Gaming The Rise of 3D Gaming: Redefining Virtual Adventures

The Rise of 3D Gaming: Redefining Virtual Adventures

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3D gaming is a huge part of the gaming industry. Most hardcore games are now in 3D with super realistic shaders, graphics, and even open-world capabilities. Anything that doesn’t have powerful 3D animation is considered to be retro or outdated, though still well-loved. 

But you might be wondering how 3D games got to where they are now. How did the industry go from simple 2D games that could only be played in arcades to powerful and huge games that can be played in the comfort of your own home, or a virtual reality? 

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History of 3D Gaming

3D gaming has come a long way. Despite 2023 being only its 50th anniversary, it’s grown to unbelievable heights, and there’s only promise of further growth in the future. But first, take a look at the humble roots of 3D gaming.

The First 3D Games

3D gaming really began in the 1970s, specifically in 1973. The first game was called “Maze War”, which was a shooter involving running around in a maze and targeting other players. This game was created by NASA and involved using the most powerful computer of the time, known as Imlac PDS-1

Maze War – By Bruce Damer – https://youtu.be/ZgT9IgRlrvI , CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia

Despite this being a multiplayer game, no one could play it as there was no way for a standard computer to be able to power the system. This stayed a problem for a while. In 1980, another round of 3D gaming began. 

“Battlezone” by Atari was released for slot machines and became more available for the average player. While it still wasn’t available for home use, it was more widespread than the NASA game. 

For the next decade or so, 3D games slowly came out. Some notable ones were “I, Robot” and “Space Harrier”. “Doom” and “Wolfenstein 3D” allowed for incredible levels of immersion not found anywhere else. 

They were the start of the push for 3D games and development thought to be impossible up until now. “Doom” also introduced the craze for first-person shooters, which is a trend that has lived on in the modern era and isn’t looking to go away anytime soon. 

3D Games for Home Playing

In 1994, 3D gaming hit its stride. Some home PCs, though expensive, became powerful enough to handle 3D games. 3D games became a little easier to create with details as well, thanks to a method of shading that allowed for smooth corners while not needing a lot of polygons. 

Around the same time, superimposing textures on 3D objects started to appear. This is how “Star Wars: Tie Fighter” was created. 

In 1996, dedicated 3D graphics accelerators changed the game again. Dedicated graphics cards, namely 3dfx Voodoo graphics cards at the time, reduced the strain on a computer’s CPU and allowed for better environments, frame rates, and visuals. 

Before this, game graphics were limited by the CPU. This was a pretty heavy limit, as the CPU was responsible for the entire system. If pushed too far, it wouldn’t only struggle to play the game, but to run anything else on the computer as well. “Tomb Raider” and “Quake” took advantage of this change to create better-looking environments and characters. 

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In 1998, everything 3D became bigger and better. There was a push for more details, shaders, ray tracing, polygons, and post-effects. Since computers could now handle more detail, games, and game developers went crazy when it came to pushing the boundaries. 

The World of Console 3D Gaming

The start of the 2000s marked the start of the console gaming craze. These consoles could compete with computers in terms of graphics, diversity, and power. In some cases, they did even better than a standard computer, as they only had the job of running a game instead of a whole PC. 

Around this time, the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube came out, each offering powerful hardware capabilities that could power any current game and again gave game developers the freedom to expand the potential of their games. 

“Grand Theft Auto III” was one of the first games to do so in 2001. It created a full cityscape in games, allowing a relatively open world and letting players interact with all sorts of areas of their environment. 

Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto III

Also in the early 2000s, even more powerful dedicated graphics units came about. These were called GPUs, or graphics processing units. They allowed for more realistic lighting, textures, and animations than the previous generation of graphics accelerators did. 

With these graphics cards came “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” and “Resident Evil 4”. 

Console games weren’t the only ones making advancements. In 2002, DirectX 9 came about, which allowed for more advanced rendering and shading possibilities as well as better character and physics simulations. “Half-Life 2” was one game that took advantage of this growth. 

3D Games Now

2023 marks the 50th year since the first 3D game came out, and it’s hard to imagine how much the industry evolved in such a short time. Not only can games look incredibly realistic, but they’re also powerful.

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Huge Storage Capacities

One big reason for this is that there isn’t much of a storage limit anymore. Now, games are 20GB or 30 GB. All of this data has to fit on your PC or gaming console for it to play. There are still games on disks, but most of them require a few gigs of storage on your device to play anymore. 

Imagine even a decade or so ago. A game with 20GB would have been unheard of. And even if someone managed to create it, there would be nothing that could play it. What one PC or console can store now accounts for more than a whole library of floppy disks could store. 

Some of the biggest games right now need hundreds of GBs. For example, “Ark: Survival Evolved” is a whopping 400GB while “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” is 235GB, and “Borderlands 3: Director’s Cut” is 135 GB. 

Ark Survival Evolved
Ark Survival Evolved – Image From Microsoft

Open World Games

We see games take full advantage of this intense storage space. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Red Dead Redemption 2” created beautiful and fairly realistic scenes, and open-world exploration, leading the way to another branch of gaming. Even just a few years ago, true open-world games just weren’t possible. 

While you could explore a fair amount, there was still a set path you had to follow and a set storyline. Now, you can explore more than you could ever hope, and in any order you want to, within reason. 

Virtual Reality Games (VR)

VR (virtual reality) is the newest step in gaming. The first VR headset for household use was Oculus Rift and it was released in 2016. This allowed users to put on goggles or an eyepiece, grab some controllers, and immerse themself into a game like never before. 

VR games have been around for a while, since 1975, but they were mostly used in big gaming centers, and parks as group attractions. They didn’t even start as game machines and were instead used to train people or simulate experiences. 

Even when they started to move on to games, they were too large and bulky to allow people to use them at home, and too pricey for people to play all the time. 

At first, the games were rather simple, like shooting bows and arrows or exploring space and underwater scenes. Then, it started to change. Many games that were originally made for PC or console were ported to play in VR. 

Now, in 2023, there are hundreds of games made specifically for VR. They allow you to move around, dodge, and respond in real-time. A very popular one is known as “Beatsaber” and it allows you to break blocks of light with lightsabers in time to music. 

Beat Saber
Beat Saber – Image from blog.playstation.com

The Future of 3D Gaming

Since VR is just starting to hit its stride, VR will likely continue to grow and expand. Console and PC games aren’t looking to go away any time either, but there is a push for more portability. 

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Some game developers have taken this to mean moving games to a mobile platform. While this does have some potential, many hardcore gamers are used to powerful graphics and gaming systems that mobile devices are not yet equipped to keep up with. 

The other method seems to be mobile consoles. A big one right now is the Nintendo Switch. Its portability has made it hugely attractive. Unfortunately, it still struggles with power and battery life. 

Steam, a gaming distribution software by Valve, has also released its own portable gaming option, called Steam Deck. It’s managed to break past some of the limitations of mobile games by still using your computer as a base for game storage and power. 

Augmented reality (AR) is also becoming a craze. This tends to be mobile-focused right now. Augmented reality is where images are superimposed or connected to the real world. We saw the start of this with the game “Pokemon GO!” and a lot of its later mimics. 

However, many game developers think there might be even better options in the future as smart glasses and goggles are created. It’s something that’s been shown a lot in sci-fi movies and books and looks to soon become a reality.