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2d vs 3d graphics complexity - isometric rpg

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by douglassophies, Aug 16, 2014.

  1. douglassophies


    Jun 17, 2012
    I am a programmer with no 2d or 3d art skills to speak of looking to make a Baldur's Gate-like isometric RPG. When everything is ready on my end, i will look to bring an artist on board but i need to know the right number of dimensions to use for a smooth, quick art production.

    Originally i was going to make it 2d, but when i realised how inefficient it would be for an artist to make 8 directions for every animation, i decided that everything that can move would be modelled and animated with a frame capture used to create the final sprite sheet. Then i wondered if the terrain would also benefit from this and why not make it all 3D?
    My main concern is that my lack of knowledge of lighting, shadows and other artistically concerned effects in both 3d and 2d games might lead me to making a misinformed decision. For example, will the fact that i want daylight, twilight and night time scenery mean 2d images will take 3x the work while 3d models benefit from a single control on the light source? I need to do a lot more of my own research but i was hoping a discussion here would help me off to a good start so i know what skills i will need from an artist.

    Bit of background:

    The original game will be a very small demo (think 1 small Baldur’s gate map with mostly dessert surroundings) but i want the quality to be high and detailed. In the long term i will be using computer generated scenery to give the illusion of a big open world but i will expect the player to mostly stick to a path that is handcrafted with lots of detailed art. The overall philosophy of the art design will be to take development resources from what is generic and put them into what is special and make it ever nicer - let all the henchmen be identical because the player will be looking at that interesting skin on the wizard and his amazing spell effects.

    One other point is that if it was narrowed down to two methods that take the same total amount of work, but one is more programming heavy then it would be preferable, as this will be a hobby project relying on artists who take very little money or shares of a project that may never make anything.
    An example of this is dealing with depth in 2d is not a disadvantage over 3d because it a problem i can fix programatically. Although i might draw the line at an extra few months worth of work!
  2. CaoMengde777


    Nov 5, 2013
    well as for the 2d under different lighting... itd be as easy as changing the "tint" / hue of the image.. pretty dang easy.. recolors are SUPER easy, never let anyone tell you otherwise LOL... its soo funny to see like the game "Smite" (mobas are lame lol) sells recolored skins of their characters as microtransacts (they also sell really creative alternate models) LMAO!! that took like 10 mins to make max haha .. okay, maybe an hour if theres ALOT of different pieces to recolor

    im not totally sure, but i think baldurs gate... and even age of empires used 3d models, and took pictures of them to make them 2d .. but i suppose they likely did that because no customers computers at that time could render 3d graphics like that.. and you animate 3d once, and have ALL angles

    buildings and this dragon are Definitely 3d models right? i think almost everything is,
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2014
  3. douglassophies


    Jun 17, 2012
    I forgot to mention that, indeed, BG did it by making 3d models first. I actualy thought the buildings were done directly as sprites but no idea why and i am probably wrong. The dragon was certainly 3d.
    If conversion to 2d was only to deal with lack of graphics cards at the time then obviously i can ignore that.

    Pillars of eternity, who also looked to make a clone, caputred the modernised BG art style i want exactly and they used 3d, but not sure if that was due to what they were used to.

    I guess changing the tint/hue would fully capture day vs night but what about shadows etc. Any tricks there to automate it or would the artists need to hand draw shadowed assets to capture a setting/rising sun in a forrest with lots of trees?

    What about the difficulty in high detailed art? Is it easier in gerneal for artists to make high detailed art in 2d vs 3d or is that just personal preference?

    I would love to not think about these areas i am weak in and just get a prototype together that looks terrible but allows me to test the mechanics. The problem is i cannot afford the time to spend 3 months on the wrong dimension!
  4. tiggus


    Sep 2, 2010
    Well if you really want the specific Baldur's Gate look you might want to read up on the Infinity Engine as it handled things a bit different than standard 2d/3d approaches.

    It makes use of high quality prerendered static 2d scenes with heavy use of alpha channel maps to mark what is walkable, heightmaps indicating depth, search maps, light maps, prerendered open and closed door bitmaps etc. Then it overlays character and npc sprites on top of the static scene in a way that looks natural by interacting with those data defined maps you can't see.
  5. Deleted User

    Deleted User


    BG I&II were done out of 3d models, then rendered as sprites. You cna even see the lowpoly shapes of some parts. For the rest is used the technique tiggus mentioned.

    Here the technique used in Unity:

  6. Marble


    Aug 29, 2005
    I went through the same dilemma as yourself for a time and decided that 3D was going to be easier in the end. Pillars of Eternity uses some very clever ways of simulating depth and materials in 2D that are not for the inexperienced. (You'd need to write shaders and have a very specific content pipeline from your modeler.) If everything is going to be modeled in 3D anyway (i.e. you're considering renders for a sprite based system), then you might as well just use 3D. You get automatic lighting, perspective, depth, collision, and most importantly, an intuitive design environment for which Unity is ideally suited.

    You also gain access to a wealth of asset store tools and models that, if it's a fantasy game, you can simply drop into your scenes.

    Note that it's still really hard to make an RPG. I've found that you need to build a system that lets you create content extremely rapidly, or you simply never will.
  7. TheSniperFan


    Jul 18, 2013
    Although I can't seem to find the blog post anymore, I remember that Project Zomboid ran into MASSIVE problems with faking isometric 3d using 2d sprites.
    Massive enough to make them redo everything in 3d again.
  8. Photon-Blasting-Service


    Apr 27, 2009
    Everything was done in 3D for Baldur's Gate I and II plus expansion packs, but there was a lot of re-touching in Photoshop. Matching things that are animated (bells, gears, flags, etc.) is sometimes tricky. Also you might need to use compositing packages for things like animated tiled water.

    Everything was in layers (seven layers total) and one guy worked full-time just laying out walk paths, putting things in layers, etc. Depth was always adjustable but that means it had to be controlled.

    It takes a lot of work to create something in 3D, render it out CORRECTLY, stick it in a game engine CORRECTLY, and make sure it all works together. Current technology makes it possible to do higher quality work faster, but doesn't reduce the overall workload.