2D or 3D graphics?

One of the initial questions in game development are whether to use 2D or 3D graphics. Some people say that one should use 2D because it’s easier, simpler or something that beginner developers just should stick with.

In my opinion, 2D games are not easier and simpler to understand than 3D. I think that 3D graphics should NOT be used just the sake of using 3D graphcis. There are AAA titles that would be much more playable using 2D art. If there are massive number of items and functions, then 3D graphics might slow down the game too much in order to be playable. It’s a shame that there are not many 2D adventure games from big companies (but luckily indies are still doing it), I think Monkey Island and Full Throttle (and others) were great as they used 2D.

But there are good reasons for using 3D. I list some of them:
– I simply think 3 dimensional gets you immersed in the game better than 2D. This is purely a matter of opinion, and it doesn’t mean that 2D looks worse. It means only that the 3 dimensional world is something I like.
– 3D physics gives you the option to use physics in great way. If you need to model a ball that would roll on any direction, 3D gives you this option easily. In a 3 dimensional world that’s possible, but not in 2D.
Animations require less effort to create: if you would like to create 10 different combat moves for a 2D character, you would need to do quite a lot of artwork to handle that. And tweaking the animation requires doing the whole lot of work. In 3D you can create a mesh, add bones and animate the character. If the animation needs tweaking, it’s much easier to handle than in 2D.
Visual effects (alphas, mirrors etc.) are bit easier to do in 3D. There are engines that can fake 2D to use 3D effects… but those engines are not pure 2D engines. In fact, they are 3D engines that look like 2D engines.

These are some of the reasons I prefer to use 3D, but that doesn’t mean you should start doing 3D. There are places for 2D art. Many puzzles and indie adventure games for example use 2D. What you could do to make the decision is to see what your needs and goals are, and make the decision based on that. If you have good 2D skills and experience, then go for it.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Just because you use a 3D engine does not mean you have to have a 3D world. This is what the Sonic games have forgotten. You can have a wonderful 2D platformer, or action, or puzzle, or whatever, and use a 3D engine for the depth of graphics that it provides. Need an example? Go look at the videos for the new Mario game for the DS. 3D graphics, but a classic platformer with classic elements. And it looks fun.

  2. Recently I’ve been discussing with some of my friends possibly building applications to help game designers build games faster. I’ve done a lot of map making so there are some very obvious issues that need to be addressed in that space that we’d like to work on. We’re so mad about the fact that we’re having to spend $20 now to get 3 – 6 hours of gameplay in the eposidic content packs that Valve is releasing. It’s taking forever for any of these studios to put out these games and we’re getting less and less gameplay for every graphical improvement they make.

    It’s also horrible for the mod makers out there as well. We’re not going to see another counterstrike because of the time involved in creating these mods. Although complex, it was far simpler to create a HL1 mod than a HL2 mod. They’ve been good about releasing a really good toolset to modders but what these companies need to start doing if they want modders to do some amazing stuff is to build quicker tools for building game assets and maps. I’m pretty sure that map creation is really one of the biggest suckage points in games right now. Right after that might be building models and getting them to break in all the right spots for games and the whole import and testing process for them. What team of 4 or 5 guys can create a cool mod anymore? It takes 15 – 20 dedicated game art students in their senior year now to create anything cool. Look at Eclipse as an example.

    Unreal, Source and the Doom engines are cool piece of technology but way way too slow to build any games with. We need faster tools.

  3. My group and I have been working on a demo of a 3D game for a couple of months now. Early in the proces we did a nice little 2D demo in 48 hours and it turns out that the 2D demo will probably have more features than our 3D version.
    The 3D version will be more immersive and stuff but in terms of gameplay the 2D version is able to beat it using only 1/10 of the time in production.

  4. Oh my gosh! I remember playing the original Full Throttle (maybe there was only one) and it was so much fun. That was way long ago though. Lucas Arts made some really good ones. I really enjoyed Day of the Tentacle, the mini haunted mansion game inside of Day of the Tentacle and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Atlantis. These are some old games here :)

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