3D Graphics , limitations of graphic power and water as planar surfaces

3D Graphics

In early 3D video games, graphics power was limited, and bodies of water were limited to a planar surface with artist-generated textures. Some of the techniques applied to the design of two-dimensional video games were translated into the design of the textures applied to the surfaces. The hardware limitation was a consequence mainly of the impossibility of parallel processing by the Central Processing Units (CPUs). However, in this period of new 3D graphics, we see unusually efficient solutions bridging two-dimensional techniques on tridimensional spaces. A remarkable example was Duke Nukem 3D for Personal Computers (PC).

Duke Nukem 3D is a first-person shooter video game developed by 3D Realms in 1995 as a sequel to the platform games Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II. The game was designed to switch between first-person view, a third-person view, and fixed camera angles. It wasn’t truly 3D, as stated before. Most of the 3D was done by software maneuvers, which later disappeared with the appearance of OpenGL. Transparency was achieved by using fluid textures manipulated in code, creating a warping effect. The developers at 3D Realms included underwater levels, made possible by distorting the player view, a technique that we saw on another scale on 2D video games such Donkey Kong Country for SNES or Batman Returns for Game Boy.

Earlier in 1995, Sega released Panzer Dragoon for Sega Saturn. The first stage simulates the appearance of a large body of water with its associated reflections. Large bodies of water are elements that we will see over time in several video games. Different technical solutions are used to represent them.

Early schemes do not fe ature waves yet, and bodies of water are still a planar surface; however, in Panzer Dragoon, we see how the simulation of waves is achieved by working its plane in a per-line basis that was processed by a secondary video processor that Sega Saturn carried.

Another video game presenting large bodies of water is the tactical first-person shooter game, Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri, published by Looking Glass Technologies in 1996. It is one of the first squad-oriented games with three-dimensional graphics. The video game presented large environments, and it represented the reflectivity of water with an associated warping technique. The attention put onto the reflection of the large bodies of water was remarkable—they appeared and disappeared with the movement of the camera. Terra Nova was arguably the predecessor of the current reflection simulations. Another noteworthy element about the first-person shooter was the light simulations that enriched the immense landscapes. The materiality of the computer graphics in this video game is presented to us on different levels, especially by rendering on a “poorer” resolution than other video games of its time. Terra Nova used a 320x480, embracing the pixelation of the graphics to recreate the illusion of an environment that was overlaid with the scanline of the CRT monitors.

One of the most popular video games of all time belongs to this period of new tridimensional graphics: Tomb Raider. The action-adventure video game created by Core Design featured the fictional archeologist Lara Croft, who travels around the world searching for lost artifacts and infiltrating dangerous tombs and ruins. Tomb Raider used a custom-built game engine, and it was a reaction to first-person shooting games such as Doom. The engine was designed by the developer Paul Douglas, and it included an Artificial Intelligence algorithm for the camera control.

Tomb Raider graphics had multi-layered levels in contrast to other tridimensional action-adventure games based on a flat-floor system. The articulated landscape included underwater levels that featured water caustics. Tomb Raider marked a milestone in computer graphics prior to the appearance of dedicated Graphics Processing Units. It synthesized the most advanced technical procedures with artistry.