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Whenever some new technology comes out, companies want to find ways to market their product. The best way to do it is to show it off. This usually happens in the PC hardware world where graphics card vendors put out tech demos to show it off. Or in an environment that's limiting such as video game systems, smartphones, and tablets, a proof of concept to show that hey, that piece of hardware really can do it.
And what a better way to show off the technology by having users interact with it in a fun way. This is where the Tech Demo Game comes in. It can be loosely described as a tech demo disguised as a game. But this isn't like an Obvious Beta
, the developer tried in earnest to make a fully functional game that plays relatively well. The problem though is that most of the time the technology they're trying to show off is hardware based, which limits who can actually play it. In a video game console setting, this isn't such a problem unless the hardware in question is the latest peripheral. In the PC gaming world, this becomes a problem as the game expects nothing less than bleeding edge hardware.
Note that this trope has nothing to do with the respective quality of a game in itself, and many games started with the motivation of being a tech demo end up as extremely well received classics for much more than just their technical aspects.
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- I, Robot provided a demonstration of 3D raster graphics. It even had a minigame Doodle City.
- Hard Drivin is seemingly the first 3D racing game. The 3D board it featured was actually quite huge, looking like several modern-day computer motherboards stacked.
- S.C.U.D Race (Sega Super GT in the US) was designed as a showcase of Sega's "model 3" arcade system board. It was released in 1996, a time when the then newly launched Nintendo 64 had the best graphics on home consoles. Except the graphics of THIS game were more close to that of a Sega Dreamcast or PlayStation 2 title!
- Virtua Racing, Sega's first 3D arcade game, was originally designed as a proof-of-concept demo for the state-of-the-art polygonal graphics hardware that Virtua Fighter, Wing War and Star Wars Arcade would also run on.
- Crysis. When released, only a handful of computers could actually handle the "High" setting at 1280x800. Even fewer could run the "Very High" setting at 1280x800 above 10FPS. Yahtzee summarized it best, saying that the game must have been designed for some ultra high-tech supercomputer from space. Although the lower settings could perform well and still look better than most games at the time. All the way through 2013, it was still used to benchmark new hardware.
- Battlefield 1942. In order to take advantage of the large draw distance (which was unheard of at the time), one needed 1GB for maximum draw distance. The trouble is, RAM was expensive back then, and most of the world was fine on 256MB.
- Battlefield 3 has no ability to use Direct X 9. This means it is not playable on Windows XP machines. It is arguably one of the first applications that will have a real impact in driving people to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7.
- Cryostasis had extremely advanced fluid simulation on release, although even recent computers can have trouble running the game thanks to a lack of multi-core processor support.
- Supreme Commander has much greater multi-core support than most games, with performance scaling heavily with the number of cores.
- Somewhat less conspicuously, it is also one of the few games that can accommodate multiple monitors in a useful way.
- It, along with STALKER, was also one of the first mainstream games to seriously interact with the user space address limitations on memory, making the movement to LARGE_ADDRESS_AWARE and eventually 64-bit operating systems becoming relevant to normal users.
- Just about every single one of id Software's games has started off (before further development) as an excuse to show off whatever piece of technology John Carmack had just recently mastered:
- Commander Keen was made to show off the smooth-scrolling graphics engine, which was once thought only to be possible on systems with dedicated scrolling hardware, and was previously used to develop a proof-of-concept game resembling Super Mario Bros 3 (that was never released).
- Wolfenstein 3 D and Doom were made when Carmack decided to one-up Looking Glass Studios and their Ultima Underworld series' 3D visuals.
- Carmack claimed he could make a faster renderer, not a better one. Ultima Underworld and System Shock were far more punishing on the hardware of their era than even Doom was.
- Quake was the company's first fully-3D game, and explicitly demanded to be run on the recently launched Intel Pentium processor.
- While Quake was primarily designed to run only on the CPU, its experimental support for hardware accelerated graphics was one of the major factors driving the introduction of graphics cards to the consumer market.
- Quake II showed off a brand new game engine with colored lighting, and like Unreal spurred more and more consumers to buy graphics acceleration cards.
- Doom 3 had extremely complex lighting.
- In turn Quake IV stressed processing power due to its more wide open spaces and more advanced shading than Doom 3.
- Rage is basically a demonstration of their new id Tech 5 engine, and especially its Virtual Texturing feature (an improvement on the MegaTexture technology developed earlier).
