Last updated on August 16th, 2021
Video Game graphics are the most obvious indicator of their technology origins and the emergence and refinement of three-dimensional games. Graphics have come a long way over the course of video game history.
So what are the most important graphical milestones?
How has available technology shaped the type of games we play?
In their earliest days, video games amounted to little more than novelties.
Video Game Graphics Evolution
These pixel pioneers broke new ground with every step, in an era when simply moving a flicker of light across a television screen was incredible games like Pong were a Space-Age wonder.
Tapping into a surge in sci-fi interest, becoming the earliest major success of the video game industry for the first time video games were cool.
It wouldn’t last forever of course.
And once the novelty wore off, the need for more advanced hardware and the need for more advanced hardware and more impressive visuals became clear.
Full-color graphics were an early threshold for arcades, while color television had existed since before the second world war.
Old video games were limited to monochrome displays were limited to a monochrome display.
Some games used colored overlays to spruce up their playfields.
A translucent plastic sheet was applied on top of a black and white display on top of a black and white display.
Obviously, quite a limited solution but it was at least a cheap one, and while monochrome games continued to rake in coins.
Technology would have a chance to catch up on the very first arcade game.
To use a colored display is difficult to pin down some existed only as prototypes such as a color variant of Gotcha.
Some early multiplayer racing games used color to differentiate each player’s car.
Indie four in 1976 is one early and car polo in 1977 was the very first color arcade game to use a microprocessor.
However, these early examples are normally glossed over in favor of the first truly RGB color game galaxian, essentially a fancier version of space invaders.
Each of the brightly colored alien ships could flip freely across the screen and perhaps more impressive were the multiple colors used in each sprite for its time.
The game was an audio-visual treat by 1980 color graphics were the norm PAC-man just wouldn’t be the same me without its colorful ghosts.
The familiar yellow protagonist pixels haven’t always been the only way pixels in the early days of the arcade there were two principal paradigms for rendering an image on the screen.
Raster comes from the Latin word rastrum meaning rake and today is the more familiar method of drawing on the screen.
The electron beam rapidly sweeps the line of the display in sequence, forming a grid and a picture is assembled.
Vector graphics directly manipulate the electron beam to form their images in a similar manner to an oscilloscope.
Indeed very early games like tennis for two used an oscilloscope display.
The most famous vector arcade title is asteroids.
Its graphics might be sparse the perfectly smooth polygons to boost a certain charm.
Compare the appearance of two similar games using each of these methods.
The smooth vector lines of space versus the blockier pixels of the star cruiser.
Vector graphics are cleaner but less versatile. While raster images can’t reproduce smooth lines.
But their ability to render more complex scenes and filled shapes helped to secure the pixel’s dominance.
Here you can learn more about Video Game Graphics History.
Early arcade games normally had fixed playfields.
A game’s arena was sized to fit the screen.
Scrolling the display, to slowly reveal a level required more grunt.
It demands the ability to shift around large chunks of memory.
Early driving titles like a speed race, were the first to introduce scrolling.
Although the hardware limitations did force some concessions and mirrored track sides.
Spartan roadway defender in 1980 was an evolution of the space shooter and set the scene for future side-scrolling.
Despite its simple graphics, it offered freedom of movement across a planet’s surface along with a host of aliens to shoot.
Similarly, the top-down view seen in Xevious is often cited as the origin of the vertically scrolling.
Sega’s Zaxon was the first isometric game, complete with isometric scrolling, simulating three dimensions with a 2 by 1 dimetric projection.
This technique was employed by many later games particularly strategy games of the early 90s with a pseudo 3d appearance that still fits the pixel grid.
Similarly, the use of sprite scaling, resizing images on the fly is sometimes seen in games attempting to lend their otherwise flat graphics.
A sense of depth early 90 do shooter radar scope shrank sprites in the distance to give the impression that you’re gazing across a plane of space.
The goal to repel any plane of space the goal to repel any invaders.
More impressive was the scenery in 1981’s turbo.
Although painted in garish colors and with quite some distortion, the effect is nonetheless outstanding when compared to other games from a similar time.
The advent of 16-bit arcade hardware brought about more colors and the ability to shift more pixels than ever before.
Truly a new era was beginning.
Sega’s superscalar tech in the mid-1980s blew everything else out there.
Combined smooth sprite scaling with blistering frame rates and alongside its impressive lean to steer motorbike cabinet, it certainly made an impact on the arcades running on the same hardware.
That would set a benchmark in sound and that would set a benchmark in sound and graphics as well as establishing the basis for the top gun-inspired afterburner.
Perhaps the most incredible graphics of the early 1980s were those seen in dragon’s lair leveraging the huge storage potential of laserdisc technology.
It was a bonafide interactive movie too bad it wasn’t much fun to play.
The middle of the 1980s saw the end of the arcade’s golden era and the rise of the home consoles instead arcades would still rule the roost as far as graphical power was concerned but the ground they broke earlier meant that cost reduced home consoles could deliver both colorful graphics and smooth scrolling.
There is a certain beauty in well-designed pixel art.
It speaks of a simpler era a time when sprites reign supreme when designed to move across a game’s playfield.
Sprites are two-dimensional images that represent the player’s enemies or other non-static aspects of a game.
Sprites are often drawn with the help of dedicated hardware.
They have been an essential facet of computer graphics.
As long as games have existed, early sprites were small in size and limited palette.
But as the pace of technology increased they became larger, more detailed, and much more colorful.
Huge sprites meant huge arcade impact.
Games like strider were held in high regard for the sheer scale of the action towering characters and huge sweeping plasma swords.
This was made possible by the powerful cps-1 arcade board with custom sprite chips capable of drawing 256 16 color sprites per scan line.
This was the board that would power street fighter 2 which would set a benchmark within the fighting game genre with large and diverse character sprites coupled with fluid.
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