The Death of Jumping? The Evolution of Vertical Movement in 3D Games

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The jump has become synonymous with gaming, but has it become obsolete?

In my last jump related post, we talked about the origins of the ability and the impact it had on the gaming world. Naturally, the next big evolution in gaming was the jump to 3D. 

Super Mario 64 is often where people look for the onset of 3D gaming.  Many of you may already be aware of it’s impact. However, it wasn’t the first video game to dabble with the idea.

First “3D” Games

There were pseudo-3D games before even consoles like the NES such as…

Battlezone (1980),

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Tempest (1981),

Image result for tempest 1981

And then classics like Wolfenstein (1981). It used interesting visual tricks to make it’s game appear 3D.

A rotating view of a complex 3D area, with an overhead view on the right showing the raycasting area as the view rotates

By Kieff – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20389654

After these games, we had several 16 bit games dabble in concepts of 3D games. My favourite example is Donkey Kong Country. and it’s pre-rendered graphics. This is where sprites are created from 3D models to make the game appear 3D. Good on ya’ Rare! You made one of gaming’s sneakiest hits!

Image result for dkc pre rendered

This could only be a product of the 90’s.

Super Mario 64’s Impact

After this point, Super Mario 64 was a grandstanding example of how a 3D games could look. While Super Mario 64 wasn’t the first game to have a character moving in 3D,  it was the first to define how a character could move in a 3D space. Consider these two images:

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Super Mario Bros.

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Super Mario 64

The meaning of the Y axis is completely different, all thanks to the Z-Axis. Think about what jumping meant in 2D – now instead of going over warp pipes, Mario can just walk around them. So… now what’s the use of the jump?

Similar to how the levels of 2D Super Mario games were shaped around the jump, the 3D hubs of Super Mario 64 were shaped around the breadth of horizontal and vertical movement. Except now,  two axes need to be considered when timing a jump, making the precision and timing needed to do jump much harder. Going back to Mario 64, it’s quite easy to see how it’s controls have aged.

This is why there are startlingly fewer games in the modern world that utilise jumping as the main form of vertical movement. The only ones I think of make the ability the core gameplay mechanic, like in Clustertruck

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You jump across moving semi-trucks. Yes… quite the clustertruck.

Evolution of the Jump

Over the past 15 years, we can see just how 3D games have changed to make the jump work. I’ve collected a few examples of different games that handle the jump in different ways:

Sonic Adventure

In the 3D Sonic games, they began tampering with ways to mesh the blue speedster into a 3D world. Due to the precise nature of the the Z axis, an ability called the homing attack was introduced. This ability was made Sonic home onto enemies and objects, removing the need for such precise jumps. Of course, this mechanic took away much of the challenge of jumping, but it helps in this context due to the speed of the game play.

Assassins Creed

This series of games was one of the first realistic sorts of games to employ such free flowing movement. In the first game, the protagonist Altair has a breadth of vertical moving abilities that stem from the jump such as the wall climb, jumping between beams, and even diving into hay from quite high. 

While his movement isn’t as free flowing as Mario’s, it was one of the first games to do this sort of stuff while being achievable by a person. It was easy to do and meshed with the gameplay objectives quite well. Naturally, as the fabric of reality and fiction narrows, so too do the abilities of game characters.

Image result for assassin's creed 1 climbing

Overwatch

Overwatch is helpful to bring up as a current and wide example of the state of first person games. The first thing to note is the evolution of perspective.  Many games today involve shooting mechanics, so the default perspective is usually first person.  This has changed the jump to be even more problematic, as a first-person view restricts the players sights to that of the character, making the jump an advanced tactic.

In Overwatch, everyone can jump, yet it’s never required. Characters like Hanzo and Genji have wall climbs, Mercy can glide to her team, and Pharah has a rocket boost! Essentially, these abilities help make aerial navigation easier so that the game play isn’t sacrificed.

Image result for pharah overwatch fly

Is it really dead?

Games released today rely less on precise jumps and remove jump-focused gameplay in favor of these assistive abilities. In most cases, these mechanics are static, meaning the distance, function and arch they are performed at are the same each time.  While some criticisms may say that this makes players dumber, it’s a problem that was quite present in Super Mario 64 and Sunshine. Miyamoto himself says the development of these titles were quite difficult and it steered new gamers away from gaming rather than bring them in.

The jump as we once knew it is slowly dissipating into a mechanic that isn’t required for gameplay.  This topic gets even more funky when we consider the advent of VR gaming and how jumping actually can’t be utilised.  It certainly doesn’t look too good for the jump, as it’s demise seems immanent.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject and what exactly you think about the jump in our modern gaming world! Do you think the jump is dead?

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