To 3D or not to 3D - part 2: Gaming

Watching a movie in 3D is a nice option to have – both as a theater participant and home entertainment enthusiast. Experiencing the latest and greatest AAA videogames in the 3rd dimension on a PlayStation 3 can be an exhilarating experience; yet it’s certainly not the end all be all of videogame technology. Does it enhance the experience? If done well, absolutely! Having played through a number of games in 3D over the last year I’ve been fortunate to have more quality 3D gaming experiences than headache inducing. Still, regardless of how good or bad the 3D is, I find that I can only manage a few short hours of 3D gaming before experiencing a fair amount of eye strain. I’m certain this is more a comment on my own personal threshold to process 3D and less a comment on 3D gaming in general. Much like watching a 3D movie, after about 2-3 hours I’m ready to take the glasses off and get back “normal”.

When all is said and done I probably made the final decision to invest in a 3D TV for the option to game in 3D over the option to watch a 3D movie. Both are important to me and I’ve invested a good amount of time with each, but just the thought of playing through Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, or Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One in 3D sends a chill down my spine. I want to drop what I’m doing (writing this latest ABOG Blog) and jump into another play-through of any one of these titles.

Fans of the Uncharted series know all-too-well the graphical talents at Naughty Dog. Where the snowy peaks of Uncharted 2 are replaced with the desert dunes of Uncharted 3, the visual representations have always been top notch and jaw dropping. Now, imagine (if you haven’t already) those same realistic visuals converted to full 3D. Although I’m limited to dreaming of a 3D patch for Uncharted 2, I have fully enjoyed all of what Uncharted 3 has to offer. The level of detail is pushed to the limit with a smart use of 3D depth added to nearly every frame of that game. It's free of any and all in-your-face gimmicky 3D and provides a near-perfect example of what 3D gaming has the potential to be.

Where Uncharted 3 left me with fond memories of the beauty of videogames, Resistance 3 proved to me that gaming in 3D can change the way you approach strategy. Being a first person shooter – as opposed to Uncharted’s third person perspective – Resistance 3’s 3D focus was much more on providing a more intense shooter experience . . . and it was done well. Peaking over cover while desperately trying to locate that rooftop sniper is not an uncommon task while playing your typical FPS. A quick glance of the Chimera’s obligatory laser sight can instill a good amount of tension as you watch your health deplete. Now imagine that same scenario, that same cover, and that same laser sight, but this time when you peak around cover the laser sight locks onto you by shooting straight out from your TV and directly at you. The first time this happened while playing Resistance 3 in 3D was one of the most jarring gaming experiences I’ve had. It was both unexpected and shocking at the same time – and I absolutely loved it.

Unfortunately, like 3D that was tacked onto a movie after production was completed, not all 3D gaming experiences are as good as the Resistance and Uncharted of the world. Developers are getting a better handle on how 3D works and when to use it. Still, just because they can doesn’t always mean that they should. Like adding a multiplayer mode to a franchise that has been exclusive to the single player campaign, I’ve had some 3D gaming experiences that the developers obviously struggled with and, as a result, it affected the overall quality of the game as a whole.

As you might imagine, regardless of how enticing it is to bring 3D technology into the home, it is not without its limitations. TV placement, in relation to the room that it is in, will result in variations of the quality of 3D. Extreme viewing angles will prohibit proper 3D visuals and detract from the overall experience. Of course, and it probably goes without saying, the biggest limitation with this latest 3D technology is with the fact that 3D glasses will be required at all times. Unless you’re gaming on a Nintendo 3DS, without this peripheral all you will experience is a bad case of double vision. Sure, the technology for 3D without glasses is being developed, but the likelihood that it will be available to the average consumer and (most important) at a reasonable price is still a ways away. Current 3D options have seen a significant reduction in cost since it was first introduced, while the technology – for the most part – has remained the same. Probably the biggest change in technology since 3D TVs were first introduced has been with the style of available glasses. Some of the “older” models (like what I own) require batteries to work, while newer 3D glasses are mini-usb rechargeable. And we still haven’t seen much in the way of universal 3D glasses. Oh, that’s right. Did I forget to mention that? As of right now 3D glasses are specific to the make AND model of the 3D TV purchased. This seems both ridiculous and reminiscent of prior VHS/Beta and HD DVD/Blu-ray battles for supremacy.

Keep in mind that if you like to game online, and in 3D, things can get a little uncomfortable. My experience playing Resistance 3 in 3D was exclusive to online co-op mode. Although mostly a wonderful experience I did receive a number of odd looks from my wife as I wore those bulky 3D glasses in conjunction with the Sony PlayStation 3 wireless headphones. Fashion statement I was not. I’m certain I looked like an extra from a bad 70’s Sci-fi movie. Odd looks aside, after about a 2 hour play session I was more than ready to remove any and all gaming peripherals from my head. For some reason I still get odd looks from my wife. Oh well.

I was somewhat of an early adopter to this 3D technology. However, based on the number of new theater releases in 3D, I do not see this 3D resurgence dying down anytime soon. As a matter of fact, with the next console generation upon us I’m excited, more now than ever, to see what developers will be able to accomplish going forward. I’ve seen video footage of the new Unreal Engine 4. It was breathtaking. Combining it with a maturing 3D technology has potential written all over it.