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Video Game 3D Leap
And he lost 20 pounds too!

"People are bored of 2D worlds...this is the age of 3D!"
King Tezro of Dotnia, 3D Dot Game Heroes

This is when a Video Game series makes the leap from sprite graphics to Polygonal Graphics.

Usually comes in two forms: Total Upgrade, and Presentation Upgrade. The latter changes just the graphics, while leaving the gameplay the same, usually because the gameplay works in both.

The largest portion of video game franchises made the leap during the The Fifth Generation of Console Video Games.

Sometimes the upgrade involves a Sprite/Polygon Mix.

The Super Trope to Polygon Ceiling.
    open/close all folders 

    Total Upgrade 
  • Super Mario 64 was one of the first game series to make the leap in game consoles, and the first to really show what 3D games could accomplish. It was widely praised for its accomplishments, although the gameplay is of a different nature than the 2D games.
    • The gameplay of the 2D games was eventually adapted to 3D in a new series that so far consists of Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World. While 3D Land had very limited camera control (you could tilt it slightly towards the left or the right, but it would just snap back into its original position), 3D World lets you change the camera angle with the Wii U GamePad's motion control.
  • X-Wing was perhaps the Ur Example, using a 3D engine with great success. In 1993!
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time maintained much of the core gameplay as the 2D Zelda games (apart from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link); just adding its lock-on system was a great way to get around the infamous Camera Screw in so many of these games.
    • And the same game got the honor again, with a second upgrade to stereoscopic 3D (what most people think of when they think of, for example, 3D movies) on the 3DS.
  • Although Metroid Prime skipped a generation, it also got loads of acclaim with its leap, keeping the non-linear adventure the series is known for in its change to a first-person perspective.
  • The Metal Gear series is something of an odd case, as the original Metal Gear Solid was mostly a presentation update with gameplay virtually identical to Metal Gear 2 (the second MSX2 game), but each successive sequel added new features that gradually turned it into a total upgrade.
  • So was Grand Theft Auto III. While the first games were million sellers, this boosted the series to the top tier of game series.
  • Mega Man Legends was an Enforced Trope for this, since Capcom was told they needed to make a 3D version of this before they could make 2D games for the PlayStation.
    • As a consequence, while it's commonly regarded as an excellent game, it's more of an Action Adventure/RPG than a run-n-gun platformer like the main series. The main series DID get an actual 3D installment in the form of X7, but it hit the Polygon Ceiling, and quite hard at that with the random jumps between camera angles and poor level design.
  • Ninja Gaiden leaped, with the difficulty preserved.
  • Shinobi likewise leaped, and was doubly hard as a result (the Scarf of Asskicking was a nice bonus too).
  • Phantasy Star is one of the few RPG series to make a full upgrade, since the gameplay was changed from menu based to MMORPG style action.
  • Sonic Adventure brought Sonic into 3D and had a huge overworld complete with full voiceovers and multiple characters. Depending on who you ask, it also first bumped its noggin on the Polygon Ceiling here.
  • Aero Fighters Assault was a 3D flight simulation instead of a wacky arcade 2D Shoot 'em Up like the older games.
  • When Fallout made the leap, the gameplay changed a lot. What was an isometric turn-based tactical role-playing game became a sandbox First-Person Shooter with RPG elements and many similarities to Bethesda's flagship property. The new version has been generally well-received, though grouchy oldschool fans might point out that it took so long for the 3D Fallout 3 to come out that most people who play it have never played the 2D originals - and despite being set in the same universe, there's little story connection between 3 and the 2D games.
