The History of 3D Graphics on the Gameboy Advance | minimme


The Gameboy Advance had a strangely unique
existence in that it was a console that was fundamentally designed for sprite based 2D
graphics while polygonal 3D graphics were all the rage in the rest of the video game
world. Through some programming magic the GBA proved to be only just powerful enough
to handle 3D or at least pseudo-3D graphics, and because of the gaming landscape at the
time, of course developers took it upon themselves to make 3D games. It was never a question
of whether they should, it was a question of whether they could. In this video we’re going to timeline out
and explore what was something of a fascinating rise of 3D graphics on the GBA by looking
at the big milestone games, the ambitious tech demos, and the developers behind it all,
but first I want to give a foreword on how I put this all together. A lot of you might
remember that some years ago I made list videos where I looked at graphically impressive handheld
games starting with the GBA, and through these videos I built up a knowledge of what games
used 3D and how they achieved it. There’s no real wiki for this specific subset
of games, and no comprehensive list of them anywhere, so I made my own spreadsheet of
them for this video where I entered related data like release dates and metascores and
developers and publishers, and through this I do graph out some trends and do some data
storytelling here. If you’d like to see the spreadsheet it’s linked in the description,
and I do recognise that there are some potential pitfalls with my methods which I’ve noted
there too and tried my best to avoid. So with that in mind, let’s begin. Before anyone in the public even knew what
the Gameboy Advance looked like, IGN leaked a very barebones dev kit in August of 2000,
emphasis on barebones. Supplied with the dev kits was a single level demo of Yoshi’s
Story which showcased the GBA’s impressive sprites and colours, some Mode 7, parallax
and zooming capabilities, and a particularly memorable pre-render of the rotating island.
Now while Yoshi’s Story was a 2D game, it was also a Nintendo 64 game which served to
bolster the pre-release hype for what the GBA was capable of. We all think of the GBA
to be something of a handheld Super Nintendo, and this was the general sentiment back then
too where there were rumours of a port of the Super Nintendo’s Yoshi’s Island which
ultimately came to fruition. To unintentionally and unofficially introduce the console with
a much more ambitious N64 port was a big deal. Only a couple of days after this, Nintendo
would formally unveil the system in Japan with prices, dates, and more importantly,
specs. Now it’s important to note again here that the GBA was not designed for 3D
graphics – with Nintendo’s Executive Vice President at the time specifically pointing
out on announcement that the GBA is a dedicated two-dimensional platform in what seems like
an attempt to shut down the talk and rumours of it supporting 3D, of which there were many
with stuff like this Purple Yoshi screenshot floating around online at the time which just
looked far too good to be true – because it was probably fake. Early 2001 saw Nintendo announce more details
about the system and it’s western launch, where they revealed 15 launch titles. Among
these, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity showcased some impressive Mode-7-esque capability akin
to the original SNES game. A lot more racers would go on to do the same, and while it is
impressive in its own right, I’ll generally avoid talking about this graphics technique
simply because there are much more ambitious graphics engines to talk about. Like, for example, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
2 from that same launch line-up which actually featured fully animated polygonal 3D models
for the skaters that seamlessly blended into the pre-rendered environments in what ended
up being a great port of the game. More subtle uses of 3D like this can be seen throughout
the GBA’s library, like with the character models in Max Payne, or bits and pieces of
the environment in sports games. It wasn’t long before third parties would
start making 3D tech demos as a way to attract publishers. Something to understand is that
even though a console might not have dedicated 3D hardware, you can still in some sense brute-force
polygons if you want to, though you’d often preferably want to use some tricks to get
around needing to. Like with the first major 3D-ish release,
a port of the 1998 Windows shooter Backtrack by JV Games. A lot of you have probably already
picked up on this so I’ll be quick, but this uses a graphics technique made famous
by a lot of 90s PC shooters that’s known as Binary Space Partitioning, or BSP. Essentially,
walls are drawn based only on what’s in the players cone of vision. The algorithm
for it is deceptively simple so it’s very efficient for low end hardware, but Backtrack
isn’t particularly impressive with its low framerate and low draw distance. The most famous game that uses BSP is Doom,
so naturally less than a month later David A Palmer Productions and Activision teamed
up for a Doom GBA release, and the results are far, far better as it smoothly flows through
much more geometrically complex levels with a seemingly unlimited draw distance. It’s
not a perfect version of Doom, especially with it’s lower resolution which basically
doubles the size of each pixel on the GBA screen, and because it’s based on the Jaguar