- Unreal's graphics were near-unparalleled at the time of its release and various setpieces were intentionally designed to show off things its competitors couldn't do. For instance, the first level was set in a crashed prison ship with the sort of dingy brown and grey textures you'd seen in the original Quake... and then you set foot out in the open world, with vibrant greens and blues and draw distances that surpassed anything seen before. It also played a major part in heavily increasing the sales of graphics accelerators.
- Shattered Horizon has very advanced benchmarking tools. Not surprising when it's from the same developer responsible for the 3DMark line of benchmarks. On top of this, it requires Direct X 10, and by extension Windows Vista or later.
- IL 2 Sturmovik: 1946 can still drag high end systems built in 2010 below 20 frames per second with the graphics set to "perfect" mode. Quite a feat considering the game was first released in late 2001.
- Audiosurf is a less traditional demo. It shows off its developer's interactive audio visualizer.
- Ditto with The Polynomial - Space of the music.
- Serious Sam came with various attempts to show off its engine (there's even a built-in tech map, accessible from the menu, which is literally a gallery of the engine's graphic effects).
- Microsoft Flight Simulator X is sometimes accused of this. Nowadays, a budget gaming PC can run it on full settings with minimal lag. When it was released... less so.
- Deus Ex Invisible War, released in 2003, dragged down contemporary PCs and video cards to slideshow level on high resolutions. Like Doom 3 a year later, it used complex lighting and shading for its time.
- A lot of games by the defunct Rage Software really showed off the capabilities of then-current 3D technology. Expendable and especially Incoming! were often bundled with graphic cards.
- Space Manbow showed off the graphical capabilities of the MSX2+, in particular its smooth horizontal scrolling.
- Mirrors Edge based its entire art style around the Beast global illumination software, which simulates indirect lighting to make colorful scenes look almost photorealistic. While the game itself sold poorly, GI later became a standard feature of Unreal Engine 3 and is used in games like Dragon Age: Origins and Infinity Blade.
- The Beast GI system used in the game refers to baked global illumination, not the real-time GI as seen in Battlefield 3's Frostbite 2.
- Vette, being one of the very first true 3D PC games (and the first Wide Open Sandbox driving game), severely choked hardware of the time at full detail.
- The sequel to Total Annihiliation, Kingdoms, was so sluggish upon release that the manual listed steps to increase game performance, finally suggesting that the consumer buy a faster computer. Especially bad because this was a 3D real-time strategy game without state-of-the-art graphics, and was fixed with a subsequent patch to be much faster after reviewers and gamers complained.
- Outcast had gorgeous environments, bump-mapping, great particle effects, and even very good-looking water...but it brought 1999-era computers down to their knees because since the terrain was voxel-based, it wasn't compatible with 3D accelerator cards, thus using a software-rendered engine that took a heavy toll on the slow CPUs of the time.
- Say what you will about Trespasser, but it had a lot of concepts that soon became standard for FPS games. As well as a tendency to make computers chug framerates down to the single digits when copious amounts of blood was on screen.
- Half-Life 2: Lost Coast featured the newly developed HDR and was specifically designed to show off these features with its shiny beaches, dark and light areas and bright sunlight.
- Playing with the developer commentary makes this even better, with real time demonstrations of the engine.
- Gore Ultimate Soldier was made by 4D Rulers with a heavy eye on the Doom/Quake development model. The game was a showcase for the developer's AMP engine, which they hoped to license out heavily and make a killing. However, the game's reception was mediocre, and the only other game ever made with the engine was the budget FPS Secret Service: Security Breach which was universally regarded as terrible. That said, Gore had a competent, Quake-style single-player campaign (something Quake III and Unreal Tournament didn't even bother with), even if it cut corners a bit by heavily re-using models and levels from the multiplayer.
- The Ur-Ur Example: back in 1961, some guys at MIT were trying to work out how best to demonstrate the capabilities of the new PDP-1 computer they'd got from DEC. They decided to cook up a test program; quoth the author, "the teamís PDP-1 test program was built upon three fundamental tenets. Firstly, the program had to use as many of the computerís resources as possible and push it to the limit. Secondly, it had to be interesting and, as much as possible, unique upon every run. Thirdly, it had to be engaging and interactive. In short, it had to be a game." That game? Space War.
- If you believe the promo video, Star Citizen is partly intended by its developer to be a demonstration that PCs can bring more hardware power to creating realistic graphics than consoles can. Unlike Crysis its system requirements are met by most of the higher-end P Cs currently on the market, but are expected to overpower even the upcoming eighth-generation consoles.
- Gyromite and Stack-Up were made to give ROB something to do at the NES's launch.