  • Tales of Symphonia was the first game in the Tales Series to use 3D battles, although free-range 3D running didn't come until later with Tales of the Abyss.
  • Lemmings 3D is pretty similar to the original, but has to add the “turner” skill to compensate for the extra dimension, and also adds devices like teleporters and springboards that weren't in the original (but were in Lemmings 2.) However, it hits the Polygon Ceiling fairly hard, and much of the split-second timing crucial to the original gameplay is lost as a result (lemmings can only perform skills in the middle or edge of a tile).
  • Prince of Persia changed tremendously, accompanied by a total Continuity Reboot. Of course, the first try was an abject failure, ultimately requiring another reboot to get past the Polygon Ceiling.
  • Worms 3D did a pretty decent job at the previous games' weapon systems and deformable landscape. To some it still hit the Polygon Ceiling and wasn't as fun.
  • Duke Nukem 3D was outrageously more successful than its two predecessors, becoming massively more violent and with the main character's attitude significantly changing at the same time. (Note that this game still used sprite graphics, but had a 3D world.)
  • The Wolfenstein series switched to a 3D perspective in 1992 under the name Wolfenstein 3D, which is frequently pointed to as one of the games that established the first-person shooter genre. (Doom would be the other common one). Despite the name, Wolfenstein 3D is an aversion as it uses 2D sprites, the leap would be done by Return to Castle Wolfenstein in 2001.
  • Solar Assault Gradius.
  • Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle
  • Project Sylpheed is a FreeSpace-style Simulation Game, unlike its In Name Only predecessors which were vertical shoot em ups.
  • After testing the polygonal waters with War Gods, Midway brought Mortal Kombat into the third dimension with its fourth installation.
  • Grim Fandango was the first post SCUMM LucasArts Adventure Game. The transition was traumatic to the genre. The 3D graphics were still crude next to crafted and detailed sprites in the late 90s. Grim Fandango suffers from the loss of mouse control and just moving across the map becomes tedious. All-in-all it was Gamespot game of the year, but it sold so poorly it became a Genre-Killer in the minds of videogame producers.
  • The Rayman series is a very strange case. The initial entry in the series was a 2D platformer that underwent a 3D upgrade for the second and third entries, while Origins switched back to 2D animation and gameplay.
  • Guilty Gear 2: Overture was a 3D Beat 'em Up/RTS hybrid, a departure from the usual 2D Fighter fare the series is known for. Reactions were mixed, and even then many who didn't dislike this game wanted a 2D fighter.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies still retains Visual Novel in the jump to 3D for the Ace Attorney series, but also features 3D investigation scenes that can be viewed at multiple angles, from different vantage points and actually show a few characters at the scene as opposed to only appearing when you want to talk to them. Especially notable in Case 3 where you have to find pieces of rubble littering the scene, in order to do so you have to use multiple camera angles either from simply rotating the scene to examining objects that could be used as vantage points for further examination and two characters actually being present that can't be spoken to normally.
  • Much like Mario 64, Pac-Man got the Pac-Man World series, which did fairly well.
  • Castlevania tried making the leap on the Nintendo 64, but it too hit the Polygon Ceiling. The series would keep trying, however, though the 3D titles would be nowhere near as popular as the 2D Metroid Vania titles that would also be made alongside the series, at least until Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was released.

