How Video Game Graphics Changed Through the Years

Since the first video games were created, the visuals have gone a long way. And as you might’ve guessed, the inception of video games happened in the previous century.

The 1970s marked the commercial success of the newborn industry. However, in 1958, the world saw the very first video game – Tennis for Two. It used simple block graphics with wind resistance simulation.

Back then, the development was pretty simple: take one or two coders and let them do the magic. Classical games of the ’70s still used the same block technique, making a player control blocks to avoid obstacles or vice versa clashing their block with others. Nearly a decade after the introduction of NES/SNES, Sega Master System, and Atari arcades, polygons began to get more complex and varied.

During this era of time, graphics genuinely began to change, becoming ever more detailed. Flying spacecraft, dungeons to explore, and racing games featuring sports vehicles. On top of that, you could play it with your pals. Virtual three-dimensional space was first explored in the early 1990s by producing an illusion of depth. To generate the illusion of 3D, popular games like Wing Commander, DOOM, and Duke Nukem 3D used 2D textures and sprites. This was subsequently referred to as 2.5D. Because of the limits of current technology, no real 3D images could be created. However, just a couple of years after, in the mid-1990s, real 3D visuals came alive.

Quake. This one word is enough to make all old-school gamers feel a wave of pleasure. This FPS game revolutionized the entire industry by introducing full 3D environments for the first time in history. Everything you could see was in 3D: locations, assets, and your enemies. Real-time 3D rendering was made possible by OpenGL in the Quake Engine by Id Software. 3D visuals took a major leap forward when shaders and skeleton-based character models were introduced, along with ragdoll physics. A decade later, there was no major developer company that didn’t master the three-dimensional space.

When it came to graphics, this was the time when game developers began to explore more. In the wake of the success of Borderlands, Crackdown, and No More Heroes came the rise of cel-shading. To produce a more lively appearance and feel, the cel-shading method employs fewer colors, tints, and shades than the shade gradient used in photorealistic graphics.

It's just a matter of time until graphics get more advanced as technology advances. Instead of pre-rendering or recording full-motion films, developers may now generate cutscenes directly in the engine. All the recent hits can communicate their tale without the need for live-action footage. With the rapid advancement of technology, loading screens are becoming a thing of the past. Today, technology allows us to play not just in FullHD but in 2K and even 4K resolution — a thing that two decades ago would seem like a utopia.

However, there is still space for improvement. Even if current games are almost movie-like, photo-realism is still not achieved. But it took them almost 50 years to become like this. Who knows what will await us in another 50?