I’ve been playing around with isometric graphics lately. Specifically, I’m working on graphics generation – being a one-person team, it’s not practical for me to actually draw all the graphics I want in my games. Also, I’m probably much better at teaching a computer to draw than doing it myself.
And for now, my main focus is in isometric graphics. I think isometry is a little underrated – it’s usually considered inferior to 3D (sometimes even called “2.5D” and such) and thought of as “that thing game developers did before computers were strong enough to handle real 3D”. I think this is wrong, and we haven’t seen the last of the isometric projection. Here’s my attempt to plead the case for isometry.
First of all, what is the isometric projection? For starters, it’s important to understand what a projection is. I think I only learned that less than five years ago, and It was really a moment of enlightenment for me. Basically – a projection is a conversion of a 3D space to a 2D plane, or a 2D plane to a 1D line (this is a highly inaccurate simplification, but an accurate definition would be too much for my current mathematical abilities). Why is that so interesting? because our world has 3 spatial dimensions, while our computer screens, and (pretty much) our vision, have 2. So what we see around us, and specifically what we see on the computer screen, is not the actual 3D world but a projection of it.
I deliberately mention our vision because many people assume that we see in 3D, and\or that the way we see is the “true” 3D, thus considering other projections to be “pseudo-3D” or “2.5D”. Why is this not true? just take a look at your liver for a minute. I’ll wait.
I assume you failed to see your liver. The reason is that we don’t actually see the 3D world around us. If our vision showed us the real world, our skin would never be able to hide our internal organs from us – nothing could hide anything from anyone, it wouldn’t make sense. when we look at a picture on a piece of paper, nothing is hiding anything from our vision – things are either drawn on the paper or not. This is because our vision and the picture are both 2D, so we can perceive the entire paper at once. The world is 3D, so we can only perceive a projection of it.
What we see with our eyes is called a perspective projection. It’s caused by the physical properties of light and of eyes, and it shows us certain things in a certain way. For example, it’s very good for noticing details in objects close to our eyes, but bad at seeing the back of our head. While we know it as the only way to see the world, there’s nothing in theory that marks it as such. With modern technology, we can experiment with some other ways – like this interesting experiment, which I wish I could try myself. In video games, it’s useful if you have a single character and want to see what you would see in it’s place – first-person view. However, if you need to see large portions of the world at once (like in a strategy game), it doesn’t necessarily make sense. You could put yourself high above everyone and see a lot of things at once, but… do we really want to limit ourselves? maybe if we don’t require the same projection we have in our eyes, we could see better.
I’ll talk specifically about the isometric projection some other time.
 Or… something. I’m pretty sure a physicist could correct me on that as well, but 3 are what we usually see.
 Otherwise, you might need some medical attention. Or maybe I should be flattered that Superman is reading my blog.
 For simplicity, assume you’re looking through one eye only. Two eyes give a little depth perception, but it’s not that much of a difference.