by on Jun 25, 2010

The truth about 3D gaming

At gargantuan video game trade show E3 last week, 3D gaming showed its hand. Sony, with the likes of Killzone 3, is pushing 3D hard. Nintendo, with its exciting new handheld the 3DS, isn’t far behind. Microsoft, remains sceptical, but that doesn’t mean 360 owners are excluded from the fun. It looks the business, but questions surrounding the impact of the tech remain. Will visuals suffer if they’re in 3D? Is it just a gimmick? Is 3D better than motion control? Here, in a series of micro chats, game developers give us their answers.

Sucker Punch’s Chris Zimmerman, development director on inFamous 2

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Q: How hard is it to make games run in 3D?

CZ: Well, it’s hard.

Q: I’ve heard games that support 3D won’t look as good as they would without.

CZ: Yeah. The 3D support is a challenge because in some ways you’re drawing everything twice; drawing everything for the left eye, drawing everything for the right eye. There are clever ways around that, and I think people will be discovering those because it’s such a compelling experience. If you play a game – especially the right kind of game – in 3D, it’s just great. It’s just more exhilarating. It’s a matter of people coming to terms with the technology and figuring out how to use it best. At the beginning of every console cycle, the games are cool, they’re better than they were the last console cycle, but somehow over the five, six, seven, eight years that you have a PS3 or an Xbox 360, the games are getting better and better, but the hardware’s not. The hardware is fixed, but the games are getting better and better. The reason is people like me have more and more time to figure out how to use the stuff that’s there. The same thing’s going to happen with 3D. You’ll see some games that are really cool with 3D this year. And two or three years from now, you’ll see stuff that’s even better because people will figure out what’s important and what’s not important and how to best take advantage of it.

Q: Killzone 3 didn’t look like it was suffering because it’s in 3D.

CZ: No, it didn’t. Those guys are great. They do some really incredible work. It gets harder and harder to do video games. It’s harder to do these games than it was to do a PS2 game. That was harder than a PSone game. The teams have to grow. The teams that don’t grow, don’t get better; they’re going to get left behind. The Killzone guys are not getting left behind [laughs].

Q: You’re confident, then, that 3D games won’t have poorer quality visuals than they would otherwise?

CZ: You know, I don’t know. If they’re smart they’ll do the game in a way, where if you’d have 3D support turned on, maybe some things get a little bit different. Maybe it’s like games that have split-screen. It’s the same sort of thing in some ways. It doesn’t necessary hurt your game. It just may run in a slightly different mode. Maybe you have less stuff on screen, running in 3D. Maybe less pedestrians or cars. Maybe the explosions aren’t quite as bright. But that doesn’t stop you from having it run in the way that’s perfectly best for it, when you’re running without 3D turned on. The game knows. The games knows whether you’re trying to play it on a 3D TV or not, and they’ll let you choose. So I don’t think the fact that the game’s actually adding 3D will really make the 2D worse.

Capcom’s Shu Takumi, the man behind the Ace Attorney series, and Hironobu Takeshita, producer of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

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Q: This year has seen a great rivalry between motion sensing and 3D technology. Which do you reckon will come out top this year? Which will be more talked about?

Shu Takumi: Motion controls are winning over 3D right now. Because 3D is very impactful – you see it, it’s really cool – but it doesn’t really pull people in necessarily, the way that motion controller can. It just gets people more involved in the game. So motion controllers are the way to go, because it involves people. It gets you to do stuff, it does something new, because there’s going to be new actions that you can do.

Hironobu Takeshita: 3D will be the winner in this case, because motion controls aren’t necessarily that refined at this point, and you have a lot of people mimicking the Wii. Unless they come up with something spectacularly new with motion controls, then I think 3D will be the tech that most people will be talking about.

Guerrilla Games managing director Hermen Hulst, Killzone 3

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Q: Was the game built with 3D technology in mind from the start?

Hermen Hulst: Yes. Day one.

Q: Does 3D technology compromise processing power in any way?

HH: It’s a different way of rendering. But I don’t think it does. Not when we’re done and dusted. You can have all the fidelity, all the performance that you require, but it’s obviously a different way of going about things, it’s not apples for apples necessarily. This [Killzone 3] is months out from alpha, and already it’s running very smoothly, running at an impressive fidelity – you’re not going to have any issues in that respect.

Square Enix senior vice president of software Hiromichi Tanaka, Final Fantasy XIV

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Q: It was an unexpected pleasure to play the game in 3D just now, although I understand that this is currently just an experiment. What is that you find exciting about 3D, from a design perspective, and why was it important to try that with this game?

Hiromichi Tanaka: Because it’s an MMO, it’s very important to be “in” the game, and 3D really adds that aspect to your gaming experience. It’s really suitable for an MMO, I believe. And also, since this year is 3D year for every company in the industry, we thought we’d try it out as well, experiment and see how it goes.

Koei Tecmo’s Makoto Shibata, producer on Quantum Theory

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VG: This year’s E3 has all been about 3D technology versus motion controls. Which do you think is going to be more talked about this year?

