Games With Depth

Three months ago I, probably like many of you, could not wait for the latest annoying tech fad to fade into the obscurity it so richly seemed to deserve. Part of it is that I have been through this particular fad before, and I recall with clear disdain how silly and short-lived it was the last time. Which is just about exactly how silly and short lived it had been the time before that. And the time before that.

Entertainers have been trying to make 3D work for mainstream audiences in a meaningful way since the early 1950s, and in the intervening decades the 3D fad waxed and waned with the confident regularity of the moon, prune farmers or Robert Downey Jr's career. Every other decade or so each new generation rediscovers the idea and becomes quickly disillusioned with looking like a jackass in a public movie theater.

From the moment I first put on those cardboard glasses back in the dark ages of the eighties with their flimsy one blue and one red lens I knew this was a giant load of nonsense. It was not unlike how I felt the first time I wore an Ocean Pacific shirt, jean jacket or parachute pants, like some shadowy, pop-culture evil trickster was playing an unkind trick on me and my entire generation. So, when at this year's PAX I was handed slightly fancier looking, but no less inconvenient 3D glasses to experience computer gaming in the THIRD DIMENSION, I was entirely prepared to roll my eyes and proclaim the latest attempt just another in a long string of failure.

Tragically and unexpectedly, I loved it.

I didn’t see Avatar in 3D. More specifically, I didn’t see the point of seeing Avatar in 3D, so really my first experience with this latest round of 3D came when my son took me to see Hubble 3D at the IMAX for Father’s Day in June. Spending a day with my son was terrific, but the 3D experience, while kind of cool in a kitschy proved mostly disappointing, like watching a movie starring Jeff Goldblum. The film was just out of focus enough to mar the quality, much of the show emphasized flat 2D images and I still had to deal with making my regular glasses and the theater's cheap, crappy 3D glasses work in tandem.

A few weeks later I sat down at a display in a local Best Buy to watch a clip of some 3D animated kids movie. The glasses were half broken and tethered uncomfortably to the chair, and the cost of the television on which the show was broadcast reminded me of how prohibitively expensive the experience was. Again, my whelm was decidedly undered.

So, to experience 3D again at PAX, under less than ideal conditions with a mass of humanity milling about to all sides, seemed a recipe for disaster. To be honest I wouldn’t have likely even messed with it, except that the NVIDIA 3D area was the only convenient place to play Civilization V, and my desire to play Civ V was matched that day only by my desire to enact legislation prohibiting men from participating in topless cosplay. By the end of my session, I was as enthralled with the 3D technology as I was the actual game.

Being any kind of advocate for 3D gaming is to me like being the cultural cheerleader for Air Supply or Erma Bombeck books. It's not that a case can't be made. I just don't want to be the guy making the case. After all, wearing a pair of heavy, battery-powered glasses any time I want to play a game seems like the stuff of the most annoying nightmares, like trying to enjoy a gourmet dinner at a taping of Two and a Half Men. And, when it comes right down to it, this is just technology that provides a pretty cool, though ultimately meaningless, optical illusion. It’s hard to imagine how playing in 3D will ever actually improve gameplay.

It’s expensive -- $200 for the 3D equipment and at least another $300 for a monitor that can support it. It’s inconsistently good -- different games have different levels of quality to their 3D implementation. It’s annoying -- not only do you have to do your playing with glasses on, but each game will likely require fine tuning. Most importantly, it’s probably nothing more than a passing trend.

And yet, I finally see now as I never had before why people keep coming back to this kind of display gimmick. When it is working as intended, I can not deny that it adds a deeply unexpected layer to the gaming experience. Ultimately, in tune with the very nature of gaming itself, it excels at fooling our brain into believing that this artificial construct in which we play has legitimate depth to it. 3D works because it is a reflection of the world we live in every day, and for an industry where immersion is a major goal, it’s hard to deny the results.

I’m not saying I’m going to rush out and buy a bunch of expensive 3D stuff for my computer. I'm sure as hell not saying you should either. I’m not even saying that we should expect 3D to stick around and become practical in the long run.

