D engine. 3D can do more than rotate Guybrush, though – and it has to be said that EMI didn’t make full use of the possibilities that 3D can give.

article image
What Monkey Island 5 could look like (screenshots from Farcry).

Imagine running through Blood Island in a 3D game engine. You can hear the screams of the sea-gulls through your left speaker and the howl of the wind in your right, thanks to the 3D sound. The camera smoothly follows you as you march from the beach to the graveyard, as opposed to the old map method of transportation. Sand is kicked up beneath your feat, leaving foot-prints and sending bits of rubble everywhere. The palm-leaves rustle realistically in the breeze. You move off the path and come across a monkey, which you can view from any angle imaginable. A vampire bat dramatically swoops down and grabs the monkey. You follow it to a cliff, where you accidentally stumble and fall into the ocean.

Exciting? You betcha. Unrealistic? Not at all. Just look at Far Cry or any other modern first person shooter, where the environment is enhanced no end by the 3D engine. What’s more is that those games have to include a massive game world, whilst a 3D Monkey Island game would only have to include a gaggle of relatively small islands, meaning that more time could be spent on making the locations come alive. I mean, when you played Curse of Monkey island, did you feel like you were actually there, or did it just feel like you were controlling a 2D character through a series of rather beautiful paintings? Granted, the sound and art helped make the whole experience more groin-grabbingly engrossing, but 3D can make it feel so real you’ll never want to leave.

A SET OF GUIDLINES

article image
Myst 4 may look beautiful, but its lack of a proper 3D engine means that its beauty is still on skin-deep.

Another important point I need to make is this: there has never been a 3D Monkey Island game. Escape from Monkey Island was not 3D. It was 2D with bells on. Okay, okay, the characters may have been 3D, but nothing else was. The movies were originally 3D, but were then saved as 2D – this basically means that if I wanted to choose what I wanted to say during a cut-scene, I wouldn’t be able to. If the cut-scenes were done in 3D, this would be possible – and I know what you’re thinking – “but Gabez, then it wouldn’t have looked so good”. Wrong! 3D interactive cut-scenes can be done whilst at the same time looking fantastic. You’ll never get the cut-scene to look as good as it would were it done in the “3D then 2D” way, but it’s worth it, I reckon, to involve the player at every possible moment. That is, after all, what makes adventure games so good.

The backgrounds were also done in this way – made in 3D, then saved as 2D, or “pre-rendered” as it’s known as in jargon land. This not only looks shite, but it also severely limits the player, as the backgrounds are nothing but just that – backgrounds. It’s hard to make the palm-tree sway in the wind, or create a dent in the side of a building when you punch it, and it’s certainly impossible to have the camera follow the protagonist as they explore the world. In fact, it’s hardly a “world” with 2D backgrounds – it’s just a series of images joined together, and that’s exactly what it feels like when you play through it.

article image
Imagine this for Monkey Island 5, only fully explorable and with everything moving. *Drools*.

3D backgrounds saved as 2D aren’t all that bad though. Escape from Monkey Island may have left a slightly bitter taste in most gamer’s mouths (although the SCUMM Bar looked nice enough inside), but that’s not to say that pre-rendered means shoddy quality. Our very own Goblin shows how 3D and 2D can merge and still look fantastic – just take a look at the art-work on his site to see what I mean. I for one won’t be complaining if Monkey Island 5 ends up looking like that.

THE HOUSE THAT TILLER BUILT

"We started off with a 2D engine, but quickly discovered that 2D animation production was too slow and would eat up too much of our budget" - Mike Kirchoff, A Vampyre Story

End quote!

There is arguably one advantage 2D has over 3D, however: 2D has more style. Ask Bill Tiller to design a house for you and he’ll most likely do it with wonky sides, probably from a weird perspective or something. Take that design to a builder and have them build that house, and it’ll most likely collapse within a few seconds. I’m sorry, but it’s true. What’s the meaning behind this analogy? Quite simple – in a 3D world, it’s harder to visualise the Monkey Island style. With 2D, you can just draw whatever and that’s that. With 3D, you have to make everything an individual object, so whilst it saves time with animations, it can take much longer with the game environment itself, and this means that developers might be more willing to cut back on style, keeping it sweet and simple for the 3D engine to handle.

