A Layman’s Guide to Projection in Videogames

Oftentimes when a videogame has a skewed, overhead point of view, we call it isometric. That’s rarely the accurate term, though, and it’s not just pointless semantics.

echochrome A Layman’s Guide to Projection in Videogames

Although Echochrome uses a single projection type, its gameplay is based on constantly rotating and morphing its 3D structures. With each new view, the physical architecture of the level changes to reflect what the player sees on the screen.

Projection basically means taking a three dimensional object and displaying it on a 2D plane (i.e., a screen). There are various ways of accomplishing this, and each technique has a deep impact on a game’s look and mechanics. The advent of 3D games and free-floating cameras somewhat lessened this role, but being aware of the pros and cons of each projection type is still applicable to both 2D and 3D titles.

So what exactly are these projection types? Well, let’s take a look:

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Robotron: 2084 Bits

Before Geometry Wars and the dawn of the twin-stick shooter, even before Smash TV, there was Robotron: 2084.

robotron2084 title Robotron: 2084 Bits

Robotron: 2084 in all its glory.

robotron Robotron: 2084 Bits

A typically hectic scene from the original Robotron: 2084.

At its time, it was quite innovative and considered an instant classic. It also went on to influence many other games, and even got an XBLA port. These bits, though, are based on the original arcade version:

  • The brain-child of Eugene Jarvis, Robotron: 2084was the first action/shooter to feature two joysticks. One was used for moving the player character, and the other for choosing the direction in which he fired.
  • There was no scrolling and the game’s background was entirely black, providing a high contrast for the on-screen action.
  • Each of the game’s enemies had a unique look and behaviour. Grunts endlessly pursued the player, their speed increasing as they got closer to their prey; green Hulks stalked the remaining human survivors and could not be destroyed — only slowed down — by the player’s shots; Enforcers flew around and peppered the player’s vicinity with harmful projectiles (which, unintuitively, also traveled faster the further they were away from the player); Tanks fired bouncing shells that rebounded off of the screen’s edges; and Brains launched homing missiles and could reprogram humans to turn on the player.
  • The Quarks and Spheroids were some of the earliest examples of spawning machines, a prevelent aspect of the eventual Gauntlet.

    simrobotron2084001 Robotron: 2084 Bits

    The game's Xbox Live Arcade port.

  • Since many enemies materialized in waves and didn’t continuously fire at the player, they would often end up turning the empty arena into a dynamic maze. Walls composed of grunts would close in on the player, forcing him to avoid the obstacles and blast through the oncoming danger.
  • Electrodes were somewhat representative of static but harmful environmental objects. The interesting thing about them, though, was that the player could not only destroy them, but also use them to kill other enemies.
  • Adding a bit of a defensive element, Robotron: 2084 allowed the player to shoot down the enemies’ projectiles with his own.
  • The game had a rather dystopian vibe with the player attempting to save the last humans from the “robocalypse.” More specifically, he was saving the last human clones, suggesting that it might’ve already been too late.