Graphics Revolution: From Xs to Whoas!
Although the recent evolution of gaming is not just skin deep, graphics provide the most striking view into how games have changed.
John Madden himself could have drawn the visuals in Atari's 1978 arcade game, Football. Nothing fancy there -- just a black-and-white field covered with Xs and Os. During the next few years, those Xs advanced into stick figures. Then, in the mid-1980s, a football game came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Tecmo Bowl, that featured robotically stiff-limbed players wearing helmets and jerseys. Their arms and legs moved as they ran, and they played in a primitive-looking stadium complete with cardboard cutout fans. When you scored a touchdown, the game rewarded you by showing still frames of cheerleaders.
During the 16-bit days of Super NES and Sega Genesis, players' jerseys became distinct, they had correct team colors and logos on their helmets, and you could even read the numbers. At this time, the early '90s, video games took on a cartoon quality.
But the true revolution took place with the introduction of polygons, tiny flat tiles that enable game designers to create 3-D characters. Polygons are laced together to form hollow mosaics. The more polygons an artist has to work with, the better the final object will look. Unfortunately, the football players in the 1997 version of Madden NFL were created from only a few hundred polygons apiece. Their square jaws, flat shoulders, and boxy-looking limbs made them look more like slabs than people.
Today, however, PlayStation 2 is able to deliver 50 times more polygons per second than those early
3-D games did. Goodbye, slab men! The most recent football game, John Madden NFL 2002, features multiple camera angles and players with subtle limbs and recognizable faces. Not only can you read the numbers on the backs of these players' jerseys, you can read their names.
These virtual athletes not only look better than their progenitors, they move better. Tecmo Bowl's stiff automatons piled on their tackled teammates like a swarm of fleas pouncing on a dog. Now, thanks to motion-capture data taken from real-life professional athletes, the virtual players in Madden NFL 2002 and other sports games run, hit, and collapse like the real McCoy.