What I am saying is this. No platform to date may be better served by or equipped to work with 3D gaming than the PC, and if the technology continues to improve and overcome the expense and convenience barriers, then there is something undeniably appealing here. Those are long odds to beat, and I have no confidence that they ever will be.

The thing is, now that I’ve seen what can be done and what can be experienced, I’m actually cheering the fad on rather than actively petitioning for its demise. That's the thing about fads -- they gain popularity for a reason. The question is whether the fad can evolve into something worth buying into for the long haul. For 3D gaming, that's still somewhere around the bend and over the horizon.

Comments

Yeah, but how is it actually better? What does it bring?

Elysium's conclusion is pretty spot on: it's a fad, and although it can be a nice addition for some, it still has a long way to go until it becomes worth buying like HDD's and broadband are.

Games are actually quite terrible at portraying distance. We forget this, because games cover this up by making distance mostly unimportant to gameplay. Sure, we can tell the difference between an enemy that's way the hell over there and one that's right the hell in my face, but accurately judging the distance to an enemy is something very few games ask the player to do. This is the main reason melee combat and jumping puzzles don't work in first person. You have no way to judge if that enemy is in range of your sword, and no way to judge how wide that gap really is. Other than player movement, very little gameplay takes place on the z-axis.

3D can change that. With that extra layer of information, developers can allow the player to do all sorts of things they didn't have the ability to do before. That's the gameplay benefit of 3D.

On the other hand, just like James Cameron had to reinvent a lot of the rules of cinematography for 3D movies, we're going to have to reinvent a lot of the rules of in-game cameras to make 3D games work. Movement speed, field of view, camera control and placement, these all need to be tailored for 3D. It's not going to work for everything, and I think games that emphasize 3D may have to be slower and more deliberate than traditional games, as far as camera movement is concerned. At least until we figure this stuff out.

kazar wrote:

I have been playing 3D games for over 10 years now. I had bought an Asus video card powered by the NVidia TNT2 back in 2000 and it came with 3D classes that plugged into the video card instead of using IR to get the refresh rate. I do agree that consistancy is lacking today, but as 3D gets more popular I expect the consistancy to get better.

I haven't played Killzone3, yet alone in 3D and while the implmentation my be choppy or blurry, just imagine what it would be like if the technology worked instead of complaining on how bad it is. I know that 3D is currently in the fad state, but I think that this time around it is here to stay. The technology is only going to get better and I expect most naysayers to be cheering on 3D in 2-3 years.

I guess that is the rub for me. I do imagine what it would be like if the technology worked well. I thought the 3D in Avatar looked stunning and actually did elevate the experience, not just in a geewhiz way but with the sensation of flight and other aspects that really served to impart sensations that otherwise would be absent (How To Train Your Dragon in 3D had a similar effect.) However, as much as I enjoy the effect, it is also true that if I lean my head over to the side (such as one might like to do if they are laying on the couch at home enjoying a movie with their wife) the effect is completely destroyed, and further the movie is unwatchable in that state. I can't really base an opinion off of what may be in the future I only have what we are given now. Unfortunately, for me, what we have now isn't strong enough to want to bring it into my own home.
In contrast seeing how well 3D could work in a game like Civ5 really just served to amplify my disappointment in more actiony games in 3D. Just scanning the comments here it is very clear to me that this is a technology that currently has vastly different results with different people. Some people can't see the effect at all, some get motion sick, some see it as blurry, some see it as spectacular. To me it is hard to imagine how technology with such a vast quality of experience spectrum can really hit big from a mass market perspective. I guess we'll know soon enough at least with respect to 3D's current incarnation. I have no doubt that someone will get it right some day in a broad way. In the meantime bring on the 3D CIV!

Both 3D gaming and motion controls are not something I'm really interested in as add-ons to existing game models. However, games such as Boom Blox on the Wii have shown me that when games are designed from the beginning with new technology in mind, fun new game experiences can be designed.

