As you probably already know, the world is built around 3 dimensions (oh, you knew that, didn't you?).
These, in computer terms - and sometimes in other circumstances - are known as the 'x', 'y', and 'z' angles. X is recognised as the horizontal line, y as the vertical, and z as the '3-D' line.
If the world was world was built around 2 dimensions, everything would be flat - like pieces of paper. Not a very pleasant thought, is it?
But the problem as far as gamesplayers are concerned, is that games are displayed on a flat, 2-D screen.
So then, what are the basic methods available to trick people into thinking a game is actually running in 'proper' 3-D?
Firstly, there're vectors. Vectors are shapes that can be rotated in any direction, and at any angle. They're built up by what're known as polygons - flat, 2-D surfaces.
(Now wait a minute, don't go away just yet! There's oodles of interesting stuff to come - this isn't just going to be a one-way science lesson, believe me!)
Games like Robocop 3 (the 3-D Amiga version, not the SNES one), Race Drivin' and StarWing use vectors.
Vector graphics can look very impressive, when updating smoothly (say, around, 50 frames per second); but they lack a certain something.
That certain something is depth. Sure, vectors are all very nice and everything, but the overall display is still using that flat, 2-dimensional, display.
Similarly, the Super Nintendo has a Mode-7 chip; which - as I'm sure you're aware - can scale and rotate sprites.
Some players have been misled into thinking that this chip can enable proper 3-D. This is strictly not true, or have you seen Pilot
Wings or Super Mario Kart with a 3-D object? No, Mode-7 can only move 2 -dimensional objects in 3-D - hence the rapid speed (despite the SNES only possessing a sluggish 65816 processor!).
Vectors - as already explained - use 3-D (StarWing - otherwise known as StarFox in Japan - uses 'proper' 3-D vectors).
Parallax is another attempt to convey 3-D. In practice though, parallax turns out to be something of a failure.
Layers of 2-D are layered on top of each other, and therefore use no perspective. The results can look good, but very cardboard-cut-out like - similar to what you see in a pantomime.
Vectors are the best bet so far, then; but on top of the speed problems present in slow CPU machines, the lack of any 'real' 3-D is there. There is a way around this, thankfully, which I'm about to explain...
The most promising trick so far involves a pair of specs, and a screen with nothing more than green and red blotches!
Being more specific, an image is overlaid in translucency (red over green or vice-versa) at varying distances. The musty yellow produced from the translucency is what you focus on, with the glasses (simply a case of red plastic on the left, and green on the right) blanking out the red and green patches on either side - causing a sort of blur.
With this advanced technique, games can actually look as though they are coming out of (or going into) the VDU (video display unit - TV or monitor)! The overall effect is reminiscent of a hologram.
Imagine Formula One Grand Prix with cars driving into you, and a real sense of 'being there'. Cor, you only need a helmet and gloves (and a fast CPU), and you're the next Nigel Mansell (well, sort of)!
All types of game would benefit, come to think of it - platform games like Sonic could have real depth in the parallax; and some sort of trick with Mode-7 could cause sprites to rotate in your face. Hmm...
The first game to utilise this ingenious invention is StarFighter Ace on the PC. You've probably seen it on GamesMaster and thought "Hmm... Does this really work, or is it just me?..." Well, the version you saw on GamesMaster wasn't finished, and the red and green shapes weren't positioned correctly. The finished version is certainly a lot better - you'll easily be able to notice the 3-D effect.
This 3-D technique does point the way forward for games, and some time in the future most games will have 3-D specs support. Probably. Hopefully.
"Why doesn't every game support this?" I hear you ask. Well, there are a couple of problems involved. Namely...
Having the two colours on-screen means twice as much calculation for the vectors, and twice as much CPU calculation to boot. This shouldn't be a problem for fast '486- and '040-based machines, but speed problems would occur even on the relatively nippy A1200 and Super FX chip.
Problem number 2 is that the display can only be viewed in monochrome. No purple, oranges or greys for you - you're stuck with yellow! To be fair, loads of bright colours go whizzing out of your head when you see the effect - it really is quite impressive. (I can
remember a company developing a proper pair of 3-D glasses and software, which did much the same thing as the new 3-D glasses - but in colour! It never took off though, mainly because of the astronomical £150 (!) price-tag. A nice idea, though...)
It is a rumour that Magic Carpet (CD≥≤ and PC) also promises to support the 3-D glasses.
After all this 3-D business, it makes you wonder exactly what could be developed in the future.
This may sound over-optimistic, but I'm holding out for a fourth dimension...