Then there’s the specifications battle. Do you really want to have to go out and buy a Pentium 7 with 3 million megabytes of RAM just to play Monkey Island 5? Or do you want to play a good looking – but 2D – version that can run on your 5 year old Pentium 2? The answer, for most of you, is going to be the latter – but in asking this question, I’m assuming that 3D means high specifications, and it doesn’t necessarily have to. Nobs can be twiddled to reduce the number of polygons, making the game look mediocre but still having the all-important 3D ingredient that makes the game more absorbing. Or, like Half-life 2, the game engine can be coded so that it doesn’t depend so much on the specifications.

article image
Converting stuff like this to 3D wouldn’t be easy. It would be a shame if the CMI-esque style was dropped, but maybe the series needs to go more realistic graphic wise anyway.

And speaking of Half-life 2, have you seen those facial expressions!? I have, and when I first saw them in action I remember thinking “ooh, I wouldn’t mind seeing that for Monkey Island 5!”. This is just another benefit of 3D games – they have the power to give realism. Consideration would have to be taken to ensure that the all-important Monkey Island style was not sacrificed to make way for realism, but I believe this can be achieved with a little tender loving care.

So what does 3D mean for Monkey Island? I’ll tell you – it means freedom. It gives designers the ability to do so much more with the characters and the environment than 2D can offer. 2D adventure games won’t die out, though – they’ll live on, used by both the amateur and small developer to save money, but if the big adventure game names like Monkey Island want to keep on the cutting edge of gameplay, then they’ll need to be in real 3D. As simple as that.

Further reading: see what the Tiller man has to say about 3D in our interview with him. Also be sure to read Remzo’s article on the Cel Shading alternative.

As always, be sure to leave your opinion down below!

Next week: Gabez looks at what Sam & Max’s death really means for Monkey Island - has LucasArts killed the adventure game?

Image   Image   Image   Image   Image   Image  

Largo LaGrande July 28. 2004

Gabez I don

Rapp Scallion July 21. 2004

Well, perhaps cleaning up the game's graphics would be nice, but they would have to make it more dirty. That was one thing I didn't like about CMI. It was too clean. The pirates should have been dirtier with filthier clother etc.

PiratePrincess July 19. 2004

The CMI graphics ruled! The EMI graphics on the other hand really sucked! I mean, Guybrush'a fingers were like blocks or something! I think that the next MI should follow the CMI graphics in a 3D style (like they tried to do in EMI) but they REALLY have to do something about cleaning up the 3D graphics - add more pollies or something!

Gabez July 16. 2004

With Monkey Island sytle, I meant CMI style, as I believe that is the definitive style for the games now.. it's certainly given it all the graphical trademarks we now associate with the series. I should probably have made that clearer though. :)

Rapp Scallion July 16. 2004

"Consideration would have to be taken to ensure that the all-important Monkey Island style was not sacrificed to make way for realism, but I believe this can be achieved with a little tender loving care."

"Converting stuff like this to 3D wouldn

LucasTones July 16. 2004

I agree with Remi; I was talking to Jake back when Beyond Good and Evil came out and he was waxing lyrical about how CMI-esque it was. As regards to how you view the 3D world, Gab, perhaps like LBA 2. In this game, the viewpoint was fixed, like CMI, EMI etc - but when you press [enter] it immediately reset the view to directly behind the character. This way you could basically choose which angle you wanted to view the game from, and change it whenever you wanted, with total ease.

bondurant July 16. 2004

The debate of 3D vs 2D is irrelevant if, like EMI, the game is completely devoid of a decent script and any sense of comic timing.

If you get that right, and manage to translate the offbeat a distinctive style of the earlier games then I see no problem in going to 3D. A camera style similar to the N64 Zelda games would be an interesting departure, but at the expense of losing Guybrush's facial expressions.

But the games are more than just graphics, and have to work on all levels, or else (as essentially comedy games), they'll fall flat.

Neil Joshi July 16. 2004

Very good artical, you seemed to have covered all areas well and not only put your side of it down, but look at all angles. You've noted the advantages and disadvantages of both variables and overall, expressed which one, in your opinion, is better and why.

Whilst I don't fully agree with all of your veiws here, I can see where 3D would greatly benifit a potential Monkey Island sequel.

But I do think that a camera fully following you around may not be the best option, it may seem too much like a third person shooter or something. Unless of course you are thinking along the lines of Broken Sword 3, that whilst not the greatest game out of the three (by far) was very innovative in it's sweeping camera moves and changings of angles which I greatly appriciated Overall, I think we all want a good movie in an adventure game, and that includes dynamic veiws and ever changing scenery.

Then again, if all can't be achieved, I won't complain about static backgrounds, just as long as they're done right.

CaptainCrunch July 16. 2004

Truthfully, I hated the graphics in Mi4, but no doubt, they needed the change, I'm not saying the graphics in number 3 sucked, I loved them in fact, but the revoloution of gaming graphics are changing rapidly, soon we'll see games where your friends are saying, why are you watching that movie? Anyway, why I hated MI4 graphics so much is because, well look at it, his hair is blocky, same with his hands, Lucas Arts needs to change everything and smooth things out a bit, they may even want help from the graphics team from their Star Wars games, lol just an idea, anyway, hopefully some big changed will happen in the future.

