In my post last month, I mentioned how I’d managed to find a copy of the first Simon the Sorcerer PC game at the London Gaming Market recently. A photograph of the case sparked a conversation with proxyfish in the comments during which we briefly discussed the series’ switch in visual style, from the pixelated wonders of Simon the Sorcerer II: The Lion, the Wizard and the Wardrobe in 1993 to the triangular features of Simon the Sorcerer 3D almost a decade later.
This got me thinking about other classic adventure franchises where the developers made the decision to jump from 2D to 3D. There are a number of well-known occasions where this occurred but instead of being amazed by technical advancements, fans were left unimpressed; take the transition from Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror in 1997 to Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon in 2003 as an example. So what is it about this switch in style that we don’t like?
I discussed the subject with a few blogging friends last week and was actually surprised at their responses: most were positive about the switch in style and very little negativity was expressed. Perhaps my 3D aversion has something to do me with being a slightly older gamer then? I can remember being so excited at the release of The Escape from Monkey Island in 2000 but being horrified at what they’d done to Guybrush once I’d managed to get my hands on it.
For fans of an established series, the change can be quite jarring. You’re used to seeing your favourite characters depicted in all their pixelated glory; and, as I wrote in my response post to Brandon from That Green Dude recently, the plot then encourages your imagination to fill in the blanks between the pixels to create their full image. Then all of a sudden they’re 3D, looking nothing like you pictured in your head – and more like a bunch of jagged triangles hastily glued together.
I suspect that, like myself, many older fans of the genre found their way into it through a love of fantasy and science-fiction books when they were younger. The nearest thing to actually seeing the amazing stories contained within their pages were comics, which were then a short step to 2D adventure titles. Perhaps playing those sort of narrative games in 3D is so far removed from the original mediums that it feels almost ‘unnatural’ and we’re more at home in our flat worlds.
But maybe it’s nothing to do with visuals at all? We’re all aware of how bad the controls became when titles such as Gabriel Knight: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of Damned made the visual switch. Gone was the ease of simply clicking on an item to use it or right-clicking to display the verb wheel; and instead we were greeted with frustrating movement, bad camera angles and a release which just generally feels clunky (not to mention cat-hair moustaches).
And then again, maybe it’s nothing to do with the game at all and down to the fact that we gamers are generally a difficult bunch to please. Nostalgia has a funny way of affecting your opinion on a subject and casting a rosy glow around all that you remember from your younger years. For 90s players, the most well-loved adventures were those presented to us in pixels; and just as we’d quickly cite our preference for 2D, an adventurer from the 80s is as likely to cry out for text.
Regardless of how bad we think the transition from 2D to 3D was, the visuals themselves don’t really matter: it’s more important for the graphics to be in-tune with the developer’s vision for their project and to suit the gameplay. As I wrote last month, if all aspects of a release aren’t in sync and don’t work together in harmony, they’ll never create a coherent form that makes for an awesome gaming experience.
And let’s face it: if LucasArts were still with us and made a 3D adventure today, it would be way better those triangular nightmares we recall from our past.