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How 3D Graphics Works Before Smartphones (Part One)

By Cecil Gao
Nov. 11, 2022 updated 10:10

Contributed by JerryD

In 2002, Nokia released its latest cell phone, the 3410, and brought 3D graphics technology to cell phones for the first time. The lifelike butterfly with its wings fluttering shocked millions of people when they first turned on the phone.

And now, in 2022, 3D mobile games on smartphones are becoming the mainstream. Some even have very high graphics quality comparable to console games.

What has happened in the past 20 years? How did that black-and-white butterfly become the colorful graphics nowadays?

The Castle of the original

Before OpenGL ES was officially launched in 2003, Munkiki's Castles was the world's first 3D mobile game, pre-installed on Nokia phones.

In the game, players will play as an ape-like creature,  solving puzzles in a world built of cubes. The player needs to collect all the notes in the level to finish the game, and unlock the hidden level by finding special items, the gameplay of Munkiki is a bit like the modern "Sokoban" games.

Nokia 3410 uses a Texas Instruments chip as the CPU to render 3D graphics. But this 13MHZ chip can only render very few polygons and does not run smoothly enough, so Nokia developed a special engine API for the phone to render the cubes faster.


However, not all 3410 have 3D screensaver and games, so some users may not know the existence of Munkiki's Castle.

South Korea: Reakosys and Gomid

South Korea was one of the first countries to offer mobile games on cell phones, and Com2us, a major Korean mobile game company that developed the Inotia series, is also the world's first game developed using Java.

In South Korea, one of the most commonly used 3D engine technologies in the early days was M3D Solution from Korean company Reakosys.

Using M3D Solution, Reakosys has developed the classic 3D Golf and several Doomlike FPS gamesUsing M3D Solution, Reakosys has developed the classic 3D Golf and several Doomlike FPS games

The map editor of M3D SolutionThe map editor of M3D Solution

Games in Samsung and LG phones developed by M3D SolutionGames in Samsung and LG phones developed by M3D Solution

At that time, Reakosys' main business is to provide multimedia entertainment solutions for mobile devices. In addition to mobile audio and video solutions, mobile game engines were also one of its businesses at that time, and the above-mentioned games can be seen as a technology demonstration of its 3D engine. However, Reakosys today has long stopped developing software for phones and has become a provider for in-vehicle devices.

Reakosys' competitor in Korea, Gomid, is also a leader in 3D graphics in the non-smartphone era.

The representative works of Gomid engine are the flight shooting game Air Conflict 3D, the Chess game Cookie War, the racing game Just Ran and the Fighting game Waste World.

Gomid even developed a game similar to Dynasty Warriors to demonstrate technologyGomid even developed a game similar to Dynasty Warriors to demonstrate technology

Mascot Capsule in Japan

Less than a thousand kilometers away from Korea, another representative early 3D engine named Mascot Capsule is also quietly developing.

This engine, developed by Japanese technology company HI, is a "lightweight" 3D engine, as it can show quality 3D graphics with limited hardware capabilities and supports. The machine was first used in 2001 in Japan's J-PHONE cell phones, and later NTT DoCoMo's cell phones also have games using the engine. Some 3D games such as Ridge Racer and Tram GO were also ported to the Japanese mobile platform through Mascot Capsule.


Games developed by Mascot Capsule EngineGames developed by Mascot Capsule Engine

Mascot Capsule is not the exclusive property of Japanese phones - for example, Motorola's Linux-based E680 series phones also support the engine, followed by the A780, "Ming" A1200, etc.

In the very late time of using the Mascot engine, users can even play the pre-installed tennis game on their phones, developed by Sega, which has almost completely ported the VR Tennis released on their console to cell phones.

To be continued