Whilst opinions on the benefits of 3D to movies are often polarized, I have always thought that in 3D Gaming the allure is obvious – the ability the perceive depth, breath & dimensionality in the game environment would lead to ‘greater immersion & a more intuitive navigation experience’. Still 3D gaming has not been as successful as anticipated or…. has it?
As 3D Content Hub currently develops a new television series on 3D Films & 3D Games reviews, we find it timely to focus on the world of 3D Gaming. In this 2-part series article, Ed Mason founder of 3Dizzy.com, an online community focusing on stereoscopic and autostereoscopic gaming technologies, muses on the past, present & future of 3D Gaming.
“Stereoscopic 3D gaming has been around for quite a few years. The older generation of PC gamers out there might remember playing around with nvidia’s legacy 3D drivers, enabling 3D on the old school CRT screens with the help of some pretty chunky, wired glasses. Even older gamers would remember the Virtual Boy, a 3D-only console that was released in 1995. In fact, the world’s first 3D ‘game’ environment (a wire frame room) was created back in 1968 at Harvard University in the form of a huge head mounted display system named “The Sword of Damocles”. True story.
S3D Gaming made developments over the years but still, it never really stuck. 3D Systems ranged from arcade machines from the early 80s to the somewhat gimmicky Head mounted displays like the Atari Jaguar or SEGA VR consoles of the mid-90s. There were a number of reasons why these would never work, but mostly, it was their lack of titles that was their downfall.
It is important to note that these games were all built from the ground up to be stereoscopic 3D games. It wasn’t until 1998 that a company called Metabyte changed everything with a little something called “Wicked 3D”.
Wicked3D was a quite literally a game changer, because they introduced the concept of ‘3D drivers’ into gaming. For those of you who don’t know, 3D Drivers are to 3D Gaming what second lenses are to 3D filming. 3D Drivers render a secondary (Right) view at a slightly different perspective from the original (Left) view to give the perception of depth within a game environment. While this would only work for games with a 2.5D or pseudo 3D game environment, gamers now had the option of being able to play hundreds of existing games in true stereoscopic 3D. This was significant because up to then, gamers had to rely on the game developers to build their titles from the ground up with native stereo support.
That’s right, by using these 3D Drivers, the vast majority of games released over the previous decade were now playable in true stereoscopic 3D!
Their 3D solution came in a pair of active shutter glasses that would couple with any CRT display capable of displaying a refresh rate of 100Hz or more (for simplicity, think of Hz as frames per second). A 100Hz screen could display 50 Left frames and 50 Right Frames per second and the glasses would sync accordingly, giving players a fluid perception of depth within the game environment (and a much more immersive gaming experience!). Wicked3D gained incredible traction and in its life time and went on to win awards from the likes of PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World.
In 2001, nVidia (who were developing an eye for 3D) acquired the team responsible for Wicked3D from Metabyte, including Director of Engineering, Dave Cook who had invented the stereoscopic override of 3D games. In June of 2001, nVdia released their own 3D drivers which supported a variety of old school CRT displays. At last, there was a good chance 3D might be here to stay…
However, it was the introduction of the flat screen TV shortly thereafter that would again, slow the progress of 3D gaming. Everything went quiet for a few years…
You see, when we succumbed to the aesthetic benefits of flat screens and decided that CRTs (the old school, chunky TVs and monitors-100Hz) were a thing of the past, we gave up the ability to play games in Stereoscopic 3D because of the much lower refresh rates produced by these sleeker, newer screens. These new flat screens were limited to refresh rates of 60Hz or so, so simply weren’t able to display enough pictures per second (from two perspectives) to give a fluid 3D gaming experience.
It took a few years, but as flat-screen technology matured, the refresh rates gradually started increasing and it wasn’t long before we saw the release of the world’s first 120Hz display. In 2006 Neurok Optics released the iZ3D 3D Monitor. Finally, flat screen technology was capable of displaying 2 x 60Hz perspectives which would ultimately breathe new life into the 3D gaming industry. The iZ3D monitor was reasonably popular for a number of reasons but primarily because it supported both ATI and nVidia graphics cards, which meant gamers didn’t have to upgrade their existing graphics cards to start 3D gaming. All they needed was their computer, some games and this new display.
Then 2009 came: 2009 was an important year for 3D. It saw the release of Avatar (both as a Movie and as a Game), nVidia released their 3D Vision Kit, Sony Announced they would be supporting 3D on the PS3 and a variety of 3D Displays came onto the market.
Avatar as a movie had percolated global interest in 3D as the next big thing in entertainment technology, with James Cameron himself stating that “within the next 5 years, 100% of movies will be 3D”. Avatar proved that people would not only accept 3D but would flock to it when done correctly. The Avatar Game was one of the first ‘3D ready’ Games, meaning it had native 3D support across PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Avatar the game showed just how beautiful complex textures and graphics used within games could be enhanced with 3D, and in April 2010 Sony updated their PlayStation 3 firmware to enable 3D support for ‘3D Ready’ games. PS3 games however (unlike PC games and much like the games of yesteryear), have to be designed as a stereoscopic game from day 1 so that there are no stereoscopic artifacts or anomalies.
I met with Mick Hocking, VP of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe who oversaw the production of various PS3 3D titles and he advised that quality of 3D in gaming is paramount to Sony, and that the use of 3D Drivers doesn’t offer a perfect solution. Camera angles, cut scenes and writing all need to be stereoscopically correct every time and this isn’t always achieved through 3D Driver solutions.
