Through the Eyes of a 3D Filter

Aaron Lee questions whether 3D gaming is really worth all the hubbub…

Over the past 18 months there has been a resurgence of 3D technology. There was much talk of 3D at last year’s Consumer Electronic Show (CES), with big players Nvidia, Sony and Panasonic all stepping up to make 3D the next technology trend. And with a wave of 3D films last year, including Toy Story, Coraline, Monsters vs. Aliens, and, of course, James Cameron’s Avatar, Hollywood’s resolve would appear to have been solidified.

Last month, at CES, 3D was again the buzzword of the show and nowhere was this more apparent than with Sony, who announced an upcoming firmware update would enable PS3 to output in 3D.

Films are one thing, but has anyone stopped to ask whether consumers really want to play games in 3D? Or, for that matter, whether they’re willing to make the effort?

Traditionally video game hardware has always followed a pattern of appealing to early adopters before cracking the mainstream market. Nintendo’s Wii bucked this pattern and, since the Wii has no HD capabilities, has created an interesting divide among today’s gamers. Namely, those that have entered the HD era and those that have not.

The last time I was well and truly stunned (to the point of standing still wide-eyed in incredulity for several long seconds) by advancements in video game visuals was when I caught a glimpse of PGR3 running in HD for the first time in early 2006. The difference between high definition and standard definition is startling and something you can’t appreciate until you’ve witnessed it yourself firsthand.

For those in the know, HD has certainly been a paradigm shift for the artistic and storytelling potential of interactive entertainment – Uncharted 2 and BioShock are two prime examples. However, the comparatively slow uptake of Blu-ray over DVD, and the fact that some HDTV owners still have no idea that you require an HDMI or component cable to receive standard HD (720p) visuals, shows that many consumers are yet to reap the benefits. So, the thrifty, AV illiterate Wii audience is a good indication of the (lukewarm) reception 3D gaming is likely to receive among mainstream consumers.

In order to enjoy the comeback of 3D you will need more than just firmware updates to your home console. A TV able to broadcast stereoscopic visuals and, naturally, 3D glasses will both be necessities. Demos of Gran Turismo 5, Super Stardust HD and Avatar: The Game were sampled by CES attendees at Sony’s booth. Responses from industry insiders tended to lean toward scepticism. Although these were prototypes there are still many unanswered questions before mass 3D gaming can become a reality in consumer homes – for starters, can 3D really be applied to all the genres and viewpoints of gaming without causing intense eye strain?

If they can work out the kinks, it’s the games that will decide if 3D gaming is to survive. But what will 3D bring to gameplay? If publishers intend to recycle the same franchises we’ve been seeing for the past 15 years, with ‘Now in 3D’ replacing motion control as the newest gimmick, then the faster this technology goes the way of HD DVD and Betamax the better. Innovative new games that use it to enhance the interactive experience are vital.

It may currently be hailed as one of the greatest cinematic works of the 21st century, but one Avatar 3D viewer I spoke to described the film as “pretty much Pocahontas with tall Smurfs,” which seems more than a little ironic. If 3D is to be part of the future of games, then I hope more can be said for them beyond just being the latest trend.

Aaron Lee

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