- Silent Hill 2 was, in addition to its better-known qualities, a demonstration of the Playstation 2's ability to generate volumetric fog. Given that Silent Hill had not really attained a great deal of wide popularity before the second game grew the beard, as much of the buzz surrounding Silent Hill 2 before its release was about its graphics and the fog effect as it was the monsters or characters.
- Another feature that doesn't exactly get a lot of attention was that shadows were cast realistically by objects when the flashlight shined over them. Not exactly an easy to do feature.
- Silent Hill 3 was one of the first games to fully utilize the PS2's vector units.
- Shrek for the Xbox. Gameplay-wise it was pretty hard and repetitive, but Rich Geldereich managed to pull off some pretty impressive effects for a game of its time, as it was meant to be a showcase of what Microsoft's then-new console can do.
- Wave Race 64 was made to show off the water effects of the N64, particularly the undulation of waves, which was impossible on earlier consoles.
- Fantavision seems to have been made because firework explosions are excellent exhibits for the smooth textures and higher resolution of the PlayStation 2.
- Ridge Racer was a bare-bones driving game that just so happened to show off the original PlayStation's 3D effects spectacularly. (In fact, the original arcade version did a lot more - 60fps at 640x480 compared to the PS1's 30fps and 320x240.)
- Name any first-generation Super NES game. These games would show off the Mode 7 capabilities of the system. Some notable examples would be Super Mario World, F-Zero, Pilotwings and Super Castlevania IV. Star Fox was this for the Super FX chip.
- Pilotwings is a Tech Demo series. Whenever it is released it shows off the latest graphical tricks.
- Killzone 2 is arguably a tech demo for the PlayStation 3. Heck, even one of the commercials for the game (the one where it tracks a bullet fired from the player character) can be downloaded and run on the system, in real time.
- The original Killzone was this even moreso.
- The original Donkey Kong Country was an effort to prove the aging SNES was capable of high-quality graphics.
- High Voltage's The Conduit provides a showcase of their Quantum3 engine, which can produce some pretty nice graphics on the Wii.
- Lair appeared to be an attempt to show off the PlayStation 3's ability to do Motion Control and native 1080p graphics. It couldn't do either very well.
- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots shows off all the PlayStation 3's hardware features. Surround sound, Bluetooth headset support for Otacon's codec calls, motion control for the Screaming Mantis battle, and most importantly, Blu-Ray for holding loads and loads of long-winded cutscenes (the latter point is even lampshaded when Otacon calls Snake and tells him to swap to the second disc, but then he remembers that the game is on Blu-Ray).
- Likewise, Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes was intended to be a demonstration of Kojima Productions' new FOX Engine, and was revealed to be the prologue to the next numbered entry of the series, Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain, instead of a stand alone game..
- Final Fantasy VII. Square really took the opportunity to show off some of the stuff they couldn't do on the SNES, like polygons and pre-rendered cutscenes.
- Wii Sports and Wii Play show off the Wii Remote's motion abilities. Wii Sports Resort and Wii Play Motion show off WiiMotion+. Wii Fit shows off the Wii Balance Board, however it has yet to be implemented well in any other game.
- And now, with the release of Playstation Move and Microsoft's Kinect, we're seeing variations on Wii Sports for those systems: Sports Champions on the PS3, and Kinect Sports on the Xbox360.
- Nintendo Land is the Wii Sports' successor for the Wii U, showing off the new WiiU Game Pad. In fact, many of the minigames included in Nintendo Land were shown in prototype form as tech demos at E3 2011, when the Wii U was first announced.
- Malice provided a demonstration of the Xbox's bump mapping capabilities but ended up being released for both Xbox and PS2 several years after people stopped caring about it.
- Backbreaker started as an attempt to show off Natural Motion's Euphoria physics engine with a simple "Dodge the tacklers" football game, but eventually was expanded into a full simulation.
- Luigis Mansion was this for the Gamecube. Fire effects, water effects, ice effects, transparent, glowing ghosts, Luigi's flashlight, the Poltergust 3000's wind tunnel, cloth effects... it goes on. It shows off the high poly count by repeatedly showing off how round it can make locked doorknobs. Heck, it even shows off the analog shoulder buttons and the c-stick, as both are integral to the game. It was even a test for stereoscopic 3D at some point in development.
- Pikmin was brought to life from the original GCN tech demo, "Mario 128".
- The developers of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker stated in an interview that the game takes place in an ocean to show off the GameCube's power and ability to render wind effects. The cloth physics engine that resulted is still impressive to this day.
- Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader was originally made as a tech demo in 1999 for the then-unreleased Nintendo GameCube. After this tech demo received great praise from the audience viewing it at SpaceWorld 1999, the creators of the game, Factor 5, decided to make a full-fledged game out of the demo as part of the Rogue Squadron series.
