There are nice things to be said about 2D graphics. The 1999 classic Planescape: Torment had huge, richly drawn 2D backgrounds. It wasn't made from repeating tiles, but by hiring an artist to paint these digital spaces. The result is a world rich in detail and unique character. No two areas will be exactly the same, right down to each square meter of floor being completely unique. Such a thing would be incredibly difficult to pull off in 3D. (Although the virtual texturing in the upcoming Rage might make this sort of endless variety possible again.) I wouldn't want all games to use the Planescape approach to visuals. Or even a lot of games. But I also hate to see that approach to gameworld go extinct entirely, because it really was beautiful.

While 2D graphics sometimes have charm, they're nothing compared to the possibilities of 2D gameplay. It's nice to be able to enjoy a game without fighting with camera controls. There is something pure and elemental in a 2D game. Adding one more dimension usually has the effect of doubling the complexity of the controls. Super Mario had the most desirable quality: Easy to learn, hard to master. A lot of modern 3D games have controls of dizzying complexity for moving and looking along all three axis, and buttons for dealing with the fact that important things are so often off-screen. But once you get the hang of the controls, you've learned 90% of what you need to know to master the game. Hard to learn, easy to master. I think this is a big reason why newer titles don't quite have the replay value that the classics did. You can keep playing, but in many cases the experience is the same every time. What's the point?

Another important thing about 2D games is that they're way cheaper to produce. I defy any company to make as much content and gamespace as they had in those old side-scrollers. Super Mario could afford to give players more content than they could handle. The core game was long and diverse, and then there was a massive side-helping of hidden stuff and bonus levels. 3D games don't do that. They can't afford to make half the content "optional," because then the games would be about two hours long.

No, I don't think we should abandon 3D and go back to 2D games. I just think a mix would be nice. Bring back the side-scrolling action games, the top-down shooters, and the the isometric dungeon crawls. Those games would still be fun, and could look amazing with modern production techniques.

Now your turn: What old 2D game really needs to be resurrected and given another chance?

Shamus Young is the guy behind this movie, this website, this book, these two webcomics, and this program. He was partial to the Eye of the Beholder series, which is never coming back.

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