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Just what is ISOMETRIC?

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Posting this in GRPG because the context in which this term is used the most and also the one that is most relevant to us here is that of CRPGs. Oh and, sticky maybe?

I've recently noticed that there seems to be some confusion and intentional ambiguity regarding ISOMETRIC and associated projection types in general and sometimes it can kind of detract from a discussion when people use the same terms to mean different things. Few are aware of the technical distinctions of the terminology and fewer give a crap. So I thought it might be worthwhile to explain these and maybe reach an agreement.​

~

I guess it would be right to say that, generally speaking, "isometric", in the context of gaming, has come to be used as an umbrella term to mean most single character to squad-level or otherwise strategy* games where you interact with the game through an overview interface (and possibly one that is partially or exclusively point&click in most cases -right?) for its tactical value games that you view from above at an angle, without any distinction between 2D, 3D or projection type. At least that's the definition that I think most people would almost universally commonly think of when somebody told them "I'm making an isometric game".​

(*: see made's comments down and on page 2)

So, Age of Decadence, UFO: After<crap> series, Dungeon Siege series, Diablo 3 and even DA:O in tactical mode (3D games all of them) are considered "isometric" just as X-COM, Ultima 7 - 8, Fallout, FO:T, IE games and JA2 also are, even though not all (or maybe none!) of the latter are technically isometric either.​

Anyway, I believe the actual confusion stems from a lack of understanding of what "isometric" itself technically means. Sometimes, for instance, 3D games like the the former group above are called "isometric 3D" or some other mishmash of terms to try and make sense but end up inaccurate in 99% of the cases anyway, even though the term itself might be technically valid on its own but not in its appliance to a particular game. (Roughly speaking, I think it's kind of like calling a liquid an ionised gas because both are fluids and both are states of matter where the latter is even a valid terminology albeit not for liquids but for plasma).​

To put it elementally, isometric, in graphics, is one of the subtypes of parallel projection where parallel lines or edges of objects are also parallel in the resulting image after the projection, except with skewed angles and foreshortening and all representations of any given object have the same dimensions anywhere throughout the scene due to lack of a focal point (or because parallel projections have an infinite focal length), as opposed to otherwise parallel lines or edges getting closer or further apart in perspective projection, thus objects looking smaller or bigger in respect to the distance to focal point.​

The distinction of a projection being "isometric" stems from the particular use of the angles and foreshortening. Examples of parallel projections:​

NCgXB.png

Notice how only one of them is actually isometric though I'm sure many here will recall games looking like either of them and still being called isometric.​


HOW ANY OF THIS RELATES TO GAMES

Technically, a 2D game can be rendered in either isometric or an otherwise parallel projection (leaving out other types of graphics eg. symbolic, ASCII or whatever, which are irrelevant to the subject). A 3D game can be rendered in either isometric, otherwise parallel or a perspective projection.​

2D games with parallel projection -isometric or otherwise:

4nwWA.jpg
Gqm5P.jpg
nK3HQ.jpg
nKrN5.jpg
Fom0D.jpg

zCktR.jpg
gX6K5.jpg
JAZ02.jpg
Rw3Sv.jpg

As you might have noticed, there's quite a bit of variation in angles and the amount of foreshortening but just about anyone would call all of these games isometric, while technically, not all of them are. But they all employ parallel projection. Moving on.​






3D games rendered with perspective projection:

k8hXc.jpg
qNhHY.jpg
wHmZ3.jpg
W7c0D.jpg
Ruhvl.jpg
Dgawc.jpg
qLt0R.jpg

Even though all of these 3D games are rendered with perspective projection and therefore can not possibly be isometric by technical definition, virtually anyone will call these isometric just the same, as the term conveys a certain type of viewpoint game or gameplay as can be gleamed from (all) these screens. Moving on.​






3D games rendered with parallel projection:

6uvY9.jpg
6Nxvb.jpg
OiLJB.jpg
lswfk.jpg
7hMzM.jpg
bfUhv.jpg

All of those are 3D and rendered with parallel projection. You could rotate the camera in one or two axes on some of these and can not rotate it at all in one of the examples there; camera axes are locked in Depths of Peril. While I'm not certain if the particular fixed angle of the camera in Depths of Peril technically qualifies as isometric, all of these games are, well, duh, isometric by gaming terminology (however, you could also match the technical definition by playing with camera angles in some of those games).​

Finally, some of those 3D games also come with a toggle: you can switch between parallel and perspective projection (though I think only one or two among those examples qualify: UFO: Alien Invasion certainly does and perhaps Prelude To Darkness as well but I don't remember for certain). It would be nice if one particular vapourware in development with a demo coming soon also did that :hint:​

Also see the following wiki article for further reading, though beware, it also has some false information:​


That's all, folks. Objections? Suggestions? Thoughts?​
 

Surf Solar

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Good post. :bro:

I am kinda disgusted how many people fail to realize those simple concepts, you don't need to be a guy who works on modelling shit, an art guy etc. to "notice" the difference as it is entirely obvious. But well.. ;)
 

Surf Solar

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Trying to show the differences between the projection types:


Free camera projection:

iso1j03kr.png



Orthographic Camera Placment:


iso26p264.png


Again, p. good post VotS!
 