The PS3 is by far the king of the consoles for 3D gaming. The amount of 3D titles available is well over 120, with many more scheduled in the months ahead. Games are readily available in shops as well as on the PSN Store (PlayStation Network Store), and are clearly labeled as ‘3D Ready’ games.
It should be known that Sony have stated they would not be emulating older PSX or PS2 titles in 3D on the PS3. The update also turned the PS3 into a 3D Blu-ray player so users could also enjoy hundreds of movies already available in 3D, making the PS3 one of the most affordable 3D Blu-ray players on the market!
With the introduction of these displays and the overall uptake in 3D as a whole, 3D drivers have seen a huge surge in interest over the past couple of years from PC gamers who had purchased a 3D display of some sort and now wanted to put it to better use. 3D Displays rapidly became more affordable, with gamers choosing devices like the Alienware 3D Monitor or Acer H5360 3D Projector as a good entry point PC 3D gaming. They could choose between the nVidia 3D Vision / 3DTV Play, Tridef 3D and iZ3D solutions and could play literally hundreds of existing games in breathtaking stereoscopic 3D on almost any 3D display that was out there. 3D was becoming a lot more universal as I will detail below…
The best known and most widely used is the nVidia 3D Vision kit. It is a much improved version of the Wicked3D solution of 2001, boasting infrared wireless shutter glasses that enable it to sync multiple glasses with the display. nVidia’s 3D Driver enables hundreds of existing games to be played in stereoscopic 3D at a whopping 1920×1080@60Hz (meaning both left and right images are full HD AND you are seeing 120 of them every second!).
Limited somewhat to 3D Monitors due to the requirement for a DVI cable, nVidia released a counterpart for HMDI 1.4a devices (such as 3DTVs and 3D Projectors) called 3DTV Play, which uses the same lower refresh rate of 1920×1090@24Hz. Users are provided with a new set of native glasses, so users do not need to own a pair of the active shutter glasses used for 3D Vision. 3DTV Play is also limited to 24Hz at Full HD because HDMI 1.4a can’t handle anything higher. 3DTV Play does present gamers with the option of playing at the much smoother 60Hz (or FPS), but at the lower resolution of 720p (1280×720@60Hz). 3DTV Play is also available on a huge selection of 3DTVs, both Passive and Active, with the 3D community regularly finding workarounds for unsupported devices, known as EDID hacks.
Now, nVidia has done a magnificent job with their 3D drivers and their game profiles are regularly updated (pre-made settings installed with the drivers that make the games look exceedingly crispy in 3D), so it is vital that you keep your nVidia graphics card drivers up to date. nVidia work alongside the vast majority of game publishers before titles are released so that they can fine tune these profiles.
The one limitation of nVidia’s solutions is that they are proprietary to nVidia Graphics cards (GPUs) which makes the entry price for new 3D gamers that little bit higher. Fortunately, there are other 3D Drivers out there that are not restricted by the brand of GPU you own.
One of my personal favorites is DDD’s (or Dynamic Digital Depth’s) Tridef 3D solution which works on any GPU, and with practically every available 3D Display. Users can create their own 3D game profiles for each game they play, that are stored and booted up each time the game is loaded. There is however one defining reason why, in my opinion, Tridef is a great solution: the community that surrounds Tridef is incredibly bright and active, meaning that users can get support for issues directly from the DDD admin team, as well as from other users on the DDD forums. This makes resolving technical issues quick and painless, even for newbies.
AMD entered the 3D race in 2010, partnering with Tridef 3D to bring us AMD HD3D; 3D Vision’s main competitor. Both sets of drivers have their ups and downs and I have a great deal of love for them both.
There is another element of PC gaming that has been superior compared to consoles and that is its capacity to be modded. The modding community has really taken to 3D, and we have seen all kinds of software released to give 3D gamers that extra bit of fun.
Dolphin is a great example, an Emulator that allows users to play Wii games with the Wiimote on their PC in 3D! Helix Mod is another, created by a skilled 3D enthusiast by the name of -=HeliX=-. His fix vastly improves tons of nVidia 3D Vision games and it is the hard work of brilliant enthusiasts like -=HeliX=- that has pushed PC 3D gaming further than is possible on other machines. This community, along with the huge range of playable 3D titles through 3D Drivers has made the PC the top dog of 3D Gaming platforms.”
Read the second part of this article here.
All pictures courtesy of 3Dizzy. The author of this article is Ed Mason. Ed Mason is a known expert, avid gamer and pioneer in the field of emerging video game technologies. Having developed a playground for the rapidly growing stereoscopic 3D gaming community, Ed went on to create the world’s first 3D Cloud Gaming Platform which was showcased at the 2012 EuroGamer Expo in London. He spoke at the 2012 3D Storytelling conference on the future of 3D Gaming as well as 3D Cloud Gaming and also came first in the UK’s first 3D Gaming Tournament. Since then, He has been invited to film in events 3D such as the much coveted Celebrity Call of Duty Black Ops 2 launch in Central London. Ed has presented 3Dizzy at Harvard Business School and has toured Silicon Valley demoing the 3D Cloud Gaming platform to publishers and developers and will be joining the folks at Rocket Space in San Francisco later on this year.