Transitioning from 3D to 2.5D

I recently had the pleasure of joining the über talented indie game dev studio Chaotic Formula to work on flagship adventure game Tails of Fury. And I couldn’t have joined at a more exciting time! The game is currently undergoing a massive change: transitioning from a full 3D game to 2.5D (a.k.a. pseudo-3D). So instead of using 3D assets for both environment and animated characters, it will instead use 3D assets for just the environment, and 2D for characters and certain dynamic assets (e.g. chests opening, flowers blooming, etc.). This style is influenced by games like Don’t Starve, Adventure Time: Explore The Dungeon Because I Don’t Know, and Jotun, which all use a combination of 2D and 3D assets to achieve the 2.5D look.


Top-down view showing classic 2.5D perspective

When I asked lead developer Roman Sharf “why the change?” he schooled me on the various justifications and benefits of the new format:

  • No more nightmares about 3d animation/rigging! Rigging is an arduous process, especially for a game dev team with only one full-time developer. It’s very easy to create a rig and think you did it right, skin it to the model, and then discover you made a mistake.  Then you have to unskin the model, make your adjustments, and reskin it, sometimes losing weight paints along the way.
  • Decreased scope and capitalizing on existing resources (instead of creating new 3D assets) allows one person who knows how to draw to just quickly knock out major features. It’s much easier to prototype rough 2D animations without too many frames, and have them become immediately functional. Overall, the format allows for faster iteration.
  • 2D animated characters have a more organic feel, achieving a toy-like, fantastical look that’s appropriate to the playful aesthetic of a game about squirrels.
  • There’s a great performance tradeoff, especially for developers. With 2D character animations, the Unity Animator component displays series of pictures that create the illusion of motion, which has a pretty low memory cost. Whereas with 3D animations, the engine has to handle both displaying ever-shifting polygons and calculating positions in 3D space.
  • Using an orthographic (3/4 view camera) makes it much easier to design levels, and plan out player paths and camera locations. It also enables players to more easily detect and predict certain patterns in gameplay (e.g. doors to the next stage are always located toward the top of any given map)

After deciding to make the transition, Roman used Aseprite, to create the first couple prototype animated characters…and thus the 2D edition of Suzie the Squirrel was born! Check her out in all her pixel-art glory:



He also got started on the 2.5D camera mode.

For my part, my first goal will be to create a spline tool for use in the game’s platformer camera mode that will allow us to place game objects along a path with an adjustable frequency. MORE AFTER THE JUMP.

Yiyi Zhang

Apprentice rodent programmer & marketing

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