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Whining about games not technically being an isometric projection is as meaningless as whining that an FPS's viewpoint isn't perfect bi-focal 3D vision with each camera directly positioned over the character's retina and is therefor technically not a first person game.

Add Diablo 2 to your list of games that let you change between modes of representation btw.
 

Skittles

He ruins the fun.
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Heading for the third section inaccurately says "3D games with perspective projection," by the way.

No objections, though is this pre-Wasteland 2 cynicism?

I'm not sure I recall ever playing a game that allows toggling between perspective and parallel. What appeals to you about having the option to toggle?
 
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I just don't like perspective in my isometric games. It almost always makes the game play like shit in small scale games by skewing with your viewing area. You see less stuff towards the camera when there is absolutely no point to seeing more in the distance (especially if you can already pan the camera) and stuff in the distance also gets slightly harder to select or target so you end up manipulating the camera more than you would in a 2D/parallel projected game.

Look at the screen of Prelude to Darkness above. It smells of pure gameplay. So do the others. Also look at Dungeon Keeper. I don't know if you have played Dungeon Keeper 2 but I have and it sucked balls. Part of the reason was because the developers switched to perspective, turning management and choosing the tiles towards the far edges of the screen a hassle to deal with, whereas DK1 was as pure as it gets: exactly the same level of interactivity and feedback no matter where you clicked on screen.

If it's a "isometric" game and 3D, you have no reason not to include a parallel projection toggle. It provides a fundamentally different feel of interactivity.

Add Diablo 2 to your list of games that let you change between modes of representation btw.

I thought about it but I'm not certain if it qualifies for even that. IIRC, even in the game menu, it said pseudo-perspective and with reason. It is a 2D game all the way. I think it only does a parallax mapping trick to achieve the result.
 
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Being able to change is a neat thing but not really appealing to me as anything other than a novelty. So long as it isn't the hideous sideways projection used in games like the later Ultimas I'm cool.

I thought about it but I'm not certain if it qualifies for even that. IIRC, even in the game menu, it said pseudo-perspective and with reason. It is a 2D game all the way. I think it only does a parallax mapping trick to achieve the result.

It looks pretty damn perspective-y to me. Even if its "cheated" and not a true 3D representation it still counts as perspective.

Pics of Diablo 2 with changed perspectives (note that its in a much higher res than normal, greatly exaggerating what is meant for a normally 800x600 resolution)

sFILU.jpg

vyqbH.jpg
 
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That's interesting. I've always assumed that the game did a displacement trick with tiles, since the entire game was tile based. So does the game distort the entire final frame, I wonder.
 

noctifyre

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Bit off-topic, but I was curious as to what the games are in which you posted screenshots of? Some of them look rather cool, but I have no clue which games the 'shots are from aside from the NWN2 and Divinity ones.
 

MMXI

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I just don't like perspective in my isometric games. It almost always makes the game play like shit in small scale games by skewing with your viewing area. You see less stuff towards the camera when there is absolutely no point to seeing more in the distance (especially if you can already pan the camera) and stuff in the distance also gets slightly harder to select or target so you end up manipulating the camera more than you would in a 2D/parallel projected game.

Look at the screen of Prelude to Darkness above. It smells of pure gameplay. So do the others. Also look at Dungeon Keeper. I don't know if you have played Dungeon Keeper 2 but I have and it sucked balls. Part of the reason was because the developers switched to perspective, turning management and choosing the tiles towards the far edges of the screen a hassle to deal with, whereas DK1 was as pure as it gets: exactly the same level of interactivity and feedback no matter where you clicked on screen.
I couldn't agree more with that. There's one thing I can't stand in tactical games with a high camera and that is perspective projection. Why would I want to look down on the heads of characters at the bottom of the screen while looking almost side on at the characters at the top of the screen? Why would I want objects at the top of the screen to be smaller and therefore harder to click on than objects at the bottom of the screen? Why would I want walls to obscure more of the room space the further up the screen it is? At least give me a choice. If you can't be bothered to do that then at least use an orthographic projection if it's a team-based game.

If DivDiv is "isometric", so are Goldbox games or Golden Axe. :roll:
Can't you fucking read?
2D games with parallel projection -isometric or otherwise:
And yes, that does mean the Gold Box games have a parallel projection (in combat).
 

bhlaab

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It means top down but tilted a bit to simulate or show actual depth. If the exact degree of "a bit" is important to you you're an asshole.
 

