The Future of Strategy Gaming

Playing Railroad Tycoon 3 has prompted some thinking on my part. I just think that Railroad Tycoon 2 was a better looking game. Not only that, I like the feel and detail of a sprite based game better. I started doing some research on the 3D vs 2D debate and came across this interesting CGDC 97 roundtable summary

The executive summary is that there was a split in opinion on 3D vs. 2D and turnbased vs. realtime. That was over 5 years ago and Moores Law has marched on. Textures are better and higher resolution and more polys fly thru the rendering pipelines quicker. Vertex shaders and pixel shaders are now being used and it isn’t uncommon for a video card to have 128Mbyte of memory(and many times the speed of a 97 card). Still I think I prefer RRT 2 to RRT 3. I guess I’m just stuck in the past.

I think that’s due to the desire of PopTop to make it run on more machines than a particular failing of 3D graphics to replicate or better 2D.

For example, I used to look at Age of Empires and say, “Why 3D?” But if you look at Age of Mythology, it’s just as good looking, if not better, than its 2D predecessors. (In fact, Bruce Shelley was demoing Age II for me once and said something along the lines of, “I look at this and say, ‘This is gorgeous. Why do this in 3D?’”

I often prefer 2D for different reasons. I get tired of fiddling with cameras. The camera in Railroad Tycoon 3 is fine, but when I can zoom in and out and all about, for some reason I never get comfortable with one view, possible because I have too many options.

But give me 3D graphics with more fixed views a la WarCraft III, Command & Conquer Generals, and Age of Mythology, and I’m a happy camper.

steve wrote

I often prefer 2D for different reasons. I get tired of fiddling with cameras.

I agree. I do like the dynamic Level of Detail (LOD) feature so that you can zoom in and out but the rotation I could do without.

What I have noticed is that the games that I have really enjoyed graphically have all been psuedo 2D. Temple of Elemental Evil and Rise of Nations come to mind. From my dabbling in C++ programming for DirectX I’ve discovered that modern “2D” games are made using textured quads in a 3D environment. Some engines use 3D models for objects that appear on the textured quad background but these are translated into 2D and “blitted” (to use an old term) using transparency on top. I could be wrong but “Age of Mythology” and “Warcraft III” both look like they have full blown 3D engines with models and textures pulled over them. No doubt they look good but the feel and detail of the scenery just isn’t the same as a good 2D background. It’s sort of like the difference between film and video. This whole thing appies to the RPG genre as well.
Not to offend DaveC who I know is from Bioware, but I much prefer the look of the old Baldurs Gate games with their handpainted backgrounds. I’d glady give up the ability to rotate a game 360 degrees for the look of the 2D painted backgrounds

I have to disagree. Didn’t care for the RRT2 sprite engine. 3D engine is much more natural to me.

Well, I would say after playing Space Colony where the isometric view sometimes obscures the interface to point where you have to place your larger structures at the far end of the screen, the move to 3d has some upsides.

I think it’s enviable for many reasons. For one, you’re going to get skewered by reviews for being dated regardless of how good your graphics are. 3D has become one of the those checkbox items like multi-player where reviews tend to harp on it regardless of how much it would actually help the game.

Unfortunately 3d acceleration is still in it’s awkward adolescence where it’s doable, but not always practical, especially in strategy games where you’re sometimes modeling large structures or many units. Also it boosts system requirements well beyond what they would be otherwise.

I suspect the ‘gaming gap’ between usable PCs and what game developers use as a minimum spec will become more of an issue in the coming years. Now that laptops make over 50% of systems sold and low end machines (many of which have shitty embedded controllers and no AGP slot) developers who spec something like DX9 only are going to really have to know who there audience is or risk alienating potential customers.