- The N64 version of Turok 2 was one of the first games for the system to use the expansion pak for high resolution textures, and its framerate was also rather sluggish.
- Battle Toads can be noted for its fast paced gameplay, virtually no slow down or flickering, and then advanced effects, such as the waving fire in Volkmire's Inferno and the rotating Dark Queen's Tower.
- Super Mario 64 not only showed off the N64s graphics, but it was also meant to show off the controller. This brought to light a direct flaw in the N64's controller, in that it seemed at first to be built solely with Mario 64 in mind and no other game. (Why would a 2D game need camera buttons?) But then developers figured out how to use the camera buttons as action buttons. For instance, they provided the classic 6-button layout for fighting games, and Zelda famously used them for quick access to your inventory.
- Super Demo World, a Rom Hack of Super Mario World, was created to show off the abilities of Lunar Magic, a rom editor.
- One of the major selling points of The Force Unleashed was its use of the Euphoria animation engine, the same one used for Backbreaker and Grand Theft Auto IV, enabling fluid character motion and physics based on Force powers.
- Sonic Adventure did this for the Sega Dreamcast. You know you wanted to play that game once you saw Sonic running from that killer whale in the commercial. The whole reason that Chaos was made of water was because they wanted to show off the system's capabilities - this is especially apparent in the cutscene where Perfect Chaos floods Station Square & bursts out of a building.
- 2006's Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis demonstrated the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE), which is later utilized in Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption.
- Zone Of The Enders was treated by Kojima Productions as a warm up to see what they could do with PlayStation 2 hardware before tackling Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons Of Liberty, which used the same engine (and the demo of which was a major selling point for Zone of the Enders). It shows, too: The game doesn't take very long to beat, and many of its environments look like they're straight from the PS 1 era.
- Its sequel, Zone of the Enders: Anubis / Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner, though much longer and more complete than the original, does a lot of tech-demoing in its own way. It used particle effects to great, err, effect, along with showing how many independent units the engine could keep track of at once. This came right before Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater, which then used many of those same techniques to a greater extent to render copious Scenery Porn of a jungle environment.
- Drakkhen is a very, very early example of a partially 3D video game.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time arguably fits this trope, displaying several graphical effects unseen before and a (then) large overworld with plenty of side-quests. This game was probably the most hardware-intensive game of its time - the developers were forced to program the game engine to run at just 24 frames per second.
- Rayman Origins is the first game to utilize the UbiArt Framework, which smoothly integrates artwork into the game and easy animation of 2D characters. It shows in the huge amount of Scenery Porn and cartoony characters.
- Hydrophobia was created with the purpose of showing off HydroEngine, the engine behind its pretty sophisticated fluid simulation effects.
- While the Dual Shock had been out for a while before its release, Ape Escape was designed specifically to push sales of the controller by splitting movement and actions between the two joysticks.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was pretty much a huge advertisement for how accurate the WiiMotionPlus is, while still being comfortable for long playtimes. Heck, a good chunk of the development period was dedicated to deciding on a control scheme.
- The creators of Roll Away maxxed out the Playstation hardware without realising with all kinds of fog effects, transparent polygons and a giant skybox.
- The Dark Side engine for Heavy Gear II was one of the first to actively require a hardware graphics card at a time where software emulation was a constant limit on upper capability. In the words of one of the developers, "It just doesn't look as good without them."
- Zombi U is the game to show how the Wii U's game pad will work in gameplay with a variety of different controls taking advantage of the inbuilt touch-screen and motion controls.
- The Nintendo 3DS had a bunch of these built in. There was Face Raiders and a handful of AR cards to show off its 3D camera and Augmented Reality capabilities, and Street Pass Mii Plaza for its StreetPass mode (the Puzzle Swap puzzles are small 3D animations originally demonstrated at E3 2010).
- Infinity Blade is the first Unreal Engine 3 game on handhelds, and thus was designed to be a showcase for the engine, making use of the iPhone's biggest strength (its console-quality amount of RAM) for photorealistic baked lighting◊. Some consider it a Dancing Bear.
- "Wario Ware" is often used as a testing bed or to show off new technology on Nintendo handhelds. "Wario Ware: Touched!" was used to exemplify the DS's control scheme, "Wario Ware: D.I.Y." was used to showcase the DSI, etc.
- Team Bondi's L.A. Noire was a showcase for their facial animation technology. It did work pretty well considering that you'll have to judge the suspects' statements based on their facial expressions.