Slapping 3D on existing games holds little interest for me. Sony patching their new Move controller into existing games similarly doesn't excite me much. However, I am interested in new game types using 3D as an integral part of the design. Specifically, I think there are some really strong possibilities out there for designing 3D games that allow you to use the MOVE controller to manipulate game objects on screen in 3D space.

headleym wrote:

However, as much as I enjoy the effect, it is also true that if I lean my head over to the side (such as one might like to do if they are laying on the couch at home enjoying a movie with their wife) the effect is completely destroyed, and further the movie is unwatchable in that state.

The technology already exists, but is expensive and not yet production ready but there are glasses that have LCDs in them that project the image directly in your eyes. You can then put on these glasses and no matter what direction your head is tilting, the image would be directly in front of your head. I predict that this might be the next stage of 3D in 5 years. The advantage is your TV becomes portable. They can make these glasses focus the image based on your prescription so you don't have to wear two glasses. The only real downside is you would lose interaction with people around you.

Things like this is why I don't think 3D is a fad. The 3D technology is getting better and better and eventually I think all the complaints people have will be resolved.

As for Duoae's point about game design being ignored, I don't disagree with you. Game developers should make their games fun and immersive and I do expect lots of developers to focus only on 3D. But I like to look at the bright side. If one or two games a year come out that have great story and gameplay and amazing 3D, I will be satisfied.

Everything and it's mom is 3D now and soon regular television is going to make the switch to 3D. sighhh

oMonarca wrote:

Augmented reality. I would love to have simple glasses that placed a context sensitive overlay depending on where I would focus my eyes on. Like looking at my keyboard and seeing all the valid keys available to me in a game, like the hotkeys on a new RTS, or what button does what in a console shooter. Something to facilitate new coming players, without "dumbing down"/streamlining the gameplay. And once you felt you no longer needed them, you could place them aside.

Man the Intellivision really was ahead of its time. Still maybe the best video game controller ever. With those little overlay cards, that showed what button you pressed, and even had arrows to tell you what the side triggers and discs were for. And then once you mastered the game, you didn't need them anymore.

nomerz wrote:

Everything and it's mom is 3D now and soon regular television is going to make the switch to 3D. sighhh

While this may be true, you can always flick a switch and turn 3D back into 2D so you will never be forced to watch 3D at home.

I just got back from watching Resident Evil: Afterlife in 3D and I came to a realization. 2D is to 3D as stereo is to surround sound. Surround sound came out and it gave depth to sound. It made you feel like you were in the environment of the movie or game your playing. Games were even better since you get direction to the sound which lets you react to it.

While 3D may not give the same advantage that surround sound does in gaming, many of the arguments based around 3D not adding anything to a game could be used against surround sound. Yet surround sound is accepted.

When surround sound came out, you had to buy a new receiver and extra speakers so the cost to enter was high. But over time all receivers supported surround sound and now it is hard to not buy a reciever that doesn't have surround sound. I expect that TVs will go the same route. In 2 years every TV sold will support 3D.

I think the only real factor that I think is the biggest barrier to entry is the glasses. People that already wear glasses will suffer since they now have to wear two glasses and the typical pair are not that confortable. On the glasses front though, leading glasses manufactuers are making 3D glasses that are more confortable (and stylish). Hopefully technology will advance enough where glasses won't be necessary.

Stele wrote:
oMonarca wrote:

Augmented reality. I would love to have simple glasses that placed a context sensitive overlay depending on where I would focus my eyes on. Like looking at my keyboard and seeing all the valid keys available to me in a game, like the hotkeys on a new RTS, or what button does what in a console shooter. Something to facilitate new coming players, without "dumbing down"/streamlining the gameplay. And once you felt you no longer needed them, you could place them aside.

