Your 3D Gaming Future, Today

3D Gaming at GamersWithJobs.com

If you haven’t heard, we’re living in a 3D world. At least, that’s the world that a few tech companies want you to inhabit. But as much as I pine for a dimensional gaming experience of my own, it’s hard to justify the purchase of a 3D-anything without at least a glimmer of hope that a market exists to support the technology.

Instead of dreaming about 3D Peggle or the SSV Normandy hyper-jumping its way into my living room, I settled for counting down the days until my new work laptop arrived. You can imagine my delight when a pair of active polarized glasses were included in the new computer swag that made its way to my desk. Truth be told, I have absolutely no business use for a 3D-enabled laptop. But far be it from me to pass up a research opportunity. In the last month, I’ve run through bits of Champions Online, Portal, Mirror’s Edge and Batman: Arkham Asylum to get an approximate idea of the current state of 3D gaming. The verdict?

If you can tolerate it, nothing to really work yourself up over.

Of course, this opinion comes with an arsenal of asterisks, the most obvious being that none of the games I mentioned above were actually designed with the dimension in mind. A number of games certainly support the technology, but implementation is not crafted equally. When it comes down to it, the experience is most like watching a movie which has had 3D added in during post production: You get an interesting glimpse of something now and again, but nothing to really wow you or justify the expense. It’s just kind of there.

Also worth noting is the fact that I don’t usually suffer from motion sickness due to games or 3D films. I’ve never felt nausea while running through a first person shooter. I sat in the fourth row during Avatar with a bag full of popcorn and didn’t hurl. I’m pretty much a prime candidate for 3D anything. Even so, the active shutters can give me a slight headache or cause some noticeable strain on my eyes. I have friends who are very sensitive to video-induced nausea, and they won’t even put the glasses on to look at the tech demos. When the best thing you can say to a potential user is “I haven’t thrown up… yet,” it’s a pretty difficult sell.

The included active-shutter glasses aren’t terribly ugly and they don’t weigh enough to be a burden. They also carry a decent charge. I’ve run through about 20 hours with hardly a battery-enforced break. Thanks to adjustable nosepieces (also included), I was able to get the pair to fit comfortably over my own glasses. Pause the action to get a drink of water or to answer the phone and the glasses go transparent. Face the screen and after a moment, they return to their smoky, opaque selves. The only thing that is slightly problematic is maintaining a line of sight with the IR emitter that syncs the frames to the screen. In terms of use, they’re pretty optimal.

The 3D effect gives game textures a decent bump. The folds of a coat or seams of a shirt feel a bit more authentic if they’re done correctly. But if a corner’s been cut, you might be able to more easily pick up on the lack of care. In Batman, I could tell that the Joker’s shirt basically fused itself to the fabric on his pants, which is a bit of a letdown, considering how much care was given to the rest of his ensemble.

So far, it’s been the atmospheric and particle effects that make the technology interesting. Portal’s portal blobs are pretty neat to watch. I stood around for a bit, firing particles in the air and watching them fall. It makes me wonder what kind of little attention-grabbing light shows or environmental effects could be designed for the tech. But if I’m gushing over the fancy embellishments instead of the actual content, you know something’s up.

One of the main drawbacks to the 3D experience is the lack of immersion. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the effect is more like looking at a world through a window or porthole and less the kind of pop-out-at-you intensity you might expect. This may not seem to be such a deal-breaker when sitting in front of a 65-inch television or planted smack dab in the middle of a pseudo IMAX screen, but for a relatively modest laptop, the limits can be pretty obvious. The world is often constrained by the screen. In Mirror’s Edge this kind of works. You look down and you see feet, you run and your arms swing. You don’t have to worry about someone popping up in your line of sight. For Batman, the placement of the camera is directly behind Bats’ shoulder, so a part of him seems cut off at times. I also felt like Robin: Boy Cinematographer for a majority of my playthrough, watching the Dark Knight work, but not especially being a cause of the action.

And let me tell you something: Nothing breaks the simulated sense of dimensionality like a pre-rendered cinematic.

I’m also sad to report that there’s essentially no difference in my ability to judge distances in games. Mirror’s Edge and Portal don’t suddenly become a cakewalk because I can now tell the difference between an in-game meter or three. Jumps don’t become more accurate, ledges don’t become more ledge-y. You may gain a more nuanced geometric appreciation of the land, but you likely won’t get much more.

