This Game Series Came A Long Way In Just Two Short Years

This Game Series Came A Long Way In Just Two Short Years

Ah, the early 2000s. It was a time of great upheaval and revolution, particularly for PC graphics. Almost all at once, game designers could assume players had access to much more powerful 3D rendering technology, and game characters went from looking like weird, half-animated finger puppets to less-weird, more fully-animated finger puppets with faces.

Case in point: My current obsession, No One Lives Forever. The first game came out in November of 2000, the sequel a shade under two years later, in late September of 2002.

I finished the first game over the weekend and have been working my way through the second one this week, and I’m struck by how totally the game was overhauled in such a short amount of time. The games seem like they were released in entirely different eras. (In a way, they were!)

NOLF developer Monolith seems to have had a much larger budget to work with the second time around, but the technological increases also coincide with the broader boom in 3D PC graphics, and the number of gamers that had beefy 3D cards in their PCs. Remember, NOLF 2 came out just 2 years ahead of Half-Life 2, a game that somehow still holds up visually almost 10 years later.

For the sake of comparison, here’s the opening cinematic from No One Lives Forever:

And here’s the opening cinematic from the sequel:

Dang. Big difference. They’re emoting with their eyes and body language! They have ears!

The overhauls don’t stop at visuals, too — the sequel is a much more robust, “current” feeling game, with an RPG-like levelling system, greatly enhanced stealth (hooray for body-carrying!) and my favourite video-game move of all, the lean. Across the board, the game seems to have had a good deal more behind it than the first game. (Though it already seems that the sequel may lack that certain longwinded charm that the first game had, and I’m already not as into the story as I remember being.)

The closest more recent series to did something similar (that comes to mind) was Mass Effect, with a sizable production gulf between 2007’s Mass Effectand 2010’s Mass Effect 2. Though those games were separated by a bit more time and still weren’t quite as obviously different as the NOLF games. I’d imagine we might never get a period of change as substantial or consistent as the early 2000s, though it’ll be interesting to see if the coming generational console shift offers something close. We’ll see.


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  • The difference between Max Payne 1 & 2 at around the same time was similarly startling for me. Things comparatively move at a snail’s pace this days, there’s not really a massive difference between a modern game and one 5 or 6 years old.

    • I think that’s largely to do with modern consoles (apart from Nintendo) having become somewhat of a poor mans PC. There was a much bigger divide in the games across various platforms back then, and everyone benefited for it.

      • There is also production cost to complexity ratio that limits developmentl. Development cycles for todays games are extremely tight and it costs time and resources to make a game that is highly graphically complex. Now that all platforms are virtually identical in terms of the “average” game, there is no real advantage to push the ceiling.

  • A good friend of mine made the asian levels at the beginning of NOLF2! Even by today’s standards, NOLF still looks great!

  • That and most games are developed primarily for consoles these days, and not a huge amount of effort goes into optimising the PC ports despite a modern PC being a hell of a lot more powerful than the current consoles. We’ll be seeing a pretty big leap in PC graphics once the PS4 and Bone come out.

    • The performance ceiling for the PC is always much higher, but that no longer matters. It is all about shifting units, not showing off. There is no financial gain in optimizing a console-port for PCs. It is expensive and not cost effective per unit sold.

  • Man, I wish they would figure out who (if anyone) has the rights to this already! I played the demo for NOLF2 back in the day and it was pretty fun. I never got around to buying it though 🙁

  • In consoles, look at the level of detail jump between FINAL FANTASY 7 and FINAL FANTASY 8, that was just scary good… it was pure night and day. FF8 was outright gorgeous.

  • Funny. I just happened to be thinking about NOLF last week and I’ve never actually played either game!

  • I love the game, but surely there’s retro games other than NOLF that you could cover? Every day I’ve seen a new article about it

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