Memories of Tank Controls and Prerendered Backgrounds (or How I Ended Up In Game Development)

Arv BuenaventuraGames0 Comments

Resident Evil 4 didn’t click with me. It marked the return of Resident Evil 2’s star, Leon Scott Kennedy and the series’ switch to a more action oriented game play from one that is slower and more towards solving puzzles and conserving ammo. This might have been a good thing but RE4 just didn’t feel like the Resident Evil I grew up with.

I chalk it up to growing up in a different era. Playstation games were required to keep as few elements on screen as possible compared to games in PS2. This lead to the use of what is known as 2.5D where polygonal 3D models reserved for players, enemies and interactive objects are rendered on top of 2D. This gave the illusion of detail afforded by 2D backgrounds displaying high quality 3D elements that are pre-rendered. I dare say the illusion worked (for me anyway). I had no idea this was being done and why Silent Hill’s (amazing game by the way) backgrounds seemed inferior to Resident Evil’s.

The use of pre-rendered backgrounds also prompted Resident Evil 1, 2 and 3 to adapt a scheme known as tank controls. For games that switch camera angles, this can be confusing because a player would tend to press the direction on the controller towards which he wants the character to move based on where the character is on screen, not on which direction the character is facing. It was definitely not intuitive. However, an hour of practice definitely makes this navigation style second nature. It is then that the genius behind this decision becomes apparent specially for something like Resident Evil that uses camera angles to build up suspense.

Other Survival Horror games from this era like Silent Hill 1 and Dino Crisis 1, while adapting the tank controls ditched 2.5D and pre-rendered backgrounds. For Silent Hill, this was apparently an artistic choice given how low resolution textures actually helped enhance the rusty and bloody look of The Otherworld.

Still, my heart was clearly in love with survival horror games with both tank controls and 2.5D graphics. Parasite Eve 2, Galerians 1, Martian Gothic, Alone in the Dark: A New Nightmare, Dino Crisis 2… you name it! If it had those two things then I definitely have played it.

I was in highschool when Resident Evil 3 hit the piracy shelves of Quezon City. It introduced the roll, the push and the 180 degree turn as evasive options. When I accidentally performed a roll as Jill was being attacked by Nemesis, I was awestruck. This is action people, almost on the same height as a fighting game’s but in a survival horror game! Sure, RE3 was still solving puzzles and conserving ammo and surviving, but inspite of technical limitations, packing a action into a game with limited camera angles was still possible. These things, on top of incredible photo-realistic backgrounds and very intelligent puzzles, Resident Evil 3 made me go “That’s it! I am going to become a video game developer.”

Sega Dreamcast was released soon after that along with Resident Evil Code Veronica. I enjoyed the game as well, but only as much as I did Dino Crisis 1. Something I love was missing (2.5d graphics). Imagine my delight when Resident Evil 1 was being remade for the Gamecube with better graphics but same gameplay and controls and still with pre-rendered backgrounds.

I know that Resident Evil as a series had to evolve. Hardware gets stronger all the time and video games in turn have to utilize what is available to it during development. I understand that. But I stopped playing Resident Evil after Resident Evil 4. I can not fault RE4 for getting with the times. Also, tank controls seem to me much maligned in this age of VR headsets. However, I must state that before over the shoulder camera and full 3d graphics, there were tank controls and 2.5d. They were for their time beautiful and they made someone take the path of the game developer.

Arv Buenaventura

Author: Arv Buenaventura

Arv likes cats.

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