Murk

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I like the post, as it was informative and well put together. Also, it was neat to see the comparison of games through screen shots, so well done. What I don't get is this:

I am kinda disgusted how many people fail to realize those simple concepts, you don't need to be a guy who works on modelling shit, an art guy etc. to "notice" the difference as it is entirely obvious. But well.. ;)

Mein freund, if the word 'disgusted' regardless of how much it is modified with "kinda" is how you feel about people using a word somewhat incorrectly because they did not take extensive lessons on perspective and virtual-photography, then perhaps it is best to step away from the internet. I fear you may no longer have any wits left if you were to discover how people write online.
 

made

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Even though all of these 3D games are rendered with perspective projection and therefore can not possibly be isometric by technical definition, virtually anyone will call these isometric just the same, as the term conveys a certain type of game or gameplay as can be gleamed from (all) these screens. Moving on.
When people (or me at least) say "isometric" they mean a certain look or feel, not gameplay or -type. After all, iso and various lookalikes have been used in all kinds of games, from point and click RPGs and strategy to shooters and jump&runs.

Good post btw, and very relevant to my interests.
 
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Expand this look or feel. That's so very vague. I've omitted 4X or other kinds of tactical/strategy games in the example pictures but I accounted for them in the description, which I think is pretty inclusive. Do you find it otherwise?
 

CrustyBot

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Good read, VOTS. Was quite informative. Nice to see so many screenshots/examples.

:salute:
 

asper

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Project: Eternity
gX6K5.jpg


Holy shit, that is a fucked up perspective...! Ahahaha.. It actually looks refreshing because it's so weird

There is an in-depth discussion about isometric graphics on the Dwarf Fortress forums: http://www.bay12forums.com/smf/index.php?topic=35693.0

By the way, this kind of view is missing from the original post, what is its technical name? It's quite common for old arcade games and jRPGs and one of my favourite perspectives, kinda a mix between iso and top-down

l1.jpg

B001E27DLM-2-lg.jpg
 

Achilles

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A great post, well done vots!

However, those screenshots reminded me how much I love isometric games and how much I miss them nowadays :cry:
 

made

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Expand this look or feel.
The fact that the camera points down at the action at an angle. I bet most people couldn't tell the difference between, say, the D3 and Xcom screenshots. It's only noticeable when you have obvious tiles/lines like in the case of Trapped Dead. They all have the same look to them, quality of art assets aside.

On the other hand, people will point out the parallel (oblique) projection in say Ultima 7 as distinctly different or "weird". See asper's post above.

I just don't like perspective in my isometric games. It almost always makes the game play like shit in small scale games by skewing with your viewing area. You see less stuff towards the camera when there is absolutely no point to seeing more in the distance (especially if you can already pan the camera) and stuff in the distance also gets slightly harder to select or target so you end up manipulating the camera more than you would in a 2D/parallel projected game.

Look at the screen of Prelude to Darkness above. It smells of pure gameplay. So do the others. Also look at Dungeon Keeper. I don't know if you have played Dungeon Keeper 2 but I have and it sucked balls. Part of the reason was because the developers switched to perspective, turning management and choosing the tiles towards the far edges of the screen a hassle to deal with, whereas DK1 was as pure as it gets: exactly the same level of interactivity and feedback no matter where you clicked on screen.
I couldn't agree more with that. There's one thing I can't stand in tactical games with a high camera and that is perspective projection. Why would I want to look down on the heads of characters at the bottom of the screen while looking almost side on at the characters at the top of the screen? Why would I want objects at the top of the screen to be smaller and therefore harder to click on than objects at the bottom of the screen? Why would I want walls to obscure more of the room space the further up the screen it is? At least give me a choice. If you can't be bothered to do that then at least use an orthographic projection if it's a team-based game.
Look at the screenshot of TQ above. Are objects in the back harder to click? Do huge heads obscure the view in the front? The perspective is perfect and would work just as well if it were a tactical game. The difference to isometric in that case is minimal.


Btw, here's a neat article covering the details in simple terms:
http://www.significant-bits.com/a-laymans-guide-to-projection-in-videogames
 

hiver

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Its a technique used to enhance the 3d feel of early 2d games.
 
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Another worthless "game science" post from vots.
I guess it would be right to say that, generally speaking, "isometric", in the context of gaming, has come to be used as an umbrella term
Even though all of these 3D games are rendered with perspective projection and therefore can not possibly be isometric by technical definition, virtually anyone will call these isometric just the same
[citation needed]
Where the fuck do you get such silly ideas? You just create arguments out of air.
I am kinda disgusted how many people fail to realize those simple concepts
Oh the barbarians, they just can't grasp the higher knowledge :roll:
Who the hell cares what projection is used if all assets are 3D, which means you can do whatever the fuck you want with camera.
Oh and, sticky maybe?
Worthless.
 

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