Take a look at the next list of 10 groundbreaking 3D games. This time we move out of the arcades and into the homes, looking at ten of the best sports and driving games.
Ballblazer (LucasFilm Games, 1984)
Way back in the olden days, before it existed almost solely as a source of Star Wars game, even before it was pioneering the point and click adventure game, LucasArts (or LucasFilm Games as it was then) was a trailblazing developer of 3D games for home systems. Ballblazer, developed for Atari 8-bit machines and then ported to most other 8-bit systems, was an early triumph; a split-screen 3D game of futuristic one-on-one football where you zoom around in what can only be high-speed hovercrafts, trying to fire a floating ball into moving goals. By keeping its graphics simple – scaled sprites on a chequerboard field – it managed to move at a scorching pace.
Leaderboard (Access Software, 1986)
Golf’s a leisurely pursuit, which probably made it an attractive prospect for 3D simulation back in the 8-bit days; after all you can get away with a lot more detail if you’re not tied to a need to redraw the screen instantly. Leaderboard wasn’t exactly slow at drawing its scenes, although watching it back we’re amused to note that we’d completely forgotten about how it drew them bit by bit. It kept thing nice and simple, constructing its flat courses entirely out of land and still blue water, and it looked excellent, with the added bonus that it played brilliantly too. Later versions added scaled foliage and better landscaping, allowing for recreations of real courses. We love the simplicity of the original version, though.
Stunt Car Racer (Geoff Crammond, 1989)
Geoff Crammond already had a hit 3D racing game under his belt – 1984’s Revs for the BBC Micro, a Formula Three game with impressive physics simulation and AI opponents – when in 1989 he came up with Stunt Car Racer, a quite different game of 3D driving. While it was again strong on the physics front, realism wasn’t the aim here; instead the tracks were elevated rollercoaster monstrosities confronting you with the constant threat of falling off, and they were rendered in fast filled polygons that even managed to run at an acceptable pace on 8-bit computers. After Stunt Car Racer, Crammond went on to make a series of acclaimed F1 games; a PC remake of Stunt Car Racer was mooted a few years ago but never came to fruition.
Wipeout (Psygnosis, 1995)
The coming of the Playstation marked a massive turning point for games, in that it was the first console built specifically for 3D, and Wipeout was arguably its first major hit. Anyone will tell you that its instant widespread appeal was down to Pysgnosis’ recruitment of The Designers Republic to brand the title specifically to appeal to the achingly hip and fashionable clubbing audience, and the canny licensed soundtrack, but beneath the trendy veneer lay a compelling game of high speed anti-gravity racing; a Stunt Car Racer on disco biscuits that showed off the Playstation’s 3D hardware to excellent effect, making Wipeout the point at which 3D truly hit the mainstream.
Mario’s Tennis (Nintendo, 1995)
We can’t really do a round-up of 3D games without mentioning Nintendo’s greatest mistake ever. The Virtual Boy was an ill-conceived attempt at a handheld virtual reality console, resembling a pimped-out View-Master and only capable of displaying its VR wares in retina-scorching red on black. Launched in 1995 and withdrawn barely a year later, it’s not a proud moment in Nintendo’s history. But bless them for at least trying, and you know what? Mario’s Tennis is actually not a bad game, and almost caused us to impulse buy a heavily-discounted Virtual Boy in Los Angeles over a decade ago; almost, because the shop didn’t actually have any in stock beyond the display unit. Damn it.
Actua Soccer (Gremlin Interactive, 1995)
Football games (by which of course we mean soccer games, American readers) have been bravely attempting 3D for almost as long as there have been video games. Back in 1979, Mattel released Soccer for its Intellivision console, proudly boasting of its realistic 3D pitch, and over the years many other titles tried to do football in 3D using a variety of forced perspectives. Gremlin Interactive, however, were the first to develop a fully 3D football game, complete with polygonal 3D players motion captured from actual Sheffield Wednesday players.
Quake 3 Arena (id Software, 1999)
id Software’s John Carmack is the superstar of 3D engines in gaming, and arguably the man who made the PC an attractive gaming proposal for many of us back in the 1990s. Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake made a genre out of the first-person shooter, the latter two bringing with them networked deathmatch play, and then in 1999 id launched Quake 3 Arena, ditching the story mode of previous games and concentrating on deathmatch as sport. Quake 3 is also notable for spelling the end of software rendering; the first Quake was quickly patched to support an assortment of 3D cards, and Quake 2 came with full OpenGL support, but it wasn’t until Quake 3 Arena that Carmack felt confident enough to ditch the software renderer altogether, take full advantage of hardware rendering with a swathe of 3D techniques including shaders, spline-based curved surfaces and volumetric fog.
Metropolis Street Racer (Bizarre Creations, 2000)
It wasn’t the first game to have a go at 3D recreations of real cities – Microsoft’s Midtown Madness had a go at simulating Chicago in 1999, but it would be kindest to overlook that particular attempt – but when Metropolis Street Racer roared onto the Dreamcast in 2000 it was streets ahead (sorry) of every previous attempt, enabling you to tear around painstakingly modelled and photographed copies of London, Tokyo and San Francisco in equally well-modelled cars. And if that wasn’t enough realism for you, MSR threw in a full day/night spectrum and showed you each city as it ought to appear at that exact point in time. Which meant that, assuming you were in the UK and playing in the evening you pretty much always saw Tokyo at night when, to be fair, it looks best, and San Francisco in broad daylight.
Jet Set Radio (Smilebit, 2000)
Realism is overrated, and it’s often the case that 3D gaming has looked its absolute best when it’s put the relentless pursuit of realism to one side and tried something a little different. Jet Set Radio is a perfect example of this, a peculiar and fun game of rollerblading and graffiti vandalism made all the more vivid through being entirely cel-shaded. The bright, limited palette and strong outlines gave Jet Set Radio a cartoon look and made it the most distinctive looking game of 2000.
Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions (Bunkasha, 2002)
We had Grand Theft Auto III lined up for today’s final spot, with it big open 3D city, but it was a reluctant inclusion, knowing that its approach had already been taken by Hunter on the Amiga and ST in 1991, and then by Body Harvest on the N64 which, in many ways, was a proto-GTA3 from the same developers. But then Billy Thomson from Ruffian Games took a couple of minutes out from designing Crackdown 2 to remind us about Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions, published by Activision in 2002. It’s another driving game that’s never likely to feature on anyone’s top ten list; however in its Xbox incarnation it was quite possibly the first game to use depth of field blur, and that’s reason enough for us to include it. Thanks, Billy!