Man the Intellivision really was ahead of its time. Still maybe the best video game controller ever. With those little overlay cards, that showed what button you pressed, and even had arrows to tell you what the side triggers and discs were for. And then once you mastered the game, you didn't need them anymore. ;)

That thing never picked up over here. Not many do. It was all Sega Megadrive (Genesis over there), then Playstation mania from them on.

kazar wrote:

I just got back from watching Resident Evil: Afterlife in 3D and I came to a realization. 2D is to 3D as stereo is to surround sound.

I'd like to ask, just a general poll of people here reading this thread: How many of you have surround sound systems (per TV) in your house and of the houses of people you know? Does surround sound have a large penetration in society in the US?

The only reason why i ask is because i've met one person with surround sound here in the UK that was linked to their TV. My dad is the only gamer i know with surround sound attached to his computer and even then the speakers are not ideally placed so the effect is, to my hearing, virtually indistinguishable to virtualised surround sound through stereo speakers.

If that's the sort of penetration that surround sound has in the mass market and 3D TV is looking at the same then i don't think that's an outlandish claim at all. However, it's a far cry from where the companies and other people commenting on the tech are claiming it will be.

The other thing with the stereo/surround comparison is that with surround you are adding sound sources around your listening position, with 3D video you are still on a 2D display than actually displaying a 3D object. If anything it's like the various sound panning used on stereo in some games and movies to fake surround, overused it comes across as a sound editor trying too hard, but used subtly will bring the listener into the environment.

I've heard from various 'professionals' that given the choice between a good stereo setup (speakers, etc.) or an adequate surround setup, it's a much better choice to go for stereo. I'm not quite sure how that relates to 3D video, as I'd say a 3DTV is just a 2DTV with some funny glasses.

Scratched wrote:

as I'd say a 3DTV is just a 2DTV with some funny glasses.

And even without as of next year or so!

Duoae wrote:
kazar wrote:

I just got back from watching Resident Evil: Afterlife in 3D and I came to a realization. 2D is to 3D as stereo is to surround sound.

I'd like to ask, just a general poll of people here reading this thread: How many of you have surround sound systems (per TV) in your house and of the houses of people you know? Does surround sound have a large penetration in society in the US?

Literally 0. Then again, this is Portugal, people that go for luxury electronics are few and far between.

I have thought many times about getting surround sound, but as long as we live in an apartment, it's a no-no. If we should ever get a house where I can crank it to 11, then maybe. But so far I have been making due with a nice set of stereo headphones. They're easier to use (no satellite speakers around me), and I don't annoy people living with me.

3D (with glasses) alienates guests, unless I have a ton of glasses (doubt it), and if I keep wearing headphones, might prove to be too much plastic crap on my head at any given time.

3D without glasses, that everyone in front of the display can enjoy, maybe.

Surround sound does not mean loud. I have a surround sound system with subwoofer in my aptartment, but I keep the base very low so the subwoofer does very little and I keep the sound low at night. Surround sound is really about 3D sound. Also many gaming headsets made today are 7.1.

My point was, unless you use the speakers built into your TV, you have no choice but to buy a surround sound system. You may only hook up two speakers but it comes standard. Even many TVs and sound systems today do virtual surround sound where they send signals out slightly delayed so you think it is coming from behind you (kind of like 3D without glasses in a way).

I can't speak for the rest of the world, but many homes in the US and Canada do have surround systems of some kind, especially if they paid good money for a nice TV and even a gaming console. Maybe not so much for people that only watch cable TV.

Yeah, surround doesn't mean loud, but I find I lose a ton of nuance if it's too low. And it doesn't have to be all that loud for the bass reverberate through the walls and annoy the neighbor below. I also haven't found a general consensus about the quality of x.1 surround headphones. I see very nice pairs of stereo headphones recommended over surround headsets.

So, all in all, it still seems to me that 3D, sound or image, is a luxury without a dramatic effect on the experience.

oMonarca wrote:

Yeah, surround doesn't mean loud, but I find I lose a ton of nuance if it's too low. And it doesn't have to be all that loud for the bass reverberate through the walls and annoy the neighbor below. I also haven't found a general consensus about the quality of x.1 surround headphones. I see very nice pairs of stereo headphones recommended over surround headsets.