port of Doom rather than the original DOS game, but critics and fans loved it and apparently
I ranked it as the best GBA First Person Shooter around when I reviewed them all years ago,
so it must be pretty good. I need a better memory. A third FPS came out less than a month later
with the impressive Ecks vs Sever, and a company named Graphic State would try their hand at
a BSP engine racing game in the Cruis’n series with Cruis’n Velocity – which wowed
no one with it’s weird visuals and dodgy physics. Despite this, Graphic State would emerge as
the first big player in the overambitious 3D GBA games world not only with the smooth,
charming Doom-like Dark Arena in January of 2002, but also with their tech demos, one
of which in particular showed a GTA-like world where you could walk around in first person,
get in and out of vehicles, see pedestrians and scrolling backgrounds, and even fly a
helicopter. It’s really a sight to behold, even if it only lives on as an old blurry
IGN video. They also released an impressive StarFox clone in March with the creatively
titled Star X, which marked the beginning of a handful of textureless polygonal games
that would be released on the system. Star X in particular was exceptionally smooth considering
how crowded it would get. 2002 really feels like the year of the GBA
tech demonstration, with random demos appearing left, right and centre, so another dev to
emerge from this was the England based AGB Games with their C2 Engine. Among some really
impressive racing demos, a soccer demo, and of course another GTA style demo because it’s
the early 2000s, was a very impressive Quake proof of concept which really made a splash.
Considering the most complex game we’d seen so far was Doom, to skip all the way to Quake
was huge, even if it only was an empty 3D level. It was just unusual to see complex
angled geometry and high quality animated textures like this. The biggest splash in the incredibly niche
GBA 3D tech demo world at the time was from an Italian developer named Raylight Studios,
who debuted their Blue Roses engine with a large handful of demos that were all, at the
time, jaw dropping. Most famously out of these was a Metal Gear Solid test scene which showed
a well modelled version of the PS1 game’s opening area with full texturing including
animated water, and some Resident Evil test scenes which showcased very impressive 3D
character animation that was apparently mocapped. Raylight later even created a famous demo
version of Resident Evil 2 in the hopes that Capcom would hire them for the port, but they
were unfortunately denied. Oh, what could have been. As far as games that actually came out goes,
we went from 4 notable releases on my spreadsheet in 2001, to 15 in 2002. A very unknown company
called Sennari Interactive ported Driver 2 down using a BSP engine, which might not look
like much but it was a technical achievement with it’s massive open world cities where
you could both drive and walk around on foot, it’s good physics system and police AI.
Like it is surprising how well this captures the essence of Driver 2. Rebellion, yes, that Rebellion, had a particularly
weird year on the GBA. Their first release was in May with a Tiger Woods game that rendered
still frames with voxel graphics – which I believe is the first appearance of Voxel based
graphics on the GBA. This was a technique popularised by a company named NovaLogic on
90s PCs, you might remember games like Comanche or Delta Force which used it, and it basically
renders a heightmap using vertical lines in your cone of vision. It’s hard to explain
quickly, but this fantastic visualisation by a guy named Sebastian Macke helps a lot.
I’ll include a link to his amazing article explaining the tech in the description. Again,
like BSP, using Voxels in this way serves as an unconventional but inexpensive method
of creating 3D graphics – which is exactly why it’s used here on the GBA. Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf doesn’t move around
in the voxel world. Like I said it just renders single frames, but Rebellion would follow
it up in September with a port of Rockstar’s Smuggler’s Run which animates this voxel
world effortlessly. Granted the voxels themselves, being the cubes this world is made up of,
are pretty large, meaning they’re easier to work with from a technical perspective,
and the draw distance is quite low, particularly when compared to later Voxel based games,
but considering how early this came out it is a real achievement. Rebellion closed the year with an absolute
disaster of a game. Medal of Honor: Underground is considered to maybe be the worst GBA game
ever made, it’s certainly the worst one I’ve personally played, and I think this
footage of it just speaks for itself. It’s a slideshow of endless muddy pixels, making
it near unplayable. Again, Rebellion had a weird year on the GBA, so weird in fact that
I guess they just gave up on the console for good releasing no more games on it from this
point forward. Thankfully to make up for that awful FPS,
Ecks vs Sever got something of a sequel remake thing to tie-in with the film that was pretty
competently put together visually, though it bit off more than it could chew with weapon
scopes and ladders and innocent bystanders and alarms and multiple campaigns. I guess
it’s interesting to see such an over complex shooter on the system. For something more straightforward Aussie
