2D vs 3D Precision

Do you think that the whole “2D is more precise than 3D” argument/meme that gets brought up primarily by nostalgic old guards has any truth to it? Tbh, having grown up with 3D games, I find 3D Mario much more precise and easier to control than any of the 2D Marios (except the New games). Granted the old 2D Marios had slippery movement and looser controls, but the point stands, that it kind of depends on which one you developed your muscle memory with. Plus, with all the scary-precise speedruns, I don’t think the argument holds much salt. I’ve never even seen anyone specifiy just what they mean by “precision” other than “I find 3D Mario difficult b/c I’m an old man, therefore 2D games are more precise”.

Precision is vague here. Does it mean that in 2d you’re able to more reliably replicate scenarios involving fine movement, or does it mean allowing one to express a greater degree of precision in operation? In 2d games, there are less variables involved in their operation. Especially old 2d games on pixel based platforms, because there literally was no unit of movement smaller than a pixel (even though a lot of these calculated movement in subpixels, the environments didn’t have subpixels anywhere, so it generally didn’t matter), where the same is not true for say super meat boy or Ori and the Blind Forest, where units of measurement can be infinitely subdivided.

3d games can be considered a lot like top down 2d games in most instances, except they place the camera behind the character. Then you have analog movement, due to the analog stick, which is polar coordinate movement with very large number of angles and intensities. Compared to an 8 way 1 intensity control scheme, this is a lot harder to manage. Even games like Super Smash Bros, that are basically side scrolling 2d games, have a lot of analog information in their handling that can’t be precisely recreated when you use the wiimote’s dpad. Lining up down to the pixel in a game like link to the past or the original zelda is a lot easier than the same in link between worlds due to the simpler input scheme. The smallest unit of difference is a lot smaller in LBW, both in terms of position and angle.

The other trouble is that it’s harder to judge position in 3d versus 2d because of the camera angle and use of perspective. In real life we have additional senses to help us out like proprioception and vestibular sense, but watching a screen, it can be tricky to determine how an input will move you relative to the position of the camera and the character’s position and orientation in space, much like learning to drive a car (thought there is also kinetic feedback helping you here too). In 2d games, position is absolute and much easier to determine. If you want to jump from one platform to another, you can directly measure the distance of your maximum jump, or visualize your jump arc on the screen. In 3d, you can’t really do that. What might be the correct distance at one angle, would change if the camera pulls out, or is oriented higher or lower. Your brain needs to make more complex calculations to judge the distance in perspective versus mere distance across the screen. I noticed this playing ratchet and clank recently. Normal jumps are like leaps of faith.

Do you think 2D games are more precise than 3D games? Or is that just some meme that’s been perpetuated by people who can’t think beyond their notions?

I think what started this trend is Campster’s video on Sonic, which didn’t use the word precision and is fairly clear in the way it is spoken.

At 8:00 and 15:45 he talks about platforming controls in 2d versus 3d. (his comparison of doom’s health meter to contra’s lives is totally erroneous though, that’s down to a difference in attack types and both could be designed to work the opposite way)

His talk about leniency in 3d games is kind of accurate, a lot of 3d games use snap-to mechanics for environmental interaction where a lot of 2d ones don’t, but more likely is that there’s simply been a rise in the popularity of those types of mechanics than 3d games implicitly requiring them. Like for example, if you want a character to catch a ledge, you’ll probably make a box near the top of the character’s head that causes them to snap to the ledge if they’re falling, like what’s found in smash bros, mirror’s edge, tomb raider, ratchet and clank, mario 64. You get things like grind rails in sonic, kirby air ride, tony hawk, ratchet and clank which use this as well.

Playing ratchet and clank recently I found that in the process of running around on platforms I would narrowly fall off a lot and get saved by the ledge grab. But meanwhile in dark souls there’s no such mechanic and I’m able to do things like run across the anor londo rafters much more easily than the equivalent would be in ratchet and clank. Similar happened to me in Link Between Worlds in Rosso’s Ore Mine, where they have some thin planks laid out to walk over. That would be trivial in a 2d game with 8-way control where your movement is perfectly aligned to the thing you were moving over, but in link between worlds it’s really tricky to hold the same direction steady, especially as the character moves up or down in height through perspective, in part because of the strength of the circle pad’s resistive spring.

Another thing worth noting is how in Link Between Worlds, projectile items like the hookshot or bow and arrow snap to the 8 cardinal/ordinal directions when held. In the original games you weren’t allowed to hold them and position yourself at all, In LBW, you can do it with almost all your items. The world is still largely aligned to a grid, so this allows you to reliably aim in the most useful directions. You can still aim at off angles if you’re careful in tapping the button, though that might only be true with sword beams. This type of concession is absolutely necessary for the game because of the angles you typically aim.

Lock-on isn’t a totally necessary concession for behind the shoulder 3d perspective games, I’ve certainly played devil may cry and dark souls at times without lockon by manually aiming attacks. The real trouble is the camera needs to be manually operated at the same time and you don’t have enough fingers to do that. OoT didn’t have any camera controls besides lock-on (neither do many later 3d zelda).

Then of course you get Marble Blast 3d, which Campster brings up, that doesn’t have snap-to mechanics of any kind. Though personally I’d compare to Super Monkey Ball, which was also made by Sega, and involves going fast. Both games don’t have any of that input leniency as a concession to it being more difficult to precisely angle yourself in 3d, and Super Monkey Ball doesn’t even have camera controls.

So what’s the difference between these examples of moving across narrow platforms I brought up, Ratchet and Clank, Dark Souls, Link Between Worlds, and Super Monkey Ball? Why is it easier in some of them and more difficult than others? I’m not really sure honestly.

My best guess is that it has something to do with the camera angle for most of these. Ratchet and clank has really poor camera controls and the angle faces so far forwards that it’s difficult to see where you stand. When you jump in many places, the camera will go so high up you can’t see the ground under you. This makes the ground appear like a sliver so it can be tough to see where you are on the surface. In Super Monkey Ball, approaching an edge has the camera tilt higher over the monkey so you can see the ground better. In Dark Souls, the camera tends to stick at a high or low angle more readily when positioned, and has a smooth automatic takeover when you are determined to walk in a specific direction. I already took a guess at LBW, it’s likely a different case than the others here.

In Ratchet and Clank there are additional concessions in the form of a soft-lock on your shots, indicated by an icon that appears when you aim close enough to an enemy, causing your projectiles to home in on that enemy. Most console shooters have some form of auto-aim, in the form of bullet magnetism, sticky reticules, or so on.

Mirror’s Edge uses snap-to for a large number of environmental interactions, vaulting, catching ledges, wallrunning, wallclimbing, springboarding, and so on. 2d games like megaman X or Zero or ZX actually don’t use snap-to for things like walljumping, they require you to press into the wall, but that’s not feasible in 3d, you need to use a snap-to range because you can be angled differently relative to the wall, applying force/momentum differently, where in 2d you always orients into the wall.

The oldest example of snap-to mechanics I can think of is the ladders in donkey kong (or megaman I guess). The ones in donkey kong are extremely rigid, where megaman’s are much more flexible. To say the least, they exist in 2d and 3d, and nearly all environmental interaction requires them on some level.

Yeah, it can be harder to move through 3d environments because judging distance and angle of movement is less easy, because the input device itself is more complicated, because cameras need to be carefully controlled too, and they alter the angle of movement when reoriented.

I guess the short answer is, yeah, 2d games are easier to move precisely in than 3d games.


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