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3D is Finally Taking Off in the Home

By Andrew Oliver

Left to right: Jordi Ortega (Torobravo), Neil Schneider (MTBS/S3DGA), Mike Kim (Hyundai), Andrew Oliver (Blitz Games Studios)
Left to right: Jordi Ortega (Torobravo), Neil Schneider (MTBS/S3DGA),
Mike Kim (Hyundai), Andrew Oliver (Blitz Games Studios) at the
3D Entertainment Summit


MTBS is pleased to be joined by a guest writer today!  Andrew Oliver is the CTO and Co-Founder of Blitz Games Studios.  With over 200 employees, Blitz is considered one of the largest independent game developers in the world.  Most recently, their claim to fame was the development of Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Hand Tao.  Invincible Tiger was the first modern console game designed to be played in stereoscopic 3D on XBOX 360 and PlayStation3.

The year 2010 will be the year history books look back on and say that 3D in the home really kicked off.  It’s taken around a decade for Hollywood to move from a few interesting IMAX 3D experiences to producing its key titles in full 3D, and it looks as though 3D in the home will follow a similar pattern.  This time though, thing are happening a lot faster.

Various prototype 3DTVs have been available to buy over the last few years, such as the 3D DLPs from Samsung.  We also released the first stereoscopic 3D game last year, Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao on PlayStation3 and Xbox360, which we created with the aim of opening people’s eyes  to the possibilities inherent in 3D.  Though we showed just what was possible on the current generation of consoles, we also had a lot of the format’s teething problems to battle though.  For example, we were forced to create the game at 1080p in chequerboard format in order for it to be compatible.  For the 3D experience to look good we also needed it to run at 60fps.  These challenges were added to by the fact that each of the brands – Hyundai, Mitsubishi, iZ3D, Zalmon and JVC – each used a different format.

Thankfully, the format war is over and the 3DTVs starting to appear in shops use a standardised format that’s easy to make games for and produces much better visuals.  HDMI 1.4 or HDMI3D allows devices designed before 3DTVs, such as the PS3 and Xbox360, to send the picture in the correct format.  A firmware upgrade is needed before developers can make the games 3DTV compatible, but it will be possible for most games to be converted to or written for 3D.

For developers, this will still need 10-15 percent extra time on the dev cycle to make this mode available due to the extra art and design considerations involved, but the capability is there.  We are also starting to see the proliferation of 3DTVs in shops, with Samsung’s LED 3DTVs and the Sony 3D Bravia appearing now, LG’s 3DTVs are also due out soon.

In the home, Sony is the current leader, and as a company they have the most to gain with 3D taking off.  Most aspects of the global company are being affected by the rise of 3D and Sony is ready to capitalise on its success.  They not only make 3DTVs and the PS3, but also 3D projectors for cinemas, 3D movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and most importantly they own the Blu-Ray format, which is needed for all 3D films to enter the home.

June appears to be the date when 3D will be really taking off.  It’s the months when 3D Blu-Ray goes on general sale, but hopefully it will also be the when PS3s get the 3D upgrade enabling them to view 3D Blu-Ray movies.  Looking at the demo show reel on the new Bravia, Sony has a great line up of games coming from 1st party developers, including  Gran Turismo 5, Wipeout 3D, Major League Baseball and Little Big Planet - I just hope we won’t have to wait too long to play them.  There are lots of other 3D games on their way as well.  At GDC I was particularly impressed by the Super Stardust 3D on the show floor; at first you may think it’s not the most obvious game for3D treatment, but it looks superb and really shows how adding 3D can add to an experience.

I’m also extremely pleased to hear that Nintendo have announced their true successor to the DS, 3D screens that don’t need 3D glasses.  This is an incredibly interesting step for them to make.  As readers of mtbs3D.com will know, there are various technologies that can produce 3D; you usually need some kind of system to ensure that when you look at a screen the left and right eyes see different images.  TVs and monitors are using active or passive shutter glasses to do this, so announcing that the new console won’t require glasses is quite something.  It is possible however when you think that these only have one viewer.  Another advantage for handheld consoles is the player is directly in front of the screen and at a predictable distance.

Nintendo DS

One possible technology they might use to achieve this is the parallax barrier screen by Sharp, which has previously been used in their laptops, the Fuji 3D camera and a few phones.  This technology works extremely well, gives a great 3D image without glasses, and produces perfect 2D pictures.  I’m also really hoping the 3DS includes a camera directed towards you, as there’s the possibility to greatly enhance 3D immersion with head tracking technology.  As the 3DS is the direct successor to the DSi, this seems a distinct possibility and Nintendo have said the name may change, so we could end up with the 3DSi.  With the success of the DS and all its classic software I think we can also assume the 3DS is going to be backwardly compatible and so a clamshell design.  I, for one, can’t wait to play the Mario Kart in stereographic 3D.

The future of 3D entertainment now seems secure.  It looks like we’ll be playing games in full digital 3D very soon indeed, something many of us were only dreaming about a few years ago.  The uptake has actually been very fast and my only fear resulting from this is that people are just jumping on the 3D bandwagon.  There’s a real danger in people saying they support 3D and either not giving the customer proper digital stereoscopic 3D, or just producing a poor quality 3D experience.  Bad quality 3D has damaged how receptive people are to it over the years.  Admittedly this was mostly due to anaglyph glasses, but there are many new lessons that game developers need to learn to make 3D a comfortable and immersive experience.

Over the years, I‘ve given many talks at game conferences about 3D gaming, highlighting 3D’s potential within videogames and pointing out the new lessons that must be learned.  It’s great to see that it’s mainstream enough now to have a conference of its own – the 3D Gaming Summit – which is in Los Angeles 21st/22nd April.  Seeing the developers and publishers embracing this and joining The S-3D Gaming Alliance is really encouraging and will continue sharing the important lessons we’re all still learning about making 3D games.

At Blitz Games Studios we are continuing our 3D work, specifically the integration of this new technology into BlitzTech, our middleware and games engine that is available to license to other developers.  We all have a lot to learn, but with more and more people embracing 3D technology I’m confident we can create some amazing results.  In years to come, we’ll look back at current ‘flat’ games in much the same way we look at black and white movies and wonder why so many people doubted its future.

If you are interested in meeting Andrew Oliver in person, he will be speaking at the 3D Gaming Summit, and will be presenting at the S-3D Gaming Alliance meeting taking place on April 22nd at 5:00PM right after the conference.  The meeting is private, and will also feature presentations by Electronic Arts, Jon Peddie Research, and more.

Share your thoughts and feedback below!