dev Torus Games released two of the best FPS’s to come out on the system with Duke Nukem
Advance and Doom 2, both of which raised the technical bar for FPS GBA games to a point
that could be argued was never met again by any other dev but Torus themselves. Featuring
complex levels with sliding doors and multiple different floor elevations with detailed textures
on all surfaces that could change with damage – all while supporting many sprites and running
at a smooth framerate, these games biggest achievements are simply being filled with
character and just being fun. It’s not hard to get sucked into them and see them as more
than just impressive tech, and in hindsight these two games and the first Doom are by
far the gold standard first person shooters on the system because they’re just that
good. SEGA got THQ to publish a GBA Monkey Ball
game which fared very well thanks to its minimalist look, and it’s simple gameplay justifies
the use of 3D graphics better than most games – though playing Monkey Ball with a d-pad
should be a crime. Really though, there’s one release from
2002 that stands head and shoulders above even the tech demos and that comes from french
duo Velez & Dubail. They were all about pushing hardware to its limits, especially on the
Gameboy Colour prior to this with a good line of impressive racers that are among the best
on the system from a technical standpoint. Only midway through 2002 Velez & Dubail debuted
their V3D engine with V-Rally 3. V. This game is just incredible; geometrically dense and
very complex environments with banks and hills and buildings and angles with effortlessly
blended sprites for trees and objects all while still maximising its use of the GBA’s
screen resolution and being smoother than virtually any game we’ve looked at so far.
It sports well above average car physics, it has a cockpit view for that extra rally
feel, and it has race modes with other cars on the track. It’s a sight to behold, and
the devs themselves have described it as one of the most important moments in their lives
as developers. It really does feel like a watershed moment for them as they’d set
a new bar for both themselves and the GBA and only they would exceed that bar in years
to come. 2003 saw the GBA start slowing down and changing
direction a bit. After over 600 game releases total in well under two years, averaging about
a game per day since the Japanese release, 2003 had about 100 fewer games come out compared
to 2002 and the trend continued downwards. The market was just so oversaturated because
development costs were so low, and there’s an easily observable trend towards children’s
games even within the first year of the GBA’s lifespan. By my data, FPS games on the GBA went from
3 releases in 2001, to 6 releases in 2002 followed by merely 1 release per year up until
and including 2006. 2003s FPS game was something of a demake of 007 Nightfire by JV games,
the same dev who kicked off these FPSs with Backtrack. Though this might not look like
much on first sight with it’s lower framerate, it’s a lot more interesting than you might
expect. With it’s complex 3D geometry showcasing things like ramps and furniture and mounted
turrets in full polygonal 3D, this seems to use a more traditional engine rather than
a BSP based engine like we’ve seen in the past. What this means is there’s a lot less
right angles, a more liberal use of texturing, and more 3D objects everywhere. On top of
this the muzzle flash from your gun seems to light up the environment close to you which
is really something else on the GBA, so while I said Torus’s Doom 2 and Duke Nukem games
are probably the most impressive on the system particularly thanks to their framerate, there’s
definitely an argument to be made for Nightfire. In place of all the first person shooters,
driving games took over the 3D GBA mantle from this point forwards. Sega Rally Championship
had a decently fun GBA port, though it wouldn’t hold a candle to V-Rally 3 mostly because
of it’s much lower resolution. Lego Drome Racers would really impress with it’s smooth
framerate, having a gorgeous, Super-FX style look that took advantage of pastel colours
saving the need for expensive textures. Velez and Dubail knocked it out of the park
again with a port of Stuntman, improving the engine to include moving 3D objects and much
more complex levels which evolved visually as you drove through them – all while being
a lot of fun to play. Just an interesting note about the V3D engine, something distinguishing
about it is that at the bottom of the screen the polygons typically appear to bend, which
indicates that the 3D graphics aren’t rendered in a very perspective correct way assumedly
in order to run smoother. I find it sneakily clever how V-Rally’s cockpit view covered
it up though which feels like two birds with one stone. A company called Skyworks Technologies took
the reigns from Rebellion for Voxel engine games, releasing Quad Desert Fury which looks
far better than it plays, having a much higher fidelity engine than Rebellion’s Smuggler’s
Run did with smaller voxels and a longer draw distance – though it’s physics and driving
model suffer because of this. Still, these voxel games never fail to amaze me. One of the most notable releases from 2003
is actually a Nintendo published game, the only Nintendo published game on my spreadsheet,
which was a huge deal on the GBA. It was actually published by Kemco in PAL regions and in Japan,
but with a library as oversaturated as the Gameboy Advance’s was, having Nintendo behind
