How not to do 3D

How not to do 3D

By Andrew Oliver

March 19th 2010 at 5:22PM

Over-doing 3D may eventually turn people off, warns Blitzâ??s Andrew Oliver

Whenever a new technology emerges in this industry, there’s a whole world of design considerations to take into account. 3D is no exception.

A badly designed game that fails to make the most of the opportunities available will do more damage than good to the overall perception of 3D.
 
Consumer opinion has already been somewhat skewed by the often inferior 3D effects of the past.

Although there has been a lot of press either for or against 3D in games, it’s not been made clear that we are yet to see what the technology is capable of, and that we should hold off judgement until the medium is more mature.

There are more possibilities available to developers now than ever before and, as an industry, we should capitalise on them and not simply go for gimmicky or obvious effects.
It can make a world of difference to the player’s immersion.

One of the most frequently-made errors when incorporating 3D into a game is the effect of throwing things out of the screen at people. It may be fun the first time you see it, but it grows old very fast. On top of that, it can be uncomfortable to watch for any length of time.

More attention needs to be paid to using 3D where it already works, and where consumers already have experience of it: for example, the advanced Hollywood model where 3D is used to give more depth behind the screen. When used like this, it can greatly improve the player’s immersion in the game.

To get a 3D effect, two views – one for each eye – have to be rendered at the same time. But there’s much more to creating an immersive and fun 3D experience than simply sticking two cameras in.

Again, it’s necessary to look to Hollywood for inspiration, where they make scenes larger than life for a cinematic effect. An awful lot can be done with artificial tricks.

For example, when a mountain is seen from far away it looks flat in real life because images become parallel over distance, and therefore the view each eye sees is the same – hence, in real life we do not see distant objects in 3D.
In 3D games, each eye is given a slightly different view, which gives an object in the distance a detailed and 3D effect.

One problem is the fact that it’s incredibly easy to break the illusion of 3D. The more 3D cameras move around and force the viewer to repeatedly refocus, the more they may experience headaches and nausea.

Developers should also consider the viability of the genre. 3D shouldn’t be piped into every game just because it’s the latest technology. In fact, some of 3D’s detractors complain that it just doesn’t work for some games, and we’d absolutely not disagree with that.

We just want people to be aware that 3D can go a long way to augment a player’s experience in certain instances and shouldn’t be ignored.

There’s going to be a learning curve for everyone in the industry, but this will settle down as the format matures.

The difference between existing TV models can be alarming; the effects on the readily available cheap technology aren’t great and it’s a shame when people think that’s all there is. We need to be aiming at the top end of the market and then the technology and games will filter down to the mass market.

In 2009 Blitz Arcade released Invincible Tiger: Legend of Han Tao for XBLA and PSN, which was the first stereoscopic 3D game on the market.

There are lots of different reasons why we chose this game, including the fact that it was a relatively easy one to start with. As a studio we learned many lessons from designing Invincible Tiger – for example, it’s possible to guide the eye around the scene by making areas of natural focus.

However, expecting people to look around the screen all the time can be awkward if the game isn’t designed correctly.

The game genre lent itself perfectly to 3D; it meant we could pick something that we felt would genuinely be enhanced by the technology. Through this we hope to show people how – when used correctly – 3D can add a huge amount to a gamer’s experience.

Games take a year or two to write, and the lessons we are learning now have not yet been seen in the marketplace, but we’ve already made several fundamental changes to our pipeline and BlitzTech engine ready for our next 3D games.

Ubisoft’s Avatar game release was another major step forward for 3D, on the back, of course, of the hugely successful film.

Despite having to pay more for the experience and having to wear glasses, there appears to be few reports of people suffering from any ill effects from watching a full-length 3D movie. It’s fantastic that Sony is taking 3D seriously, as this will form the basis of a major step forward towards public acceptance.

Also, I think the upcoming launch of 3DTVs by many manufacturers will provide another leap forward for consumers to realise that it is possible to enjoy cinema-style stereoscopic 3D in their own home.

Most of all, we need to see this as a learning experience and continue to be as open as possible to the possibilities inherent in 3D for the games industry as a whole.


Andrew Oliver is CTO of Blitz Games Studios which he founded with his twin brother Philip in 1990. In his role as CTO Andrew leads the studio's interal R&D, proprietary technology and game direction.