TECH & SCIENCE
RECENTLY I’ve been working on a passion of mine - an adventure story that doubles as both a new age version of a digital ‘pop-up’ book, and a homage to the old 2D side scrolling video games that I grew up with. I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s, the golden age of video gaming, and in many ways video game technology grew up with me. I have fond memories of my family’s very first home PC - a Commodore 64 - and the trials and tribulations involved in getting a video game to run on it. Somehow, at the tender age of five or six, I managed to assemble the computer, insert the 51/4” floppy disk into the seperate drive, type the necessary command prompts into the bright blue screen, and wait the obligatory 5-10 mins for the game to actually load while my senses were driven crazy by a perpetually flashing rainbow loading screen (apparently attempting to induce epileptic seizures was part and parcel of video game design back then). Mr. Robot was my favourite game, not least because it had a level creation mode, a feature that was leaps and bounds ahead of its era. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was my second favourite, although I found out years later, on the internet, that the game was broken and that level I was stuck on was actually impossible to beat. That’s right kids, back in my day, you had to have the patience of a saint and advanced computing and technical skill just to play a game that might very well be broken with no way to finish it - hooray. Shortly after this, I received a Sega Master System for Christmas, and that was when my love of side scrolling video games really took off.
A brief history of 2D side scrollers The first side scrolling video games
The first generation of 8-bit gaming took place primarily during the 1980’s. The first game to fall under the “scrolling” category was Jump Bug, which was released in 1981. In this arcade-style game the player controlled a Volkswagen Beetle through different levels of increasing difficulty. Another popular arcade style game of this genre was Pac-Land, released in 1984. This game took Pacman and incorporated the main character into a sidescroller game. It was similar to the idea of Pacman since the player collected fruit for points and could gather certain tokens to change the familiar ghost enemies to blue so they could also be eaten for points. In 1985, the home gaming console market changed forever.
8-bit Home consoles
A new system was released in North America and with it one of the most popular games ever. Super Mario Bros. was released with the Nintendo Entertainment System. This move propelled home gaming back into popularity, since it was an efficient, smooth running system that handled the demanding side-scrolling graphics with ease. In total Super Mario sold around 40 million copies worldwide. The NES and the Super Mario franchise dominated the market well through the 8-bit generation of 2-dimensional games. Although the Sega Master system did lag behind its chief competitor, the arrival of its own mascot in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog, saw a marked increase in sales and interest from gamers.
The second generation of gaming, 16-bit, brought about another wave of side-scrolling games with the Sega Genesis released in 1989. This console had superior graphics and was the only console on the market at the time. This was the case until Nintendo released their newest game console Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) around a year later. Games such as Donkey Kong Country, Earth Worm Jim, Ranger X and Castlevania were absolute eye candy for their time, and the new levels of graphical fidelity helped suspend disbelief and create emotional investment in what was happening on the screen.
32 and 64 bit consoles
This new dawn of consoles saw a dramatic shift into the world of 3D graphics, and for the longest time I believed that the old 2D side scrollers I’d grown to love had actually died out, never to return. After all, suddenly players weren’t restricted to only move in two directions, now characters on your screen like Mario, Link and Lara Croft had a three dimensional world they could move around in. Who in their right mind would want to play Alex Kidd or Wonder Boy?
Steam and the Indie Scene
It turned out, plenty of people thought the way I did, and now I’m happy to see that there are an abundance of new titles that utilise the tried and true 2D side scrolling mechanic, largely created by independent game developers. One company, Lizardcube, has even created a fantastic remake of Wonder Boy 3 - a game I adored as a kid, and I love it every bit as much today. There’s something to be said for the golden oldies. With publishing platforms like Steam, and fund generating sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter having taken the video game scene by storm, I look forward to seeing what the future brings for the humble 2D Side Scroller.
◆ RUN AND JUMP: The remake of Wonderboy 3 is a welcome addition to the resurgence of the 2D platformer genre, while the original was a video game icon of the 1990’s.