your project, even if it was just in the US, was a godsend in exposure alone. The game was called Top Gear Rally, developed
by the Australian Tantalus Media, who actually quietly released a couple of racers on this
engine in the past. This was where they really nailed it though and got the appropriate recognition,
because it’s a very, very strong rally racer with truly weighty, realistic controlling
cars that are modelled in full 3D. As a whole, this isn’t as impressive as V-Rally or Stuntman,
but it boasted the largest 3D models around at the time with the cars and the gameplay
itself was unmatched when it came to realistic driving. It was also one of the first GBA
games I personally ever owned, so I’m pretty sentimental about it, but trust me, it is
genuinely exceptional. Graphic State made a reappearance after bursting
onto the scene early on with those decent published games and those particularly impressive
tech demos like that open world one, and in the same vein as that demo they made an open
world Crazy Taxi spinoff which bit off more than it could chew with it’s low res and
framerate, but this does feature surprisingly large, detailed and complex open levels especially
when compared to its contemporaries like Driver 2. It also features a lot of sprites on the
screen at once – I just wish it handled it all better. Raylight finally debuted their Blue Roses
engine in not one, but two commercial releases. Wing Commander Prophecy is one of the most
ambitious and complete games on the system, being an attempt at porting the full version
of the PC game down to the GBA and mostly succeeding. There’s heaps of 3D models in
the game for ships that are smartly used sparingly to avoid slowdown, and there’s some good
simple weapon and explosion effects to help sell it all. It’s not the most impressive
game visually, but it is impressive in it’s scale. Raylight’s other game was Ozzy & Drix, a
3D side scroller based on the cartoon of the same name, and it’s an awful game with some
decent visuals. Large models that animate this much is unusual, it’s generally nicely
uncluttered, and there’s even some driving sections and cutscenes. Both Raylight’s
offerings in 2003 were above average visually, but they weren’t getting close to the tech
demos we’d seen from them in years prior and they were getting beat out by the competition. Speaking of big tech demo companies finally
releasing games, AGB games, the guys behind the Quake demo, renamed to Pocketeers and
released a port of Need for Speed Underground – which didn’t look great with it’s lowered
res and busy visuals, but it did at least play well and Pocketeers went on to release
another four impressive Need for Speed games over the next few years with vastly improved
visuals. Now while there were still tech demos and
new engines popping up here and there throughout 2003, like, for example, this trailer for
a cancelled third person shooter called Radium which shows some impressive camera movement
and even what looks to be an attempt at a reflection in a mirror, the excitement for
3D on the GBA was quickly dying down among the small amount of those who cared. You can
see critic reviews turn from excitement to disdain when it comes to 3D graphics as they
often call it just a gimmick, and while there were still good games coming out that were
3D, the novelty was wearing off and there were more and more poorer games coming out.
Quad Desert Fury, Ozzy and Drix, Cruis’n Velocity, Medal of Honor: Underground and
a whole bunch of other games on my spreadsheet that just haven’t been worth mentioning
completely bombed where the 3D just felt like a hindrance that only served to help sell
the game through screenshots on the back of the box. One of the more impressive engines from 2003
that we wouldn’t see until years later was this one named DR Advance by a company called
Prograph Research, which had a multitude of impressive features and ran at a high framerate
but never saw a commercial release in any way because they couldn’t land a publishing
deal that was worth going through with. Stories like this aren’t unusual, and a dev at Prograph
said this about it: “Our idea was to generate interest in the
engine and in case propose a formula-like without a license. Unfortunately, though the
interest was high, the profit margin offered was too low, as the GBA market became saturated
very quickly and third-party products usually sold very few copies.” This quote succinctly speaks to the state
of affairs going into 2004, which was the year the Nintendo DS came out, as well as
the PSP in Japan. Like to think that something like Ridge Racer on the PSP came out alongside
these 3D GBA games is a funny thought. It just goes to show how quickly hardware was
advancing at the time. That’s not to say that there weren’t some
really impressive releases in 2004 though. Hot Wheels Stunt Track Challenge continued
the gorgeous textureless look on, and I often see Velez and Dubail’s Asterix and Obelix
XXL being used as the go to game for showing off GBA 3D, where they made a platformer rather
than a driving game and of course, knocked it out of the park again with some almost
PS1 grade visuals. I know that’s hyperbole but the way their 2D sprites flawlessly scale
while animating is just amazing and there’s usually so many of them on the screen at once
and it all just looks exceptional. I can’t praise these guys enough. A developer named Visual Impact made a couple
