Gaming

Graphics in Video Games: From Pixelated to Lifelike

One of the first computer games I ever played, “World Class Rugby,” came out in 1991 on DOS. It was available on various PC platforms, and I played it on a DOS-enabled 286-processor beast machine. For the time, of course.

I remember the excitement I felt as I heard the players scrum and ruck, and it also had excellent controls. My friends and I played it in two-player mode, and we spent many hours playing that game. Remember that time that England beat New Zealand 145-0 in a 4-minute match? I remember – I was there.

The graphics, however, were nothing to write home about. It was the same top-down configuration as first-generation Grand Theft Auto games, with far less detail. Nowadays, even basic online casino games have better graphics quality than we had back then.

We didn’t care, though. We were kids and were having fun. Looking at that now, I ask myself, “what were we thinking?”

In today’s article, we’ll be looking at a brief history of computer-generated imagery and how it went from horribly pixelated to beautifully life-like.

History

I bet that people who played the original “Pong” that Atari released in 1972 would’ve looked at World Class Rugby and thought, “whoa, the graphics are amazing!” and feelings of nostalgia overwhelm them. So they dust off their old console to get in some retro gaming. Big mistake, by the way. Stick with the memories and nostalgia.

Pong is a landmark in gaming history. It brought video games to countless households throughout the United States and paved the way for every other video game to come after that.

It was straightforward. It was a top-down view, with a small pixelated “ball” bouncing between two “paddles” that were two very straight lines on opposite ends of the screen. Players were only able to move vertically, and the ball couldn’t be manipulated in any way. It sounds boring by today’s standards, but in the early 1970s, this was all the rage.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Atari cemented themselves as pioneers in video game graphics and Battlezone hit arcades in 1980. Battlezone probably wasn’t the first 3D game around, but it was the most popular. It used vector graphics to create a 3D-looking tank that got attacked by other tanks and missiles.

All in the first-person view, by the way.

Then, in 1984, Atari once again changed video gaming forever. Never mind video gaming, 3D model design in its entirety was forever altered.

They introduced a foreign concept that their watershed video game I, Robot, was a commercial failure.

Current Generation 3D Modeling Has Atari to Thank

So what was so groundbreaking and radical in 1984?

Polygonal modelling is a huge term that means that models are created with thousands of small triangles to recreate other shapes and surfaces. We’re not 3D modellers, so “triangles” make sense. Please forgive our ignorance.

The beautiful 3D video games we see today, with life-like characters and perfect shading, should express gratitude to Atari and their ill-fated I, Robot. Your run-of-the-mill mobile games use polygons in their design. Your favourite animated movies use polygonal design. Every modern 3D model you can think of will trace its roots to Atari’s innovative design.

With its wonderfully basic, many-triangles polygonal modelling, it started a graphics revolution. There wasn’t much computing power back then, so the polygonal model had to be kept basic so that the 1980s processors wouldn’t melt.

With today’s modern processing power, we’re able to render millions of polygons each second. These polygons are drawn on trillions of floating operation points in the virtual realm with a term we call teraflops.

Image by Денис Марчук from Pixabay

The higher the number of teraflops a graphics processing unit can process, the greater the level of detail and quality of the video game, and the smoother the shading and lighting will appear.

If your graphics card can process eight teraflops, it means it can process 8 trillion floating-point calculations each second. Mind-blowing.

Conclusion

We look back at video games with great endearment and sentiment. Those old games’ graphics can’t be compared to today’s magnificent graphics, but they lay the groundwork so we can experience video games today as we do.

With the way things are progressing, it would be impossible to distinguish reality from cyberspace soon.

Triangles are friends, not foes.

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