Thrik July 16. 2004

Yeah, the previous games didn't really have particularly impressive animations because there weren't enough frames used in each animation to make it look smooth and beautiful. They are a little jerky - even in CMI.

I am personally fully in support of a totally 3D Monkey Island game. A year or so ago, I was totally against it, but now that the graphical and computational power exists to create something that is extremely realistic, it would work very well.

Take the latest unreal engine for example ( www.thrik.dodnetwork.com/gobble/ue37.jpg ). That thing can output about two million polygons in real time, using cutting edge current technology.

To put that into perspective, an average Half-Life engine based map could only handle roughly nine HUNDRED polygons before starting to choke. All the detail you saw in any Counter-Strike, Half-Life, Day or Defeat or Natural Selection map only came to about 900 polygons on screen. Needless to say, the potential for what can be done with a couple of million is astounding.

I said this over at the GFN once, and I'll say it here - Grim Fandango's 3D pre-rendered graphics could probably be replicated in totally pannable real-time 3D in a couple of years. As in, they'd look AS good.

I personally think that if the technology we'll have at our fingertips in a couple of years, a brilliant art director, and an excellent team of writers were combined, a 5th Monkey Island could be created in real-time 3D with a more realistic style (rather than the comical effect EMI went for) more akin to LeChuck's Revenge. 3D isn't the devil of adventure gaming - it just hasn't been realised for its true potential yet.

Gabez July 16. 2004

When I said that about 2D, I meant that you draw something in 2D, it just appears as it is - and you don't have to think about the other dimensions. I didn't know that so much thought went into it anyway, though, so thanks for pointing that out. :)

I also didn't know about the 2D vs 3D animation thing - that's very interesting. I would still say that EMI had the best animation though, so maybe the previous games didn't take advantage of 2D animation like they could have... I dunno.

Paco July 16. 2004

Very very good article Gabez (like all your other articles so far).
It makes some valid points but I think it's a bit simple to say "With 2D, you can just draw whatever and that

Spit Master July 15. 2004

When I thought adventure games were dead to me, I met a game called Syberia (and now the 2). In my opinion that's a good example of evolution, instead graphics such as EMI. And I agree with with Laur, CMI still is the height of the Monkey Island style.
Between 2d and 3d graphics (all square) such as EMI, I definitely choose the old 2D.

MrManager July 15. 2004

Anybody who don't believe that the MI-feel can be re-created in 3d should check out Beyond Good & Evil. It has the artistic brilliance of CMI, yet technically lightyears more advanced. Other than the obvious advantages to a 3d engine (explorations, dynamic cameras, etc.) you get stuff like night and day which really sets the mood.

Oh, and expecting anything on a Win95 box is kind of realistic now, almost ten years after. :~

And! Of course, Gabzo is right again. ;-*

Gabez July 15. 2004

The way I imagined it was to have the camera follow Guybrush around, 3rd person shooter style.

Or you could go thr way of the 3D RTS, and have a fix perspective, but the option to rotate your view. Or something else - I dunno, but I reckon it's worth LucasArts experimenting.

And yeah, the grains of sand thing isn't really important, but I think the ability to PROPERLY explore your environment is. I wouldn't mind getting rid of the old map transportation system too - just as long as it doesn't end up like STS 3D.

LucasTones July 15. 2004

I'm liking what you're saying Gabez, and you keep making some great points. Since reading your articles, it has become clear to me what the "perfect" adventure game would be, in my eyes. Maybe I'll write it down one day.

As much as little graphical enhancements like tiny grains of sand that fly up as you run are nice, they're not necessary. But, as you say, they *can* be optional. I always find little things like that a nice suprise on console games, but on the PC its usually "oh ffs, this sand is slowing the game down >:" But, as I (and you) have said, it's optional on the PC.

With EMI, the backgrounds were pre-rendered, and the characters were 3D. This was ok, but lets suppose the backgrounds were 3D too. How would the player rotate the game world, so to speak, in order to see the backgrounds from another angle?

Mr Flibble July 15. 2004

Great article, turned my head around about 3D, but ultimately, I side with the 2D.

The MI style,( wacky misproportions) which as you said, wouldn't translate well into 3D, isn't really something I'd be prepared to compromise.

I'm biased though, because at the end of the day, I just want something to run on my old Win95. I only got to play EMI because ofthe ps2 port...

Return to previous page.