We are talking about a hardware (and not software over hardware, as for example in some games on the SNES console) tile engine with multi-overlapping rectangular (rather than square, when the image of a tall object on the bottom line of the tile overlaps 1-3 lines of tiles higher in the plane) tiles and without a full frame buffer - a maximum of a double linear buffer.

I suppose that it was possible in some of the arcade machines of the heyday of 2D - but my erudition is not enough.

For example, a typical tilemap with tiles, conditionally, 16 by 32 pixels

Perhaps, due to the complexity of the implementation, such systems simply did not make sense or rested on some kind of hardware bottleneck? And then the (V)RAM fell in price ...

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    That does not seem to be different from pure 2D sprites: so 2D engines, either blitter-like or hardware-sprites-like could be applied with the success. The order of output could be (easily?) determined by the CPU.
    – lvd
    Commented Mar 20, 2020 at 18:23
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    The Neo Geo at least, and I assume a lot of its contemporaries in the arcade, doesn't have a tile map, it can just do a large number of large sprites. I guess that'd qualify?
    – Tommy
    Commented Mar 20, 2020 at 19:27
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    And the implementation isn't really that complex - as lvd has said, either just use drawing order, or use one color as transparency. And as the implementation is simple and can also very simply be done in software, I guess the case for having specialized expensive hardware for it just isn't that strong ...
    – dirkt
    Commented Mar 20, 2020 at 19:35
  • heh the tileset brings up memories see SO/SE: 2D isometric editor for more comprehensive and repaired set. The engine itself is just rendering of sprites which is no different to sprite engines supported for 2D games so HW implementations exists its just not dedicated only for isometrics... SW implementation is also not that hard the linked QA has a demo and also link to another QA with its source code in C++ if you wanna inspect/disect/learn...
    – Spektre
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 13:55

1 Answer 1


is it possible

Yes, but what would it add to a 2D sprite/blitter with masking (aka transparency) ? Basically those are tiles.

Some sophisticated hardware could have some notion of priority between those tiles to choose which one to display "on top" of the others. And maybe handle collisions (only useful between field objects). That would be an improvement. But that would require to invent a new 3D coordinate system

But now, think of a console/hardware where most of the games would have to be isometric to benefit that feature?

2D tiles/sprites/blitter objects are much more generalist and can do isometric without problems. With software, "just" code efficient algorithms for priority display and you're done (I know that the priority/collision routines for Cadaver (68k) are pretty well optimized, but they only apply to objects, not walls).

Even 8 bit machines had isometric games (Speccy had a lot of good ones) and 16 bit machines (Atari/Amiga) also had their share. Some examples exist in arcade games (Marble Madness, Paperboy, Escape from planet of Robot monsters, all using "classic" tiling system) but they are quite rare in arcade form. Isometric games are mostly action/adventure, more popular on generalist computers than on consoles.

So the benefit of a dedicated hardware to do isometric games is dubious.

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