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GDC 2012 Part I

Welcom to the first part of Meant to be Seen's coverage of GDC 2012!  Special thanks to MTBS' Field Writer Kris Roberts.  Not only is Kris formerly a Senior Game Designer at Rockstar Games, he is an avid stereoscopic 3D gamer in his own right.

The general theme from the folks I have spoken to is that there is a shift away from seeing 3D as a technical feature and really trying to engage the artists and designers to use it creatively.  Its encouraging because Sony is presenting Ian's talk tomorrow in the art track - a first, since all the previous 3D sessions at GDC have been focused on the programming side.  Even Nintendo's talk about Mario 3D Land really focused more on the design and creative aspects of the project, and not on the 3DS itself or the technology.  So let's begin!


Nintendo GDC 2012 Session
Thinking In 3D: The Development of Super Mario 3D Land
Koichi Hayashida

The Nintendo talk was entertaining, and it was interesting to see how Super Mario 3D Land was a vehicle for the team to experiment and learn how to really take advantage of 3D in a platform game.  There were lots of insights into the Nintendo design philosophy and people involved.  He did do a good overview of the standard 3D concept introductions, but used concrete examples from the project which made it very clear (parallax, depth buffer, window violations, that sort of thing).  It never felt like a technical talk, and did a good job of focusing on the game, what was fun for them while working on it, and how they tried to make sure it would be fun for the players.


Simon Benson (left) and Ian Bickerstaff

At Sony, I spoke with Simon Benson and Ian Bickerstaff, both of whom are presenting sessions specifically about stereo 3D.  Sony is clearly very enthusiastic and positive about 3D in games, and have an excellent set of products and technologies for delivering it.  Their first party games are now being outnumbered by third party development in supporting 3D which is really encouraging.  Recent very high profile games like Uncharted 3 have done an outstanding job with 3D and really showcase how good it can look and how effective it can be at furthering the gameplay.  The developer support Sony provides to developers is extensive, and it sounds like more and more projects are using 3D as something the developers are seeing as a key feature.
Sony 24" 3D PlayStation 3D Display
The Playstation 3D Display was running a demo of the SimulView mode which is a novel feature that some games are starting to utilize as well to let two players each have a full resolution view rather than split screen multiplayer.  It is cool, but it is a feature currently only supported by this one display and might be hard to convince third party developers to put in the effort to support it.  Simon is quick to point out that the technical requirements for stereoscopic 3D and SimulView on the PS3 are very similar and doing both is really not much more challenging than just one so for the consumers that do have the display its a nice bonus.

Stereoscopic Rendering and Design for Consoles
Faheem Dinath
Simon Benson

Faheem Dinath at GDC 2012
In the first part of the presentation Faheem went over the basics of stereography.  He explained how depth perception works, how various 3D displays function, and the general processes for producing stereoscopic 3D content.  He covered the difference between fully rendered viewports, depth buffer, and hybrid approaches which are currently being used.  The overview was detailed, but not too technical and not specifically focused on the PS3 in terms of any particular implementation. 

Simon then went over mini postmortems of recent first party development efforts with stereo 3D.  The games he talked about were: Uncharted 3, Ratchet and Clank All 4 One, the God of War collection and Resistance 3.  The games themselves were very different with a wide range of genres, production goals and technical approaches to implementing stereo 3D. The results were positive across the board and it generally involved a surprisingly small portion of the development budget spent on 3D.


AMD Eyefinity 3D Setup at GDC 2012
At AMD I spoke with Neal Robinson who is the senior director for global content and application support.  They had a great demo showing off the combination of Eyefinity and HD3D to use three monitors running in stereo.

Neal Robinson, AMD
Neal talked about how the Gaming Evolved efforts within AMD span from developer support to pushing open standards and industry acceptance.  He said that their effort helped Microsoft solidify the 3D support in DirectX 11.1.  Once again, it came through loud and clear that from the display technology perspective stereoscopic 3D is becoming more accepted as an effectively solved from the technical perspective and something that the creative and artistic developers are starting to really run with.

4th Dimension Display

The 4th Dimension Display stuff is interesting, but nothing really new from what they had at E3 last year.  Their primary demo is a head mounted display with two 1280x1024 panels.  They are supposed to have a higher resolution version available soon, but I'm pretty sure this headset was the same type they had the previous show.  Its also important to understand that what they produce is the tiny display panel itself, not the head mounted display or any actual integrated display.  It seems easy to get wrapped up in the head tracking, the head mount itself, and the software they are using to demo - but their product really is just the little LCD panels. 
4th Dimension Displays
That said, they had three demos:  the first one was for architecture visualization and had a very convincing presentation of an apartment as a 3D space that you could look around in (head tracking changed your view, but you could not move about the space).  Next they had a racing wheel and seat setup running GTR2 which is a good driving demonstration and again the head tracking worked well to help immerse you in the simulation.  The last demo was running HalfLife 2 with a modified sharpshooter gun attachment which used an air mouse for orientation so instead of using the head tracking to look around, you aimed the gun.  The last demo had serious issues with the air mouse drifting and didnt keep its calibration for very long at all, and really did feel silly once you were aiming the gun in a totally different direction than it was showing in the game.

The resolution of their panels was good.  The image and stereo effect they presented was very good.  But for me its hard to get away from the fact that my eyes can clearly see the rectangular shape of the display panels and I know I'm looking at little screens - I have not felt that shift and get really immersed.  I think its going to have to take more of an increase in size to fill the field of view before I personally see a HMD style display as effective.


Wednesday was a very full day, and a great start to the main conference.  The workshop/tutorial sessions on Monday and Tuesday were interesting, but now that the general session tracks, expo floor and career pavilion are all going full swing, it definately feels like this GDC is really taking off.  One thing that is very different this year is the lack of a Keynote - instead of having the normal format with high profile presentations, they did an hour and a half session in the main ballroom giving each speaker 45 seconds to introduce themselves and pitch their talk to the audience of all attendees.  On the one hand I kind of miss the focus that previous Keynote presentations have brought to the event, but it was really fascinating (and sometimes very funny) to see what the speakers would do with such a short time to try and convince people to attend their session.

The two talks so far on stereoscopic 3D were well attended and informative.  I'm looking forward to the Thursday sessions about the cameras in Uncharted 3 and Sony's presentation geared at the artistic side of steography.  I'll also make an effort to explore the Expo and report on all the interesting stereoscopic 3D stuff I can find.