Graphics have come a long way over the years. To think that a game like Pong used to be considered revolutionary for graphics is hard to get our heads around, especially with all the 4K titles that are debuting nowadays. That’s just how times have changed, though. To get the kind of crystal clear definition that we do now, we first had to go through these various stages of improvement.
The early days
Pong, released in 1972, is considered the earliest example of video game success. Although the game is incredibly simple, what it achieved was monumental. Of course, while audiences were blown away by what had been achieved here, the excitement wore away quickly. Now that they knew what was possible, people wanted more.
This came in the form of color graphics. The early games were all created with a monochrome display, but color was slowly brought into the fold. Some games used a small bit of color to differentiate between players, while others used colored overlays to add some depth to a game. By the ‘80s, colored graphics was considered normal, with games like Pacman utilizing them.
Going through the 1980s, video game consoles were rising in popularity with games like Super Mario Bros. Arcades were no longer as popular, and as a result, people wanted games with stronger capabilities in their home. Graphics had developed to create side-scrolling a possibility, something that is still utilized today, especially in smartphone gaming.
With consoles growing in popularity, sprites became a common element of video games. These 2D images were used to represent characters and other foreground elements in a game. Starting off small and lacking in color variety at first, graphics quickly improved to make these figures stand out more on the screen.
By the ‘90s, graphics were slowly moving away from 2D adventures using sprites. Although there are still games that use these today, there was a growing push for more 3D oriented games. Graphics had developed to the point that sprites were now relatively detailed in their design, but 16-bit gaming was becoming a thing of the past.
The arrival of multimedia technology in the form of games on things like CD-ROMs meant things like full-motion video and pre-rendered content were now a possibility. There was more storage space available on these formats, so designers had more to work with.
Arrival of 3D
3D games have been around since the 1980s, although back then they were nothing more than vector lines on a screen. By the ‘90s, games like Super Mario Kart were using a basic form of texture mapping to create a sense of a three-dimensional world. It wasn’t until consoles like the PlayStation One and Nintendo 64 came along that fully 3D games appeared, because of the polygon count in this hardware. The graphics of games like Crash Bandicoot released in the late ’90s were considered to be revolutionary.
The development of Unreal Engine around this period was also significant for graphics. The engine, now in its fourth form, was originally used for first-person shooters, a genre that has continued to retain its popularity. Many of the games released at this time received multiple sequels, all of which built on the graphical quality of previous iterations.
Although games pre-millennium were usually bright in color, later releases strayed away from being eye-catching like this. Many games had subdued colors to create a sense of realism, something that is still used nowadays. With 3D technology and hardware at its strongest moving through the 2000s, graphics have continued to become more true to life than ever before.
Graphics have come a long way, but many indie gamers have regressed in graphical quality with their releases. If a game doesn’t have 4K realism these days, then it’s probably using graphics from several decades ago. It’s amazing how we can advance so much, but still yearn for a simpler time.