Makoto Shibata: I’m personally more interested in 3D, and the kind of experience it can offer gamers. Motion controls are interesting, but it’s different from those kind of games – different types of games benefit from motion controls. 3D, we have the current types of games, with normal controllers with more fidelity – a different look and a different experience that you can get with that. So I’m more interested in 3D. Did you see the 3DS? Once you see that and actually get your hands on it, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

High Voltage’s Bill Sullivan, designer on The Conduit 2

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Bill Sullivan: I’m very interested in the 3DS. I really want to see what they’re doing. You hear amazing things, but I want to see it.

As far as 3D glasses and 3D, personally – Bill Sullivan, non-spokesman for High Voltage software – I’m not a huge fan of 3D. I’d rather see a movie in non-3D. I think they can do really cool stuff, and I think the addition of great computer graphics lets them do really cool stuff. Avatar looked great in 3D. Did it have to have it? Was it a better experience with it? I think you can decide whether a guy with glasses wants to wear a second set of glasses for the entire movie.

I’m definitely more interested in seeing what people do with motion control. There are lots of people who are like, ‘I don’t like it, I like buttons. I can’t play a shooter on Natal’. Maybe you can, and we just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. It’s going to be there, it’s going to be huge, and we’re going to have that next level of interaction. I’m really curious to see, to get a hold of stuff, and see what we can do with it, and what everyone else does.

I remember when the DS came out, we were all like [pulls face]. And then within a month we were all like, ‘we need to do stuff for the DS, because I have 18 great games I could do with that’. The first time you hear it, you think, ‘nah, I don’t know’. But then once you actually sit down and think about it, there are a lot of things you can do. Maybe it’s the same with 3D, and I just haven’t really thought about it.

Crytek founder, CEO and president Cevat Yerli, Crysis 2

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Cevat Yerli: In 3D we have something called ‘concave 3D’. The HUD is inside the TV. Nothing ever comes out of screen. You’ll see, in ten minutes you’ll forget you are wearing glasses. It’s so easy on the eyes. Notice that we’re playing in 3D on Xbox.

Q: I guess there’s some confusion that you can’t do 3D on Xbox.

CY: Well, theoretically you can’t. That’s the thing. We’re not supposed to be able to do that. That’s the thing.

Q: So how are you able to do it?

CY: Magic! We figured out a way and technology, that universally on PC, PS3 and 360, gives you an awesome 3D experience, with almost no impact on performance. And it just works.”

Q: Is it the same 3D experience across all platforms?

CY: Yeah.

Q: So it’s not better on PS3?

CY: No, absolutely not. In fact, I have heard numerous people, and I have seen myself, that we have a better 3D experience than other games right now on the show floor. I don’t want to mention any names. I don’t know if you saw it already, but did you see other FPSs that say they are 3D?

Q: I saw Killzone 3 in 3D during Sony’s press conference. Is this a better experience than Killzone 3?

CY: I think it’s a more pleasing experience. But again I have heard it. I only heard it. People say it’s much more pleasing. Much more easy on the eye. It has more depth. I haven’t seen Killzone to be honest. I wish I would see it, but they won’t let me see it.

Q: Won’t they? Why not?

CY: Go figure.

Q: That seems silly. It was at Sony’s conference. Anybody could have seen it.

CY: Crysis 2 is taking it way beyond, even on console, even on PS3 and 360. And with Stereoscopic 3D we are putting on another layer on top of that. But that being said, the PC version is even more.

Q: I’ve heard that 3D puts immense strain on hardware resources and that you have to render everything twice. The suggestion is visual quality is less if you’re supporting 3D. What’s the situation with Crysis 2?

CY: You will laugh now. Our impact is 1.5 per cent. You play 2D or 3D, you have no difference. It’s pretty much for free. People when they ask how, I say it’s our little magic.

Q: A secret technique you don’t want other developers knowing?

CY: No. That’s why we also can do it on 360. That’s the ironic part of it. In a funny way, people banked their investment on PS3 or on other 3D solutions, by thinking the 360 can not do it. I’m saying, well, we’ve proven it. Whenever we show 3D, we show it intentionally on 360 to make the point. And then to people who are adopting it, we say, here it is. There is no need to adopt. It works. It works flawless on PS3, 360 and PC as well. It just works; and one-and-a-half per cent impact only. It’s like 0.1 frames per second impact, out of 30 frames. It’s 0.4 frames. So you don’t notice it. That’s what I want to say.

I use the term ‘for free’, with this game. It’s so negligible. And people ask, how do you do it? I say, well, we do render only once. That isn’t magic. But we create a second image out of the first one. But how we do it is the magic. That’s the secret sauce. I’m happy that we figured it out!

The only reason we figured it out to be fair, two years ago we started stereoscopic 3D research. Only a year ago we were able to do it on consoles. After we worked on the consoles, just in general stereo, we figured a way, thinking, we could do that and that. As it was running on PC, we said, can we do it on console as well? Yeah, we can. Then we tried it on console, it was running. Believe me, at that point, everybody was so happy, because we knew that we would be the first game running on all platforms in 3D. That’s awesome. And it’s from the beginning until the end, one hundred percent in 3D. Also, I think, other 3D games are not, because they’re choosing the different way of doing it, or the normal known way of doing it. Because we use it our way, our pipeline is cheaper; our work flow is cheaper. Others have to, oh no, if we switch to 3D, we have to render it twice, or we have to do this and this. They freak out.

What’s your take on 3D gaming? Are you bothered? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Crysis 2

on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Sequel to the hit open-world FPS.

Release Date:

25 March 2011