of reasonably impressive SSX games for EA in years prior, but in 2004 they stepped up
their game with a port of Kill.Switch which is a full blown cover shooter on the GBA,
a novelty in and of itself. It has a polygonally 3D player character that animates very well
and it all runs smoothly with a lot going on at once, standing as the most anachronistic
title so far. One of the more well known uses of 3D comes
from the GBA’s Grand Theft Auto spinoff, which used polygons for some environmental
stuff like the buildings and street lamps. This isn’t the most impressive use, but with
all it’s gameplay systems running at once it’s cool that it could also run so many
fully textured 3D buildings on top of everything else. It’s also a good game, and honestly
games that use 3D sparingly typically are more fun. In the same vein as GTA, there was a fanmade
GTA clone called Payback originally made for the Amiga in 2001, which is an unusual time
for an Amiga game to come out – and I don’t like using the term GTA clone but this was
with all respects initially made as basically GTA on the Amiga. In 2003 it was ported to
mac, and in late 2004 it found itself on the Gameboy Advance – where it was apparently
finished quite a bit earlier but the dev couldn’t get a publisher until Destination Software
picked it up. My only source for this is an unreferenced paragraph on Wikipedia though
so take it with a grain of salt. Regardless, it’s one of the most technically
complex games on the system, where unlike GTA almost everything here is polygonally
3D from the pedestrians to the cars to the buildings, and it’s almost all textured.
On top of that, it’s filled with impressive visual effects like car shadows, human shadows,
skid marks from tires, smoke from damaged cars and particle effects which are shown
off with the silly bullet and blood decals. It even sports fairly realistic car crash
physics to top it all off. It’s not as enjoyable of a game as GTA partly because it lacks character,
but it’s certainly a lot more flashy and it has a lot more bells and whistles than
any other game we’ve looked at or will look at. We also finally got to see Raylight’s Blue
Roses engine put to really good use in a commercial product in 2004 after Wing Commander and Ozzy
and Drix didn’t quite live up to the tech demos. Smashing Drive is an arcade taxi driving
game with heavily scripted linear stages filled with shortcuts and 3D models everywhere, many
of which can be bumped into and they will react appropriately. It’s very very dense
and busy, and like Stuntman the stages are multifaceted where the environment around
you feels handcrafted and is continuously changing. The sheer amount of detailed polygons
streaming in and flying past at any given time is what makes this one so special – it’s
straightforward but cool to see at this level. It’s 2005, the PSP releases in the west,
and the GBA continues to slow down. But again, that didn’t stop there from being some particularly
interesting games. Torus returned after 3 years of non-FPS games to remind the world
just how good their engine is with Ice-Nine, David A. Palmer, the mysterious and talented
programmer behind the awesome 2001 Doom port returns to the scene with a competent but
somewhat visually dated Tokyo Xtreme Racer spinoff of all things, and Raylight release
a laggy port of Street Racing Syndicate which is only notable for its huge car models. Raylight’s other 2005 release, Big Mutha
Truckers, yes that is what it’s called, stands out because it’s also on the DS running
on the same engine. The GBA version is essentially the exact same game, just with every level
of detail aspect to it scaled down or turned off. It’s impressive in the way the Blue
Roses engine is usually impressive, and the sheer scale of it with the bigger open levels
probably makes it Raylights most ambitious GBA game, which is fitting since it’s their
last. The fact that this is a 1:1 demake of a DS game that’s impressive in and of itself
is a big part of the novelty here, and it’s just bizarre that this game even exists not
only because the PS2 game it’s based on is so bizarre, but also because these DS and
GBA ports came out three years after it. Weird. What I believe is hands down the most technically
impressive 3D game ever released on the GBA was Velez and Dubail’s port of Driver 3,
and I’m not just saying that because I love Driver 3. In fact in terms of playability,
this is their least fun GBA game, but, man, they combined the on foot stuff from Asterix
and Obelix, with the driving of their earlier games, and built two massive open world cities
that mirror their console counterparts in scale to create another game that’s comfortably
above all others, even Velez and Dubails prior work. It’s truly incredible, and the fact
that it’s directly comparable to the main Driver 3 game speaks wonders to its achievements. We’re really in the dregs now. Just 6 notable
3D games came out in 2006, and I’d say only two of them are passably enjoyable with Pocketeers
final Need for Speed game and final game ever as a developer, and Visual Impact’s Tony
Hawk’s Downhill Jam port, which is the peak and finale of that sexy flat shaded polygons
look we all know and love. What’s real peculiar about 2006 is 3 voxel
based games came out, doubling the amount of Voxel games total on my spreadsheet. They
were all by Skyworks, who did that quad bike game in 2003 and these are very similar to
that, with one of them straight up being another quad bike game. I guess they wanted to maximise
