3D Gaming in the Works

It’s strange to think of this as “old school” but when we used to talk about 3D graphics, we meant that all the components of a scene were modeled as three dimensional objects, painted with colors or textures and ultimately rendered onto a flat, two-dimensional screen that represented a particular viewpoint in that world.

But those times are changing. 3D movies, like the recent Avatar, using stereoscopic imagery, go all the way back to the 1890′s, and include favorites such as “3D House of Wax”.

Stereoscopic 3D depends on presenting two images, each photographed or rendered from a slightly different viewpoint, the distance between them being roughly the distance between your eyes. Then some system is needed to make sure that each eye sees only the image meant for it. Watching both images with both eyes results only in blurriness and headaches.

This is usually managed with a pair of glasses. In black and white films, the glasses could filter images by using colors — one lens would be green, the other red. The brain would blend these into the customary grayscale and create the 3D image in your head.

There are other technologies now for doing color 3D, mostly involving polarization of light.

But what does this all have to do with gaming, you ask? Both Sony and Nintendo have announced their intention to bring this sort of 3D to your living room gaming, via new product releases:

At the Electronic Entertainment Exposition, better known as E3, the two giant Japanese game makers on Tuesday touted their own visions of the 3-D future. The longtime rivals agreed that 3-D is about to go mainstream, with numerous 3-D games from top developers in the works, but each had its own vision for the technology.

Sony is going for the living room, special TV, special glasses, same console.

Sony is focusing on the big-screen televisions in consumers’ living rooms. Its PlayStation 3 console is capable of playing 3-D games on those TVs, thanks to a software upgrade the company made available in April.

Nintendo, on the other hand, is thinking small:

Nintendo is concentrating on a much smaller screen. The company plans to release a new version of its DS handheld dubbed the 3DS that will play 3-D games.

But in the article, the Nintendo spokesman said something that mystified me.

While Nintendo’s version of 3-D will require consumers to buy a new game machine, it will most likely be much more economical than Sony’s. Nintendo hasn’t announced a price yet for the 3DS, which will come out sometime before April. But consumers will be able to play 3-D games on the device itself, rather than needing to buy a new TV, and they won’t need to wear special glasses to see the 3-D effect.

“Man, those glasses, that sort of fashion-forward statement doesn’t come cheap,” Fils-Aime noted in a dig at living room 3-D technologies.

Ok, I don’t get this. Stereoscopic 3D depends on presenting different images to each eye. There isn’t another way of doing this. Unless the device has the stereoscopic part built in. Hmm, does that remind you of anything?

I can understand them not talking about this until release, because Viewmasters are kind of wierd, clunky, old-school, and nerdy. But this form factor has incredible potential. Most smart phones these days have accelerometers, so they always know which way is up. In fact, they also have compasses and GPS so they always know where they are and what they are looking at.

What does this mean for your living room? You could take a device that you hold to your eyes and have it show you different things when you turn your head.

This takes you from having a portal to that other world, your TV screen, to being in that other world. When you move your head, the viewpoint changes. This is incredibly powerful.

Sony’s direction makes business sense, since they likely see a trend toward consumers getting 3D equipped televisions for watching 3D movies. And so they are fitting their existing game platform into that new ecosystem. They will be successful, they will make money. But my money is on Nintendo to release a product that does something like what I’ve described above, and to capture all the mindshare with it, just as they did with the Wii. Time and time again, they have proved themselves to be much smarter than the rest of the gaming industry.

4 thoughts on “3D Gaming in the Works

  1. Do you remember Nintendo's Virtual Boy gaming console? It followed the original Gameboy (long long before Gameboy Advance).It was a head-mounted device that used stereoscopics to present a 3D view. If I remember correctly (I only played it once), the graphics were all in shades of red. But monochrome was to be expected, as no portable console had effectively done color yet at that point.The viewpoint was stationary, though. You couldn't look around by turning your head. So in the end, Virtual Boy was just a clunky, head-mounted tease that ultimately flopped.I always got the feeling only those of us who were Nintendo Power subscribers even knew Virtual Boy existed. But it remains in my mind a blemish on Nintendo's otherwise stellar record for quality gaming.

  2. Since I posted this, I've heard about a pure optical implementation of 3D. Some sort of lensing on the screen creates images seen floating in space. Like a hologram. Not stereoscopic. There's just an off chance that Nintendo is using this kind of thing.

  3. I did some reading about this tonight, and found the method of implementation I think you're talking about. Autostereoscopy, as it's called, is the implementation of stereoscopic 3D without the need for special glasses or headsets.Basically, a flat panel display uses one of these implementation methods – Parallax Barrier or Lenticular Lens. Don't ask me what the difference is or how they accomplish their task. But essentially they're able to project two separate images from one flat screen display such that if you position yourself in the right spot relative to the display, each eye picks up one of the images while the other image remains hidden from that eye.The issue with marketing these for large-scale living room use is that you have to sit in a very specific place in order to see the image. But I can see how this would be perfect for a small, portable device where the user is always positioned the same relative to the screen.

  4. The “like a hologram” display you hypothesize would be a volumetric display, I assume. A projected 3D image floating in space that you could look at from different angles. As far as I know, we're not even close to commercial implementation of this. I much sooner expect some kind of VR headset that combines stereoscopy with a fully interactive 3D environment.

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