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Avatar: The Game, Demo or Cross-Roads?

By Neil Schneider

NOTE: This article has been amended with updates from NVIDIA at the bottom.

We are pleased to report that MTBS had the opportunity to download and try the demo version of Avatar: The Game! For those unfamiliar, both the Avatar movie and the game are highly respected in the stereoscopic 3D industry because James Cameron is attached. More than that, he has gone above and beyond to create enticing content to drive the industry forward. The Avatar game is also being held under extreme scrutiny because it is being developed by none other than Ubisoft, one of the world’s leading game developers.

Let us begin by commending Ubisoft for being good on their word. When asked at the 3D Entertainment Summit if they prefer to support proprietary solutions or are after industry-wide support, they instantly said "industry-wide". As demonstrated below, this is the case:


Avatar: The Game Demo S-3D Support (Partial)

Avatar natively supports Anaglyph, interlaced, side by side, NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision, Sensio, iZ3D, dual head, checkerboard, and RealD formats. It’s interesting that generic shutter glasses and Panasonic 3D HDTVs are not listed as an option, but we have to remember that this is the PC version, not console.

This article is not a formal game review because this is just a demo release. However, you can take my word that the game is stunning in S-3D, and its complex terrain and visual nature is a testament to how much you can achieve with stereoscopic 3D technology.

I think the bigger story is that Avatar: The Game is an exercise that explains just how important S-3D standards are in gaming. Clearly, there is a divided line between the artistic representation, and the artistic estimation depending on which S-3D hardware solution you use.

In the case of all non-driver dependent hardware solutions, it was a perfect implementation. I’m referring to all hardware that does not require special synchronization with the graphics card: iZ3D, interlaced, side by side, dual head, checkerboard, etc. This is because the game developer has full ability to render the image exactly the way they want 100% of the time.

NVIDIA’s GeForce 3D Vision is the exception to the rule because only NVIDIA has the needed access to synchronize their graphics cards with their LCD shutter glasses solution. The NVIDIA stereo driver works by estimating what the game developer is after, and forms the S-3D experience based on extrapolating DirectX API calls. They literally create a second camera view, and pass this information on to the display in conjunction with their LCD shutter glasses. For a game developer that is after a specific vision, and for NVIDIA as well, this is the hardest path to follow.

The result is that while all the other implementations were nearly exact duplicates of each other, NVIDIA’s solution has unforeseen challenges and anomalies. Glow effects get doubled in one eye, the HUD map splits and joins inappropriately, and there are strange visual problems when convergence adjustments are attemtped. These are just examples.

I want to make it clear that this article is not bashing NVIDIA in the least! We have to remember that this is a demo product and that NVIDIA has not had the opportunity to release an Avatar game profile to compensate for these visual flaws - this is standard practice for all games. I am certain that NVIDIA has taken great pride in their work, and we will see a much improved version when Avatar hits store shelves.

The bigger issue is why should these extra steps even be necessary? What a world it would be if Ubisoft could pass the left and right image the way they want 100% of the time!

Now, you are probably wondering why there aren’t any S-3D screenshots in this article. This is on purpose.

Ubisoft and their partners continue to give this game their all, and the available methods of screen capture drastically reduces the visual quality of the game. I can’t capture interlaced images because that halves the resolution, I tried creating a side by side movie, but it looked ugly because Avatar’s side by side mode is half the horizontal resolution. NVIDIA has great screen captures, but they have anomalies...you see where I am coming from, I’m sure! It would be irresponsible of me to share screenshots or video captures like this.

That said, my advice is to not judge the game or its stereoscopic 3D implementation until it is fully released, on store shelves, and the powers that be have released official game profiles. If early players are impressed and are running on NVIDIA solutions, that’s a good sign because the final version will probably be much better.

If Ubisoft is reading this, and if you haven’t already done so, please add screenshot functionality to this game. If necessary, add a full resolution side by side mode that FRAPS can capture. It’s the little things that make a very big difference.

EDIT:

I received word from NVIDIA that my analysis of the NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision Avatar results were incorrect:

"Avatar uses our SDKs to generate both of the full resolution cameras for support, not our override driver mode. Our automatic driver mode isn’t used in the game. Any anomalies you experienced were because the profile that we currently have released online was based upon this automatic driver mode. The next driver mode completely removes that profile, allowing the game to look perfect in 3D."

Arrangements are being made to get MTBS a copy of this driver, and I plan to share screen captures to demonstrate the full NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision Avatar experience as soon as I’m able.

All in all, excellent news! That said, I still hold on to the position that given the multiple format types supported in Avatar, and the different requirements needed to get S-3D images on the screen, a stereoscopic 3D gaming standard is clearly needed.


Let’s see how things shape up when the game is released in December! Please share your thoughts in our discussion forums.