the use of this engine while they still had the chance. Of course, the final 3D GBA game and only
entry on my list from 2007 is Cars: Mater-National. There is no escape. Tantalus dug up their
engine for the first time in 4 years since Top Gear Rally for this, so it’s actually
a decent little game with good models again, but yeah. I’d say that the fact that we
started with big gaming IPs like Doom and Duke Nukem and Resident Evil and ended up
with Cars and some random monster truck and quad bike games speaks to where the GBA ended
up as a whole. Oversaturated, and aimed at kids. But this isn’t where our story ends. In
the years since much more has been discovered with tech demos and unreleased games coming
to light. In 2011, a rom of a voxel based version of Banjo Pilot was leaked online.
Now Banjo Pilot did actually commercially release in 2005, but the final version was
more of a mode 7 style racer whereas this 2004 build featured an impressive voxel based
world. It was changed simply because it was too laggy, but it’s fascinating to see and
I suspect it would’ve been the most fun voxel based game had it come out. Developer Shin’en, who you might know as
the German developer behind The Tourist and Fast RMX recently, had an unreleased 3D GBA
racer prototype surface online in 2012 that was originally made all the way back in 2001.
Early on this dev actually did make a couple of really impressive scrolling shooters on
the GBA with Iridion and Iridion 2 which featured amazing pre-rendered backgrounds, so I wanted
to acknowledge them as one of the bigger hardware pushers on the platform, and this impressive
demo only helps back that up. The vehicle select menu is particularly impressive, assuming
it isn’t pre-rendered, as it shows the shading change on the models as they rotate. 2012 also revealed that Virtua Racing was
almost ported to the GBA, as third party publisher Dream On Studios pitched this demo to SEGA
back in the day. It appears to be a strong port of the game – but we don’t actually
know when it was developed. If this was as early as 2001 then it’s really amazing,
and even if it came out towards the end it’s still well above average. Regardless, it’s
cool to see what’s always been a hardware pushing game pushing more hardware. In 2015 a Mario Kart prototype called Mario
Kart XXL was revealed by a channel named Steven Seventyeight as a top down racer that featured
two scaling and rotating background mode 7 style layers, something that hasn’t otherwise
been done on the GBA. Originally made in 2004 for Nintendo, it doesn’t appear to have
anything more traditionally 3D going on unless Mario and his titular Kart are 3D, but I’d
guess that they’re pre-rendered. Still, it is an unusual sight especially because
it’s Mario Kart. As is this voxel based shooter also found
in 2015 based on Frank Herbert’s Dune called Dune Ornithopter Assault, a game that was
basically finished but cancelled in 2002 – which would’ve made it the most impressive voxel
based release at the time since it was only against Tiger Woods and Smuggler’s Run.
The big heads up display does limit the screen area a lot to squeeze the most out of the
engine, but this is otherwise a remarkably smooth and ambitious helicopter game in the
vein of Comanche. Or Ornithopter game, rather, sorry. New information and prototypes and demos are
still being revealed even as recently as last year, like these two demos by NDWare and C4
Digital which were uploaded on YouTube by PtoPOnline. One is a Quidditch demo with a
fully modelled character, and the other is a Tennis demo with two fully modelled characters,
and they’re both very smooth though also very barebones. Interestingly on the Quidditch
demo a splash screen for Climax appears, who were the developers behind that Hot Wheels
GBA game as well as the not great Serious Sam GBA game, so it’s speculation but maybe
that implies that these demos are running on Climax’s engine. As for how the developers went after this,
Velez and Dubail continued to release insanely impressive handheld games on the DS and 3DS
and are still operating to this day, releasing Rise: Race The Future in 2018 – though tragically
Fernando Velez passed away in 2016 so they had to do some restructuring. Raylight Studios
appear to be doing well, and apparently they’re still building upon their Blue Roses engine
as it now supports the Switch, Xbox One and PS4 which is amazing considering it started
here with those tech demos. Torus continued strong as a budget developer, just recently
releasing the Praetorians HD remaster, as did Tantalus who have even had some high profile
projects recently like the Cities Skylines and ZombiU ports, and most famously, the Twilight
Princess Wii U port. Go Australia. And that’s the timeline of 3D graphics on
the GBA. Despite all those amazing early tech demos, there was never a big, big 3D release
on the system which speaks to not only it’s saturated library, but also how gameplay was
often sacrificed or simplified just so these games would run. I mentioned this earlier
but in some sense there is a direct correlation between how limited the use of 3D is, and
how good the game is. Games that only use a hint of it like GTA or Max Payne or Tony
Hawk fair far better than comparable 3D games because they feel like more than just glorified
tech demos. Still though, this stuff will always be fascinating and impressive to me
at least, and I hope you enjoyed joining me on this exploration of mine.

