Q) I recently read your What Ever Happened to Bits? article and found it very interesting. What I don’t fully understand, though, is why don’t we have a standard today to compare system performances? It may not have been accurate, but at least 8, 16 and 32-bit helped us define hardware generations.

That’s a good point. Bits as a unit of measurement really was more of a marketing technique than it was a true measure of hardware performance – The realities of this started showing through in the 32-bit generation when multiple processors in a single piece of hardware proved that every company was coming up with bit count by their own set of mathematics.

Atari’s “64-bit” Jaguar, for example, had a 64-bit object processor and blitter, but all of the actual processing was accomplished in 32-bit increments. Meanwhile, Sega marketed its Saturn as a 32-bit machine, strictly based on its CPU, disregarding the fact that its output was the result of a dual-CPU architecture and eight processors working in unison.

These days the media, users and developers alike tend to use the teraflop (or t-flop) as a measure of hardware rendering performance, which is a unit of computing speed equal to one million, million (10 to the 12th) floating-point operations per second.

While the trillion calculations per second model seems to be a lot more scientific/ less marketing hyperbole than old bits, that too doesn’t tell much of a story.  Teraflops can be useful on paper if trying to determine which given configuration has more computing potential, but in the real world, performance is the result of so many factors working in conjunction (these days even a setup’s monitor capabilities can account for a huge portion of display potential), that a standard unit of performance measurement is really just a pipedream.

Q) Now Intellivision is trying to raise capital by pushing $80 bundles of “games” that are really just boxes of download codes for games that aren’t even finished?  Do you still think the Amico is going to come out? I’m glad I bailed on this dumpster fire when I did.

As I don’t have money tied up in its crowdfunding, I have the luxury of remaining neutral on these developments, but will confess that very little of what they have been doing of late seems very encouraging.  Endless delays, a massive price increase in hardware MSRP, and now, as you pointed out, desperate gimmicks to earn additional capital are certainly troubling signs.

I will admit that when the system with its library of modern retro titles was initially announced, I was excited.  In the time since much of that excitement is being replaced with apprehension.  I’m hopeful they’ll turn it all around soon but can definitely understand why early backers are having serious doubts.

Q) Can someone tell me why the 32-bit generation is considered the first to be 3D? I had Doom and Mario Kart on SNES. There are still 2D games being produced on the hardware of today. What determines such a distinction?

That’s a good question.  There were 3D viewpoints from the dawn of video gaming and 2D gameplay will likely never go out of style but the reason the 32/ 64-bit generation is known for the transition to 3D not so much strictly because of the hardware, but because there was a shift in the design philosophy of game creation.

If you were to go back to the 1970s and transition across the entire 8 and most of the 16-bit eras that followed, you would find that the predominant method of video game design was based around the sprite. Hardware was designed to allow for sprite layers – this, coupled with tile-based graphic storage, meant the process games were created was pretty consistent for many, many years.

3D achieved in games like Mario Kart and Doom wasn’t true 3D, so much as it was a trick to make the sprite layers appear 3D to the player.  Mario Kart, in fact, used the famous Mode 7 capabilities of the SNES to allow a simple 2D sprite layer to be tilted onto an angle and rotated around the character sprite so as to appear like an interactive track environment.

Doom, too, looked 3D to the player, but each room was in fact a stand-alone environment from the rooms next to it.

3D, in the case of PlayStation, Saturn and N64 was built upon an entirely different system – polygons (a figure made of a finite number of straight lines connected to form a closed system). Unlike the 2D sprite, polygons could move through an entire, interconnected environment. Rooms had actual relationships to other rooms in these worlds.  In essence, this is still the primary method of game development to this very day.  We just keep increasing system specs to allow for higher and higher polygon counts as the generations wear on.

The PlayStation, Saturn, N64 etc. made the method popular because they had literally been designed to handle this type of game development right from the onset.  However, as you pointed out, they were not the first to make use of the concept. What was the first game to use polygons?  Battlezone from Atari, released in 1980. Starfox was also an actual polygonal 3D title on the 16-bit SNES.

Jason Russell (33 Posts)

Jason Russell has been working in video game journalism since the early 1990s before the internet existed, the term "fanzine" had meaning and sailors still debated as to whether or not the earth was flat. The first time. More recently he's cofounded the science fiction publishing house Starry Eyed Press , writes and runs the blog CG Movie Review in his spare time and has been corrupting WhatCulture with video game lists. And sometimes, when the planets align and the caffeine has fully left his system, it's rumored he sleeps.