Now thats not terribly interesting, but what it did do was startup with a session that was obviously where I'd left off ages ago, and this thread was open in it.
It still makes an interesting read I think, but what stands out is Michalson's comments:
What seperates these games from other 2D games is that they aren't just the same sprite mechanics, but with more colors or transparency. Even Stick Soldiers 3 is not much more then higher quality sprites doing exactly what could be done on the NES in 1983. What sets Yoshi's Island/Gish apart is that they treat sprites and the environment as more then just bounded box areas (a bunch of very rigid squares), making something that looks and feels far more organic and natural. The environment isn't a collection of straight lines, but of curves. The characters are not flat drawings superimposed aligned to a grid, but flexible objects that turn and even deform (for example when Yoshi jumps on a high jump ball, the ball compresses and deforms under him, like a real object). Physics play a big role in making the 2D world better (Gish is centered around physics for gameplay). Can you imagine if 3D shooters still used the non-existent physics of Doom 1? Instead of a rigid world you have bridges made from balanced beams that tilt as the play walks on them. Instead of being static, the environment reacts to the players presence. Enemies realistically move, instead of simply being drones that walk on air.
I'm not sure if I properly paid attention to them then, but right now I totally agree - lots of 2d games are locked in an old way of thinking. Ages ago pretty much all you could do was blit a few sprites and maybe have a layer or two of tiles as well. Later there were a few well known hacks you could do by messing with the tilemap during a horizontal interupt (the most well known being 'mode 7'), but other than that there wasn't much else to it.
Now we've got huge amounts of flexibility - we're not just able to blit, but also to mirror, flip, stretch, squash, shear, rotate and tint practically 'for free' if you're using GL or D3D. And thats only the start of it, we can do crazy render-to-texture stuff and apply all sorts of mad pixel shaders and make the pixels dance to exactly what pattern we want them to.
Possibly the most visually polished 2d game I've seen recently is Jets n Guns (ignoring the gameplayer for the time being, thats a post for another day). But even this isn't really doing anything much - it's all regular blited sprites. About the only complicated thing it does is some particle effects - the rest of the sprites don't even rotate. The backgrounds are big static images, the levels are basic tilemaps - even though theres no technical reason to use tilemaps, they don't add anything except make the levels look blocky!
Contrast this with Gunstar Heros, which despite running on the Megadrive (which couldn't even do proper rotated sprites), has tons of effects everywhere. A big rotating title screen, bosses made up of 3d cubes, bosses that will reach out and bend, distort and flex to grab you, bosses which run inside giant spinning rooms, levels set inside twisting and turning mine shafts, and a boss which will morph seamlessly between seven different forms.
We've got so much flexibility that we don't know what to do with it. We're trapped in an old way of thinking because thats the accepted way of doing things in 2d. 3d games may be getting ever prettier, but they're still set in largely static environments. This is where 2d can excel - by having living, breathing worlds which actually feel alive.