100 comments

  1. The description is so absurdly long because of references. I hit the character limit – here's some stuff that wouldn't fit! (like the spreadsheet)
    Timestamps:
    Intro – 0:00
    2000 – 1:28
    2001 – 2:53
    2002 – 6:25
    2003 – 13:25
    2004 – 20:47
    2005 – 24:25
    2006 – 26:35
    2007 – 27:17
    The years afterwards – 27:50
    Outro – 31:47

    And here's the spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1IJfyhGSJZ0XGElUp68nYewAZInS5X7GbVjc-G0RJa4s/edit?usp=sharing
    Notes:
    – There's every chance I've missed some games, as there's no database of this stuff and it's not widely known. I'd basically have to look at/play all 1500ish GBA games to really know
    – It's a small data-set, so most 'trends' are pretty meaningless
    – It's a bit rough, originally I made it just for me but decided to share
    – There's an arbitrary element to what is good enough for the spreadsheet. I just made judgement calls on whether games were 3D enough, which I acknowledge is vague. I also didn't include mode7 style games, but did include voxel/BSP games which is again, in some sense, quite arbitrary

    I'll also include any corrections to the video below:
    – none yet!

  2. Great video! Loved how you brought it all back to Cars in the end 🙂 Made me wanna play all those games even though I never owned a GBA

  3. Itll probably be a bit too niche for a video and wouldnt get the views, but could you do a video on notable australian game devs/studios?

  4. Yo, this video is fantastic, but I gotta give you mad props for the Description. Holy shit – you linked everything – that is unbelievably thorough. Appreciated, for sure though! You definitely gave us a bunch to chew on here, so I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to dive into some of these other links. Props! Excellent work as always

  5. I still have some of these games, and remember having owned many of them and being very impressed by it all. I only had handhelds because we didn't have a tv, so 3D shooters were a rarity, and I had to try them all.
    Most aged terribly, but the good memories are there, for many of the games mentioned. I even finished MoH Underground…

  6. Stop Skeletons from fighting has a good video on the talented VD Dev and even interviewed them. One of the founders recently passed away.

