Videogame optical illusions

Stroboscopic motion

This illusion is a take on the classic “wagon-wheel” effect, that silly asynchronicity in filmmaking that makes wheels look like they’re spinning backward. Observe our Super Mario version: all the fire spinners below are rotating in the same direction and at the same speed.

When strobing occurs at the same rate as the rotation, the fire spinner appears motionless (lower left). When the strobe occurs at a slightly slower rate than rotation, the direction appears to reverse (upper right).


Freezing rotation

Look at the Poke Ball in the center of the image. Does it rotate smoothly or incrementally? Watch what happens when we take away the background. Voodoo!

When the ball and the background rotate the same direction, it creates the illusion that the ball has stopped rotating (or at least slowed down, depending on the individual.) In fact, the Poke Ball rotates at a constant rate.


Impossible objects

While we’re on the subject of Pokémon, did you know that the Platinum Edition contained an entire MC Escher-themed area? Distortion World relies on many of the perceptual tricks Escher popularized in his famous images of impossible architecture. Take a tour of Distortion World in this narrated walkthrough video (skip ahead for the good stuff, including an upside down waterfall.)

In videogames, the motion and depth we take for granted are just elaborate illusions based on the physical properties of the eye and the way our perception is hardwired into our brains. You know, like a broken robot! Kindly redirect your lazerbeams to our uniform resource locators again soon.

June 3, 2010


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  • SandroTheMaster - June 8, 2010 9:44 a.m.

    That reminded me of a part in the Act II of Diablo 2 where you're in an arcane dimension where physics is screwed up. They used the perspective limitation of the 3/4 third person view to give the same impression of Escher's impossible watermill. It was a nice effect, too bad it was ruined by the mechanics since the trajectory of a fireball or other spell made it clear the "upper" parts were actually following the "lower" parts is the same geometrical plane, plus the support for the "upper" parts didn't connect perfectly graphically, so it looked odd nonethless. Still, a nice touch. I'm surprised games don't exploit the lack of perspective in them more. I mean, movies do it all the time for special effects and make short actors look taller, but there are very few games that use the perspective to impress the player. Max Payne did it during Max's dreams and drug-induced hallucinations, Psychonauts did it a bit and a few other examples, but they're pretty rare.
  • StickyLungs - June 6, 2010 10:57 p.m.

  • shyfonzie - June 5, 2010 1:18 a.m.

  • Spartan11794 - June 4, 2010 9:59 p.m.

    I gotta say, no offense, but these were badly made illusions, I read through most of them, wasn't really tricked
  • humpiedumpie - June 4, 2010 9:56 p.m.

    wow the crowbar one is awesome
  • Shinramen - June 4, 2010 4:53 p.m.

    From the headline I thought this would be about graphical tricks developers use to create depth of field and things like Mode 7. I was wrong. Not my cup of tea, but I'll give you this Gamesradar, you always have something new for me.
  • philipshaw - June 4, 2010 4:19 p.m.

    That was strange
  • Skidd777 - June 4, 2010 2:52 p.m.

    None of those fooled me.
  • GamesRadarJoeMcNeilly - June 4, 2010 2:19 p.m.

    @carolyn - it was so tempting! but thank you. i feel like a better person =) and yes, they are all 100% real, made by yours truly in AfterEffects. if the response is good enough, i may be persuaded to do a Part 2. there were many ideas i didn't have time for!
  • SwampRock - June 4, 2010 7:26 a.m.

    I like the stroboscopic illusion. It's all like "don't touch me there!"
  • nomnom52 - June 4, 2010 5:40 a.m.

    the guy doing the platinum vid is a total asshole. Also, this was amazing. Very well done. ReCaptcha: "hitting mediator" Oh, don't I wish!
  • RonaldRayGun - June 4, 2010 4:36 a.m.

  • NorwegianKingofRacists - June 4, 2010 4:16 a.m.

    yeah, no. learn2spacial awareness.
  • HawtKakez - June 4, 2010 2:48 a.m.

    Neat, but I swear the first and third illusion's are rigged. If not, my mind is blown.
  • WilyBoy - June 4, 2010 2:42 a.m.

    No mention of God of War 3's Escher style garden maze?
  • GoodGuyWithACrappyJob - June 4, 2010 1:44 a.m.

    Just another proof that reality only exists as illusions that our brains stick together to create the delusions we think are real. What is real?
  • Doctalen - June 4, 2010 12:43 a.m.

    None of them seemed that they worked for me, maybe it is the slow internet or just didn't work on me.

Showing 1-20 of 29 comments

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