I would like some clarifications how to distinguish between a 2D and 3D mobile game, as mobile devices do not really have 3D screens.

i) Do 3D iOS or android games really exist or are they 2D tablet/mobile games with 3D rendering of assets (textures, shadows) to denote the 3D look and feel?

ii) If a tablet game connotes depth with multi-layers and perspective, is it described as a 3D tablet game?

(iii) if there is a combination of 2D assets and 3D assets (both rendered in Photoshop), are they still called a 2D tablet game, if SpriteKit was used to build the game? Thank you

  • \$\begingroup\$ Why is it important for you? That might help to give better answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Aug 5 '18 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is for defining the terms accurately and describing/differentiating the types of mobile games for a research article. \$\endgroup\$ – Vyas Aug 5 '18 at 21:35

We're pretty loose with our definitions of 2D & 3D in games, meaning a mix of two things:

  1. Are the graphics (mostly) rendered as 2D sprites, or 3D polygon meshes (or voxels or raymarched fields or other 3D representations...)?

    Note that it's possible to "fake" 3D worlds with 2D techniques (like billboarded sprites, parallaxing, Mode 7, isometric perspective...), and it's arguable whether this is fundamentally less "real 3D" than the rasterization algorithms we use to render 3D polygon meshes. (After all, the math all works out about the same! We're just usually using a few special cases rather than full generality)

    Sonic 2 Special StageSuper Mario Kart

    Sometimes games in this category will be called "2.5D" which is a term we use even less precisely to mean something that has some aspects of 2D and some aspects of 3D.

  2. Is the gameplay three-dimensional, or in a 2D plane?

    Sonic 3D Blast

    If the player has 3 axes of freedom (eg. a flight sim, or an action game where your character can run north/south & east/west as well as climb/jump/fall), then we can usefully call the gameplay 3 dimensional.

    Kirby 64

    On the flipside, even if a game uses 3D rendering techniques, if the player's navigation space has only two degrees of freedom (eg. left/right + climb/jump/fall in a side-scroller, or north/south + east/west in a top-down game), we might usefully describe that game's play as "2D"

So there's no hard rule for what games get to "count" as 3D or 2D, it's mostly a matter of what it is about the game we want to emphasize as important when we're talking about it.

If we want to emphasize that the game is played on a stereoscopic screen where the player can literally see the depth rather than just infer it from perspective & motion cues (like a VR or mixed reality headset, a 3DS or 3DTV), it's usually best to use the word "stereoscopic" (or VR/MR/XR as appropriate) to avoid further overloading our 2D/3D terminology. ;)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related videos by the creator of sonic mania: youtube.com/watch?v=nXKs1ZSgMic and youtube.com/watch?v=nt-AxAqlrOo \$\endgroup\$ – Bálint Aug 5 '18 at 21:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi, Thank you for the elaboration. I would still like to know if 3D games exist for mobile devices? \$\endgroup\$ – Vyas Aug 5 '18 at 21:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you've read the answer above, you know that we need to unpack what we mean by "3D." There are mobile games that render 3D polygon meshes. There are mobile games with gameplay that has 3 dimensions of freedom. There are mobile games that render stereoscopically, sending a different image to each eye (eg. Gear VR / Google Cardboard titles). There are even phones with stereoscopic screens similar to the 3DS, though I can't name any games that use this feature off the top of my head. Any of those could be usefully described as "3D." \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Aug 5 '18 at 21:45

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