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Games like Killer Instinct, Doom, Duke Nukem, have 3D scenarios but use 2D characters.

I know they're called in such way it demonstrates it's not technically all 3D, but I can't remember the name.

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2 Answers 2

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There's the term "2.5D", which combines a lot of concepts, a lot of them still heavily in use today.

What games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D do is called Billboarding. Here, a 3D environment is used and 2D sprites (usually always facing towards the camera) are inserted into the world. The term "billboarding" derives from the way it is presented - a flat "board" facing the camera and displaying the content.

Other techniques, such as axonometric and particularly isometric view are also used in a lot of instances to give the illusion of a 3D environment, rather than a true 3D environment.

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    Isn't this also the term used to describe games like Donkey Kong Country, which has 3D characters on a 2D plane?
    – Zibbobz
    Jan 16, 2014 at 15:11
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    @Zibbobz Something of that kind is listed on the article I linked to as well, although it's probably more of an adaption of the Skybox model.
    – user98085
    Jan 16, 2014 at 15:18
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    @Zibbobz Assuming you're referring to Donkey Kong Country for SNES, those may look 3D, but they are pre-rendered sprites. The newer Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze uses actual 3D models, and that allows for smoother animation because the characters are not limited to a fixed number of pre-rendered images (frame animation). But that technique was a clever way of making 2D game assets appear 3D on limited hardware. Similarly, there were games that used images based on photographs for their sprites, such as the original Mortal Kombat. Clayfighter also most likely falls into this category.
    – Mentalist
    Sep 12, 2022 at 8:03
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    @Zibbobz It is also worth mentioning that many of the character sprites in Doom and Doom II - those which have 8 view angles for each of their animation frames, not counting the death animations which are always forward-facing - were based on photographs that were then polished and enhanced digitally. They were modeled by artists Adrian Carmack and Gregor Punchatz. The images were then also worked on by Kevin Cloud using a paint program written by John Carmack. You can read more about the process here.
    – Mentalist
    Sep 12, 2022 at 8:20
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The term "2.5D" also refers to gameplay that is presented in a 3D environment but doesn't allow the player full freedom of movement - they are restricted to a 2D plane. In the case of Doom et al. the character can move forwards/backwards and left/right but never up/down (except for jumping).

This also enables the use of sprites rather than 3D models, as the developers can be sure that the enemies will never be seen from above or below.

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