  7. Sprite effects are still impressive, even now. You can be surprised by a ROM.

    I'd like to see a modern 3D game simulate "sprite effects" to look like a 16 bit game maxing out (even if it's really too powerful, kind of like what shovel knight did for 8 bit).

  8. Try Top Gear Rally on the N64. Was my Favourite Rally Game on that System 🙂 You Could Customise your Decals in a Microsoft Paint Style Editor. This was a Huge Deal back then and Blew me Away!

  9. I've seen one ad for Big Mutha Truckers back in the day & that ad still sticks with me to this day somehow even though it's not all that interesting except for the name of the game obviously. Disappointingly I still don't own said game though even though I've wanted it for near 20 years now.

  10. I remember playing Asterix and Obelix and being amazed of how the game looked. It was also a pretty fun platformer. Another game that used 3D in a cool way was Sonic Battle. Altrought it was only on the simple scenarios (everything else was sprites) it was cool to see a brawler (up to 4 players) on a 3D environment runing at full speed on the GBA. Great video as always!

  11. I think the only one of these I played was Doom. It was dope. Kind of wish I had gotten Driv3r for the GBA, it's super impressive and I played a ton of the PS2 game

  12. This is a really great video. I really like how much detail you went into, and how comprehensive this is. You’re one of my favorite youtubers at the moment.

  13. I thought no one remembered Star X, and I honestly thought it wasnt even a real game til recently lol, was so long ago.

  14. Comprehensive AF. Very nice video. And I appreciate the edits and call-outs you did when you made mistakes. Good stuff.

  15. Damn both our first gba games were top gear rally… well I mean I can’t remember but it was my childhood! Btw I was blown away I could play 3D games on the go, then my older sister got a ds

  16. 02/20/2020 dang, cool upload date

    you know, I recently found myself thinking it would be nice to see from you a return to your older video topics while incorporating the experience youve gained since then. And you did! This is master-grade Minimme material. Thanks for the videos :>

  17. That unreleased version of Banjo Pilot looks sweet. I wish someone would leak the fabled GBA version of Timesplitters 2 like that. Some ex Free Radical devs talked about it on twitter a while back and apparently the game was finished but never released.

  18. hard for me to be impressed when handhelds like the Ngage existed during the same time, none of this was cutting edge even for the time…..this was an apple situation where marketing defeated actual quality…..same thing with the PS vita, made the 3ds look like it was a decade old at release

  19. Shit seeing this video brought back memories of playing smugglers run on the GBA as a kid surprisingly fun for a limited version

  20. We all know that the SSX and half of the NFS games we're NO good 3D GBA Video Games.

    if you dont believe that than my opinion is my opinion. 🤷🏿‍♂️

  21. dude I love your "5 graphically impressive games…" series… I must confess I bought a lot of GBC/GBA/even DS games based on your videos… I also love how GBA was actually very well explored in the graphics area, for the time it sure was an impressive handheld console

  22. This is perfect timing.

    I've watched almost all the other GBA videos as I do the dishes and the sink was, once again, full. Fantastic 👍

  23. Is there a reason why, given that the GBA could do transparency with ease, so many otherwise technically impressive games use dithering for shadows?

  24. 29:30 Mario Kart XXL wasn't a prototype, it was an unlicensed tech demo from a third party. Just found out about this from watching an old ScottTheWoz video a couple hours after watching this one 🙂

  25. This is my favorite of your videos so far. The least favorite is probably none of them. But this one is my most favorite.

  26. I’m disappointed he didn’t mention “Herbie Fully Loaded”. It was fun, had surprisingly good vehicle handling and physics, and amazing graphics for the GBA

  27. Hey man I love your videos and I totally loved the graphically impressive Ds games.Please make a video on graphically impressive 3ds games.

  28. There's game named "Payback 2" on Google play and looking at the footage you have in the video, Payback 2 is a full 3d version of the original Payback

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