What’s the First 3D Game in the World?

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What is the first 3D video game in the world?

This might sound like one of those stray questions your brain comes up with every now and then, but with the unrelenting production of 3D video games worldwide, it’s hard not to wonder what actually started it all.

So before we get into the meat of this article, let’s first review the definition of 3D games. In a previous blog post, we defined 3D animation by breaking down its elements. These elements apply to 3D games, too. They are as follows:

1. There should be 3D models or graphics.

2. The movement exhibited by these graphical elements exists beyond the x and y axes.

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Now that we have a clear idea of what constitutes a 3D game, we can finally unearth the oldest, most ancient 3D game the world has ever seen.

The First 3D Game Ever, According to Several Sources

In the decades-long history of video games, most sources will tell you the first game to use 3D graphics is Battlezone (1980). Battlezone is the classic tank game commonly played in the arcade. It places players in the first-person shooter point-of-view, sending them on a mission to attack or shoot at multiple enemies. Battlezone uses bright green vector graphics against a black backdrop, one of the most iconic things about the game.

First 3D game Battlezone sample playthrough by YouTube user Shane McComas

It’s hailed as the first 3D game likely because it’s the first of its kind to gain commercial popularity. TechRadar even calls it “fiendishly complex” given the technological limitations back then. However, by today’s standards, Battlezone can be more accurately described as a 2.5D game.

Ed Rotberg, one of Battlezone’s developers, revealed that while the game “did real 3D maths”, the rotations are actually two-dimensional. Still, it’s the first game to look and feel like it’s set in a 3D environment. Needless to say, Battlezone merits the title.

Other First 3D Games

While Battlezone is considered the first 3D game across platforms, other, more advanced platforms have their own firsts, too.

Image credits to Unsplash

First 3D Game on the PC

The computer game considered to be the first-ever to exhibit 3D graphics is a good contender for Battlezone. It’s 3D Monster Maze (1981). Despite its name, however, 3D Monster Maze and Battlezone are similar in that both games merely give the illusion of a three-dimensional world. In truth, the movement was still limited to two-dimensional animation. 

3D Monster Maze deserves the title for the same reason Battlezone deserves its own. It’s a pretty impressive game for its time, plus it actually “[terrified] a generation” with its graphics. So not only is 3D Monster Maze the first 3D game on home computers, but it is also the first horror game to ever exist, according to Kotaku.

Image credits to Unsplash

First 3D Game on Consoles

The first commercial console was the Odyssey, a product conceptualized by one Ralph Baer. A developer and inventor, Baer revolutionized the gaming industry by developing his idea of using the television to play games. But the Odyssey was not the console that housed the first 3D game. It was supposedly the Sega Saturn.

The first 3D game to appear on a commercial gaming console was actually Virtua Fighter (1993) — or at least, that’s what several sources claim. Just like Battlezone, Virtua Fighter has 3D art, but the movement characters make are on a linear surface. This categorically makes Virtua Fighter a 2.5D game as well.

And because it’s already the ‘90s, the same reasoning for Battlezone earning the title “The First 3D Video Game Ever” seems like a stretch when applied to Virtua Fighter. So, we think the real first 3D game on a home video game console is none other than Super Mario 64 (1996). According to History, Super Mario 64 was first released on the Nintendo 64. 

Check out the complete playthrough of Super Mario 64 here.

Image credits to Unsplash

First 3D Game on Mobile

It’s difficult to pinpoint which mobile game was the first to truly, entirely embody 3D. When you browse through the history of mobile games, you will find it difficult to grasp a clear answer. Perhaps it’s because back then, our mobile devices, or more specifically our cellular phones, were not exactly built for high-fidelity 3D gaming. But there is one game we think is often overlooked despite it satisfying all the elements of a 3D game — albeit a low-quality one. 

Real Football (2004) is a Java-based football simulation mobile game that lets players move around the game’s environment in a versatile, non-lateral way. A player’s character is also shown in several dimensions as it moves around the field. 

Other sources say, however, The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) is one of the forerunners of 3D games on mobile devices, alongside Tower Bloxx (2005), which is arguably 2.5D. Nevertheless, mobile gaming has expanded and advanced so much in the present day that these games, while uniquely nostalgic, have simply become historical pieces to hark back to for study or inspiration.

Want to Develop Your First 3D Game?

If you’re someone who has felt inspired by 3D games for a long time — so much so that you’re itching to develop your own — then consider yourself lucky. You have much better tools at your disposal than the developers in the ‘80s.

Now, you can tinker with multiple game engines, programming languages, and digital art software from the comfort of your workstation. Now, you can easily explore every application’s tools and see how each one contributes to your game idea. But the catch is this — even with all these tools, you still might not fully develop your 3D game in the timeframe you want.

With game development tools’ advancement comes a need for internalizing highly technical knowledge. So, to truly maximize the power of each tool, you need to focus on one task — and piece of technology — at a time. You should also master every stage in game development if you want to build everything on your own.

Learn more about the two important stages in game development in our blog post What’s the Difference Between Game Design and Game Programming?

But if you want to build your first 3D game with several extra pairs of hands to carry out the work, then outsourcing could be the solution you need.

Outsourcing significantly boosts your chances of developing an amazing 3D game in a shorter amount of time. Through outsourcing, you partner with a group of people who can help you bring your video game vision to existence effortlessly. 

IMPORTANT TIP: To avoid running into game development problems, check first whether the outsourcing company has, for years, been offering and rendering the services you seek. Make sure you also check their portfolio on their website.

In Summary

The first-ever commercial 3D video game is Battlezone (1980). It is followed by 3D Monster Maze (1981), the first 3D game accessible on home computers. Following this is Super Mario 64 (1996), which first appeared on the Nintendo 64. And lastly, the first 3D game on mobile devices is Real Football (2004).

Ready to build your first 3D game with an experienced team of game developers?

Choose NarraSoft. Our services range from game development to 3D animation to digital art creation, and so many more

You can also check our portfolio to see what kind of digital art we created for our clients from different industries!

Send us an email at sales@narrasoft.com, or drop a message on our chat box or form. Together, we can build an outstanding 3D game that will surely amaze your audience.

Justine Jordan

Justine Jordan

Justine Jordan is a content and copy writer. She has written for a popular business daily in the Philippines and for various startups across the globe before transitioning to work for NarraSoft. She graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a bachelor's degree in journalism.