March 28, 2008, Square Haven has ceased updates indefinitely. What you see below is an archived version.

Iga: 2D games will never die!

  • Published at 23:07:12 PT
  • Reported by Jeriaska
  • Read 20,466 times
  • Karma:  -4 
  • Share: link to this page e-mail this page Digg it! Facebook
Koji Igarashi, the producer of the Castlevania series, stated in a lecture delivered at the Game Developers Conference that he will continue to work on 2D action titles. Not unlike the fame of his hallmark series, or the caped vampires who inhabit them, the game designer proclaimed, "2D games will never die!"

Koji Igarashi has been a trailblazer in the world of gaming since working as a programmer on Detana! Twinbee (an arcade game sequel to Stinger) in 1990. His lecture delivered at this year's Game Developers Conference, entitled "The Light and Dark Sides of 2D Game Production," argued for the continued existence of 2D gaming on new platforms. "From a marketing perspective," he said, "with the spread of Nintendo DS, XBox Live Arcade, Virtual Console, cell phone games, and the like, there still is room for the 2D game market to grow." From the co-director of the Playstation's Symphony of the Night, fans of retro gaming styles clearly have a formidably innovative game designer in their corner.

The developer, known to fans of his distinctive franchise of vampire games as "IGA," began his lecture by explaining the various advantages that 2D has over 3D. And having directed several 3D titles, the game designer was in a position to discuss the matter with a degree of unbiased objectivity. Perhaps of greatest concern to the game director, overcoming obstacles and ducking projectiles or leaping from platform to platform is much more difficult to manage in 3D. Igarashi explained that the player is navigating a three-dimensional environment projected onto a flat plane. The perspective therefore is different from our natural perception. We use both eyes gauge our distance from far away objects, which can only be approximated on a flat monitor. "In 2D, you can challenge gamers to anticipate and dodge threats," he said. "This is one reason why I make 2D games and don't want them to be lost."

In Igarashi's experience, the director explained, 3D games have been more difficult to make, while also generating more attention from the general gaming audience. While this might sound like a gross over-simplification, 2D games for the most part cost significantly less to produce and generally attract smaller audiences. Why should 2D be cheaper to develop? Igarashi described one telling example. Developing a single enemy character in both forms of games has different requirements. For the pixel art used in 2D titles, an enemy character can be designed using six animation patterns: idling, movement, attack 1, attack 2, damage, and death. These patterns can be designed and implemented in the space of four days. For 3D titles, on the other hand, an enemy character requires approximately two days for modeling, a day to provide the skeletal structure in the in-game engine, and another three days to provide all the character's animations. That brings the total time requirement to eight days, twice that of 2D games. In short, 2D is simpler and cheaper to implement across the board.

Slides from Koji Igarashi's presentation

Another inherent advantage of 2D titles in a long-running series like Castlevania, Igarashi said, was the ability to reuse assets from older titles. Castlevania on the Playstation, DS, and PSP has retained the same frame rate, number of colors, and aspect ratio. So familiar sprites from older titles can be imported with ease. "By reusing existing assets, we can maintain high quality," Igarashi said. It is a favorable situation in several regards, because high quality visual elements from former titles can be retained, while also cutting costs. Importing assets from past titles also acts as a milestone, motivating the development team to surpass their previous achievements. When making the switch to 3D, not only are prior 2D assets sacrificed, but the 3D assets that are created cannot necessarily be reused for future titles.

Igarashi displayed two examples of pixel art from the games Symphony of the Night and Portrait of Ruin. Alucard appears somewhat larger than Jonathan Morris, he pointed out. This is noticeable because they both encounter some of the same objects and enemies in Castle Dracula. The reason it was decided to draw Jonathan somewhat smaller was both to accommodate the dimsensions of the Nintendo DS screen and to make monsters more intimidating. "If the monsters are too small, you end up feeling like you're fighting children," he said, "which is no fun." The upcoming PSP remake of Rondo of Blood will attempt to reconcile the gameplay elements of 2D games with the graphical features of 3D titles, such as roads that twist and turn, or enemies that approach from the background. However, unlike the case with the DS titles, the design team cannot introduce old 2D assets, making development more costly.

Igarashi with English-language translator for Konami

When asked why the Nintendo DS titles had replaced the gothic character design of artist Ayami Kojima with their less distinctive anime feel, Igarashi explained that this was due to the shorter development cycles of the portable games, which do not afford the artist enough time for her design process. Igarashi informed the audience that due to the lesser requirements of 2D gaming, a director can work with a smaller team, which he generally prefers. Old school sidescrollers require a team of about ten, which can work more closely together and with greater efficiency. As the complexity of the project increases and the number of collaborators grows, it is easier to get lost in the minutiae and the minor details, and lose sense of the bigger picture. When it begins to feel that they are doing grunt work, he said, designers lose the passion that drives the project forward.

Igarashi ended his talk by saying that because 2D games do not sell as well, this can lead designers to feel under-appreciated. Many young people who are interested in making games are reticent about being involved in 2D projects because it is considered old technology and leads to unease about career advancement. But Igarashi believes there is a future for pixel artists and 2D games, due to the growing popularity of mobile devices and downloadable content. Furthermore, because pixel artists are skilled at making models and maps, they become an asset to any project. Still, there are concerns involved with extending the tradition and continuing to innovate in the realm of 2D games. While the press gives sidescrolling Castlevania titles excellent ratings, he said, Japanese sales are modest. This is not the kind of result Konami would prefer to see. Igarashi recognized the overseas market for historically having been receptive to his games. American players, he said, have been an instrumental part of the series' continued existence. "Castlevania is supported by you guys."

Igarashi stayed after his lecture to answer questions and sign for fans

Submit a trackback link

Post a New CommentPlease register or login to comment

Copyright © 1998-2021 Square Haven. This material may not be published or rewritten without crediting Square Haven as the author. Terms of Use

Login here
or cancel
Forgot your password?