Also problematic are certain shadows. I’m not sure if this is an error with the rendering engine or a glitch that will get ironed out later, but character shadows are almost universally horrible. I’m not an expert on light sources, but I’m pretty sure that putting my hand in front of my face doesn’t result in dark spots over my left and right profile.

Another unexpected problem has to do with the way our eyes fix themselves to an object of interest. You can scan the horizon, fixate on something a few inches from you or anything in between without too much stress. If I focus on something far away, objects in my foreground tend to become twin images. The strain between looking at action and reading words in the foreground just makes my eyes twitch in paroxysms of confusion. After some research, I found that tweaking the simulated distance can make this problem go away, or at least create less of a disorienting presentation. I came away with the impression that HUDs and information displays need to be seriously reconsidered as design aspects if the game is going to support 3D.

This text problem is pretty novel to me. Because traditional games don’t have to worry about the perception of layers of space, the HUD is essentially flat, with all its information being on the plane of the screen. In a game where one is asked to look at distance, this flat approach becomes obtrusive. In a worst-case scenario, the player is asked to choose whether they are interested in placing their focus on the display or on the game. In Mirror’s Edge, I had to disable the HUD dot that serves to orient the player, as it floated, frustratingly, in my line of sight. Instead of guiding me, the dot served to break the illusion of depth. For Champions this made it difficult to read the names of characters and party members.

In the five years that I’ve owned my television, HD has gone from fringe to mainstream, from a geeky someday standard to something built into our entertainment vocabulary. I’ve definitely got an eye on 3D as a potential addition to the gaming experience, but the question of its longevity (as well as utility) has kept me from making any rash purchases. The 3D laptop is proving to be a valuable learning experience, since nothing I’ve seen has really sold me on the idea. It’s a novelty, more akin to HD-DVD than HD imagery. A gimmick, not a generational leap.

All the gripes add up to a decidedly unenthusiastic opinion of 3D technology today. There’s little benefit to being an early adopter. If you disagree, just try to name a few games built with 3D in mind. If you absolutely must be part of the 3D gaming revolution, you might as well go and pick up a 3DS. You’ll trade portability for a smaller screen, but your investment will also be substantially lower. If you decide the technology just isn’t mature enough (or your eyeballs are too precious to wreck), you can walk away without having a thousand dollar albatross on your neck.

Comments

3D right now both for home viewing and gaming is fairly busted and annoying. Some of the busted things are due to limitations in the hardware we currently use.

For example.. 3D console gaming is severely limited to both current gen hardware limitations and HDTV limitations around the HDMI 1.4 spec. I dont think we'll see any major moves in this aspect until the next generation of consoles from Sony and/or Microsoft AND if the TV manufactures think its worth adopting a new digital connection specification.

PC gaming suffers as well simply because we have two camps AMD and Nvidia.. and two very different ways of enabling 3D. ugh.

Whats worse is that effect is never perfect like you described.. the image is ALWAYS darker and muddy.. which makes you feel like your previous high resolution razor sharp LCD is now being looked through a "fog"

This analysis sounds about right. Makes you wonder how much testing was done before 3D @ home was decided to be the next 'big thing'.

Clemenstation wrote:

This analysis sounds about right. Makes you wonder how much testing was done before 3D @ home was decided to be the next 'big thing'.

Probably none, which is probably why it was marketed as the next big thing.

Bonus:

Spoiler:

you're the testers

One of the main drawbacks to the 3D experience is the lack of immersion. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the effect is more like looking at a world through a window or porthole and less the kind of pop-out-at-you intensity you might expect.

Well, thankfully glasses free exists. It's a waiting game to see if that ever becomes something we'll all be able to do in a theater or at home. The 3d might also get more substantial looking, which would be nice.

I'm just thankful there's people out there willing to take the plunge on 3d at this early stage. As Scratched said, you guys are the testers. If 3d doesn't work out now, it may in the future after there's more research done.

Thanks for sharing your impressions, Spaz.
I am somewhat in the same spot as you. Not willing to upgrade my TV, but still somehow interested in the technology itself.