    Presentation Upgrade 
  • Final Fantasy VII doesn't have much that couldn't be done in 2D.
  • Nintendo has been careful not to shove every series in 3D, and in the case of the Fire Emblem and Mario & Luigi series, the developers just changed the graphics.
    • The Fire Emblem series did add elevation bonuses to Fire Emblem Tellius but removed it in later games.
  • Dragon Quest was even more careful in this regard. Dragon Quest VII only just barely went above being a 2D game with polygons, while Dragon Quest VIII was a full presentation upgrade.
  • Mario Kart didn't need much of a change. It used Mode 7 (a hardware kludge to dynamically scale and rotate its 2D background layer, giving the illusion of 3D space) originally, so the visuals were already a convincing simulacrum of 3D. Mario Kart 64 added elevation to the flat stages (and thus true 3D gameplay, although the practical difference was very subtle).
    • This also applies to the F-Zero series.
  • The first Klonoa was a Sprite/Polygon Mix, but the sequel was cel-shaded 3D.
  • Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards had almost everything rendered in 3D, but kept the gameplay from the rest of the series intact.
  • Street Fighter IV. Admittedly fighting games with 3D movement outside of dodging rarely work.
  • Guilty Gear Xrd is a 2.5D fighter that uses the Unreal Engine 3 and ditches the sprites in favor of models, but the models themselves are created to imitate the 2D visuals as much as possible, such as emulating the choppy animation and lots of model morphing.
  • The Pokémon Stadium series, Pokémon Colosseum, and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness still maintain the classic gameplay and an overhead view, with Colosseum and XD adding new Shadow Pokémon as well.
  • Gradius IV was the same as the earlier Gradius, only in 3D. Same thing for R-Type Delta.
  • Despite going into 3-D, WarCraft III is still definitely a WarCraft game—though the jump did allow it to supplement its FMV cutscenes with cheaper and more numerous realtime ones.
    • While in 3D, Starcraft II has very similar gameplay to the original. As does Diablo III to its predecessors. Blizzard does a good job at this it seems.
  • The transition to fully polygonal graphics was very natural for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, since earlier games were already in sprite-based 3D.
  • Lemmings Revolutions is essentially a pseudo-3D version of the original, although does add extra objects like teleporters.
  • The Myst series is an interesting example, as its first 3D installment was actually a Videogame Remake of the first installment, with only its MMO spinoff and the main series' final game originating as realtime 3D.
  • UFO After Blank's switch to 3D graphics from the tile-based (cube-based?) isometric 2D graphics of the prior X-Com series actually resulted in most levels becoming less 3D, geometrically speaking, due to engine limitations. This loss of verticality is exacerbated by the lack of flight or destructible terrain.
  • Sid Meier's Civilization IV gives 3D landscape and characters to the franchise, but still plays similarly to the third game.
  • The original OutRun, was a "3-D" driving game that used advanced scaling technology (as did other racing games from the mid-late 1980s), so Out Run 2 isn't much of a change, save for the graphics.
  • Space Invaders Infinity Gene was originally a 2D Shoot 'em Up released for the iPhone which takes the Space Invaders formula and gradually turns it into a modernised shmup. The Playstation Network/Xbox Live Arcade version takes the concept to its logical conclusion by implementing 3D levels in addition to the 2D levels. Your ship still moves in a horizontal axis in the 3D levels, but it definitely allows for more creative boss battles.
  • Syndicate Wars gained a 3D engine, but while the ability to rotate the camera and destroy buildings were neat, they didn't really improve the gameplay that much (building destruction was a little weird since they were prone to catastrophic collapse when a car nudged one corner). Also the sharp, hi-res graphics of the original were replaced by blocky polygons with a serious bounce off the Polygon Ceiling.
  • Ys: The Ark of Napishtim uses 3D graphics with 2D character sprites (except in the PlayStation 2 version, which renders characters in 3D as well), but still has the overhead view of previous games aside from the original version of the third game. Ys Seven, is fully 3D, even with character graphics.
  • Although the first two Golden Sun games of the Game Boy Advance already used pre-rendered 3D sprites, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn transitioned to actual polygonal graphics, though since the entire series uses more or less the same perspective, the gameplay is mostly the same aside from the option to control the game using the Nintendo DS's touch screen.
  • Professor Layton VS Ace Attorney keeps both games' Visual Novel style, but now the characters are in 3D instead of using sprites, as part of the platform shift to the Nintendo 3DS.
  • While the titular sims original Sims game were 3D, the environment they lived in was not. The Sims 2 was completely in 3D, and the The Sims 3 took said 3D Up to Eleven. The core gameplay remains the same, with some added features here and there.
  • Mega Man X 8 learned from X7's failures and turned the 3D conversion from Complete to Presentation, and the series was much better for it.
  • Sam & Max Hit the Road was to have a 3D sequel called Sam & Max: Freelance Police, then LucasArts cancelled it in 2004, leading to some employees leaving the company to form Telltale Games. It took until 2006 for the episodic 3D point-and-click Sam & Max Save The World to be released.
  • Once the Atelier games made the jump to the PlayStation 3, they went from a mixture of "strictly 2D" and "2D character sprites with some 3D environmental elements" to "full-on 3D presentation" starting with the release of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland.
  • Rayman Origins and its sequel, Legends, share the same style of 2D platforming; however, Legends drops the Thick-Line Animation art style of its predecessor in favor of a 2˝D, painting-like look with 3D lighting.
  • The Aliens franchise went from Alien Trilogy (2D-and-a-half world with sprite-based entities) to the full-3D Aliens Vs Predator, with excellent results.
  • Super Robot Wars makes most of its games in 2˝D (the last "fully 2D game" was Super Robot Wars L for the DS), but even in full 3D (as a few games have used), the most they really do is make the attack animations involve 3D robots.
  • RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 added a few things that couldn't be done before in 2D such as riding rides, but for the most part the core gameplay was unchanged. This caused some frustration with fans who were expecting a more sophisticated coaster editor that wasn't restricted by sprite limitations.
  • This was the main complaint The Angry Video Game Nerd had with the Virtual Boy. Despite the system's capacity for "true" 3D graphics, just about all of its games could have been perfectly done in a 2D setting.

    Discussed and Conversed 

VaporwareVideo Game CultureVideo Game Caring Potential
Unexpected Gameplay ChangeVideo Game GenresVisual Novel

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