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Is there an isometric 2d game that doesn't use tilemapping?

I want to do this in tilemap but the client doesn't want to use it (since it's easier to design maps without using tiles).

I've tried to research for some time and everything's done using tilemapping.

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There are lots of games to list for this and they all rely more or less at least on limited tile mapping (for example to fill empty areas).

Thinking a bit about this, two games are coming to my mind immediately, mainly due to them providing an experience making it hard to notice tile mapping (at least it's not that obvious) and using lots of unique graphics in specific areas:

  • The early 3D Final Fantasy games (Final Fantasy 7-9) use mostly static and prerendered environments for scenes outside fights, while still providing a 3d perspective perspective.
  • Sacred is similar to games like the Diablo series, however it uses lots of custom backgrounds/drawn scenes and in general is very nice to look at without immediately noticing lots of recurring patterns.

In general, I'd just note two important points you should keep in mind:

  • The more unique you want your locations/environments (i.e. avoiding tile mapping), the more memory you'll need just to store/deploy your environments and the more important good resource handling will become (I remember playing Final Fantasy VII on the PC with only 16 MB RAM (32 MB recommended), which caused load times of several minutes between screens; very annoying!).
  • Tile mapping isn't something bad, especially when done right (i.e. you don't notice patterns). Also there are ways to make map editors' life a lot easier, without having to abandon tiles or tile mapping. Create a WYSIWYG editor where creative are able to drag & drop elements and just "draw" areas rather than painting them tile by tile.
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The client gave me a green signal to use tilemapping (though I haven't explained that much yet). The game is a casual one...let's say Farmville like. Do you think this one is better tiled? We're developing this on iOS. My concern is if I'll be using pre-rendered images, won't this push the engine's limit? I can only use up to 2048x2048 texture. Naturally, you should be able to see the whole playable area if you're totally zoomed out. Just asking, since the topic seems interesting. – Sylpheed Dec 6 '12 at 6:01
Oh and there's an available with the current tools we're using. – Sylpheed Dec 6 '12 at 6:02
So like Farmville or Harvest Moon? I'd definitely go with tile mapping then. Just keep in mind that you can use layering, e.g. tile map the ground, then add custom plants and variations on top. That way you won't have to worry about backgrounds, colors tiling or filling the squares. I'd definitely suggest you having a look at games like Bastion. It's essentially tiled, but hides that fact very well. – Mario Dec 6 '12 at 10:24

I know MicroForte used large, pre-rendered images for their maps in Enemy Infestation.

IIRC, their graphics/level design team would output one huge rendered image for a level and a matching Z-Buffer for occlusion culling.
This was the 90's, so a custom blit routine was used which queried the Z-buffer, but nowadays the graphics card will happily handle most of that for you.

I'll gladly expound upon this topic if it sounds like what you are seeking.

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The Commandos series did the same, a big background image with reusable foreground sprites and a set of polygons for occlusion. You can quickly get a good idea of how this works by having a look at the pictures in this album: BEL_DEBUG (found through Commandos Modding). – Eric Dec 5 '12 at 9:17

You've got a few options, but really, the two which make the most sense in regard to an isometric-projection (45-degree angles), are tiles and full-fledged 3D with a static camera (look at XCOM, StarCraft II, Diablo III).

Of course, you can also do without tiles if you're, say, making a game like TMNT2 - The Arcade Game or River City Ransom, and it's an old-fashioned hallway brawler, where in a modern version, rather than tiles, you could use one large hand-drawn background, if you wanted, (plus parallax images) and then create collision-nodes in-place, on the map.

Also, creating a map using tiles becomes vastly more simple, as soon as a map-editor is written.

What is the client actually trying to accomplish, here, and on what scale/budget/timeframe?

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In a tone similar to @phobius' answer, the famous Infinity Engine (Baldur's Gate etc) used prerendered backgrounds and sprites for characters, buildings, trees etc.

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