@TheGameGuru: I am not really sure if the current gen consoles have actually reached a hardware limitation when it comes to 3D. I have no first hand experience with any 3D title on the PS3, but from what I've read several developers have claimed that they can do 3D in a reasonable way.
On that part the statement from somebody @ Naghty Dog I find very interesting. I read on some blog that they said something like "Once we knew how to have Splitt Screen running fast, 3D was also no problem anymore". Maybe i have it the wrong way around, though. Not 100% sure.

Bottomline for me at this point is: I believe the technology is there, but content creators (movie- as well as videogame makers alike) do not have enough experience (see Spaz's comment about HUDs, or the ever anoying popup effects in movies).

TheGameguru wrote:

Whats worse is that effect is never perfect like you described.. the image is ALWAYS darker and muddy, which makes you feel like you're playing a game built on the Unreal engine.

Did anyone else think this?

Thanks for sharing this information. It is refreshing to hear someone's honest take on the 3D craze without any kind of spin. Aside from Avatar, I have so far failed to be impressed with the 3D craze though I will say that I am LOVING Ocarina of Time on my 3DS and it has nothing to do with the lack of glasses. When something is built from the ground up for 3D you can definitely tell the difference. In my experience, you really do have things POP out at you when it is done right. With that said, I do believe we are probably a couple of years (at most) from most practical applications of this technology.

I've always thought the most interesting type of '3d' was that demo of the guy with his Wii and the infrared lights on his glasses allowing him to track where he was looking. I realize there'd be some design issues to overcome, but how cool would it be to get just a bit of an extra view as you're peeking around the corner in Battlefield 3, just by leaning over a bit in your chair? I do it already anyways, even though it doesn't help, so you'd think it would be fairly natural to work with.

Pawz wrote:

I've always thought the most interesting type of '3d' was that demo of the guy with his Wii and the infrared lights on his glasses allowing him to track where he was looking.

There's TrackIR, although I wonder if games which support the api might be able to use the wiimote information.

Pawz wrote:

I've always thought the most interesting type of '3d' was that demo of the guy with his Wii and the infrared lights on his glasses allowing him to track where he was looking.

Me too.
There's TrackIR, although I wonder if games which support the api might be able to use the wiimote information.

I don't think 3d anything is really worth it until its the same price as standard TV/whatever. I'm no expert, but, I can see that happening in a couple year too. I mean, is it more expensive to make a 3d TV as opposed to a standard HDTV?

http://reviews.cnet.com/3dtv-buying-guide/?tag=centerColumnArea1.0;buyAdvice

This list from CNET hits the major points you bring up, while bringing in an important item. If you're considering a tv purchase, 3D tv's will likely produce better 2D images as they've got higher refresh rates and (generally) hardware built around a more demanding task set.

The world is often constrained by the screen

I wonder if this might be a chance for 3D projectors to shine? Even if it's only 1080p, a 100"+ projection might produce more of the "pop" that comes from the trip to the local cinema.

Another aspect of 3D displays that's almost as important to me is live broadcast video, while not a deal maker/breaker, is one more thing that I just can't do without this hardware. Live sporting events in 3D HD are really pretty amazing.

All that said, does anyone own http://us.playstation.com/ps3/accessories/sony-playstation-3d-display-ps3/index.html ?

If you're considering a tv purchase, 3D tv's will likely produce better 2D images as they've got higher refresh rates and (generally) hardware built around a more demanding task set.

All 120HZ HDTV's are generally equal.. 3D or not... 240HZ is a marketing gimmick.

You need DVI to do 120HZ in 2D as HDMI 1.4a spec will not allow it.. so good luck getting any better 2D image out of a PC connected to a HDTV as far and few between have a DVI connection.

In the end though there aren't many "non" 3D TV's left.. so its all fairly equal even if you buy one and never use it.

Arise! I'm looking at getting three new monitors for my workstation to replace the old 20" 1680x1050 ones I've been using. Now that I've got a decent, high-res laptop, I never work at my "main" PC now so I'm not terribly worried about dot pitch and will need reasonable pixel count to be able to push good framerate with a triplehead setup. I've been looking at the Asus VG278H monitors with "3D Vision 2" which supposedly fixes the 3D darkening effect. The problem is these come at a cost compared to a plain-jane 60Hz monitor and x3 makes it even worse. So, have opinions changed on 3D in the last year? Unfortunately I don't know what my options are for demoing 3D really, I may just have to break down and order one monitor from Amazon to see what it's like and return it if it fizzles for me.