So, all in all, it still seems to me that 3D, sound or image, is a luxury without a dramatic effect on the experience.

I use the Logitech 7.1 surround sound headset and I can definitely tell the difference. They have a switch that turns off the surround sound and in games I have less sense of direction of sound. When playing games like Left 4 Dead, hearing the exact location of an infected makes a huge difference not only in immersion but also survivability.

The interesting part though is, I find 3D reduces my ability to survive in a game like Left 4 Dead. I have a harder time seeing things in the peripheral. But it does look amazing.

I dunno, I think 3d tvs are a gimmick, and even though they make these things '3d capable' it's going to be one of those features people very rarely use as a common technology. To give it the analogy of mono vs colour is completely inaccurate, since today we see everyone using colour - I highly doubt that we will EVER see a replacement of the 2d panel display with a permanent 3d flat panel display.

For one, the TV is a group activity. It's like having a TV that doesn't allow speakers, only headphones. Secondly, because it's fake 3d, it loses the effect unless you're at a nearly perpendicular angle to the TV. Personally I believe the whole '3d TV' thing is more something that has been enabled by the breakthrough in technology to allow for double the refresh rates - manufacturers were going 'hmm we can output twice as much picture now but nobody is noticing!'. I'm a lot more excited about the upcoming release of the OLED TVs.

A lot of similar caveats apply to 3d PC gaming. It's fake 3d so your eyes feel strained, it doesn't work for everyone, and the quality varies considerably. It's not a technology that a game developer can depend on everyone having access to, so there's no way you're going to see games come out that depend on the technology. All this means it's going to stay a sideline technology for the foreseeable future.

What would make 3d work for me?

Gaming is usually a single person in front of the hardware, so what if you moved the entire display technology over to a headset and scrapped the idea of a monitor entirely? You've got cameras and phones that are pushing the miniaturization of displays more and more, you've got the OLED technology for extremely thin & light displays, and head position & eye tracking is already a commercial technology.
At the very least you could use this as a peripheral for a game that allows you to control your head movement, like racing games, piloting games, or Mechwarrior type games. If it got smooth enough you'd be able to use it to easily have a 'virtual desktop' environment.
THEN once you've got that tech in hand, it would a short step to using the device portably as a reality augmentation system, where a few cameras on the exterior transform the real world into a virtual one. They say that they may be able to make the AMOLED screens transparent eventually - a few generations of this hypothetical device and you're looking at a true augmented reality type system overlaying your world.

All of this is technology that currently exists, and all that is needed is somebody to put the package together in something similar in size to a good set of headphones. Put THAT on the market and I think you'll see the demand for 3d monitors drop through the floor.

Actually, 3D technology as we have it today was available back in the 90s. Many CRTs could do 100-120hz which was good enough for 3D. It is true that flat panels couldn't do 3D til recently. The real reason 3D is being pushed so hard is because there is really not much that can be improved on for TV or even movies. Theatres were becoming worried that more people were waiting for movies to go on DVD and watch them on netflix or buy them on DVD so they pushed for something unique to Theatres. Then the TV manufactures realized that people are not buying TVs because there is nothing new TVs have to offer so they did 3D.

My outlook on the future is 3D isn't going away. I don't think it will stay the way it is today. It will evolve. I am really interested in these augmented reality glasses that can effectively give you a theatre sized screen in your home, or even make it look like you are in the movie. I can see it turning into an interactive display, where you could have two or three people in the room with you watching the same content fixed in space in the room (say on a green screen).

Was this a spam necro?

wordsmythe wrote:

Was this a spam necro?

Nope, it was an actual response from Pawz that necroed this topic. Though time has past and it would be interesting on what people's current take is.

Wow I have no idea how I even ended up in this thread originally. It was on top of my list somehow I swear it!

Go away for a couple of weeks and see what happens!

In any case, check this out:

http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2011/11/so...

now we just need head tracking software & some external cameras...