Today Sony corralled a bunch of curious media observers (including myself) into a modestly posh central London venue to chat about 3D technology and, more importantly, let us have a look at the stuff they want us to pay thousands of pounds for the privilege of owning. Music videos, live concerts and feature films were all being shown around the small demo area, and without going into detail these all worked relatively well and looked similar to what 3D movie audiences would expect.
We’re interested in games here at The Gamers Hub. So the piano black, brand new 40” Bravia telly hooked up to a fat old PS3 in the corner of the room was my first port of call. They’d stuck two controllers tantalisingly in front of the TV, but they weren’t to be used, so we had to watch a five minute loop of 3D gaming trailers.
Three of the games on show were racers, which makes a lot of sense since powering forward at high speed really accentuates the 3D effects. WipEout HD was the first I glimpsed while wearing the bulky, slightly tight active shutter glasses required to unpick the twin images, and I was moderately impressed, as the sense of velocity was excellent. Although that has always been a trait of the series.
Next was MotorStorm Pacific Rift. This took the crown as the most impressive of the 3D demos, because it wasn’t just a cinematic concocted to wow, but real time gameplay, featuring someone driving and crashing into stuff. Again the sense of speed was improved by the 3D gameplay, and the physics engine feels even more realistic when it is sending things flying all over the place.
Finally a little montage of Gran Turismo was played, and in between some flashy but ultimately pointless establishing shots you got to see the race from the cockpit of a car. This was another great use of 3D, although it might mean that people used to hovering the camera a few feet above the vehicle will be missing out if they make the leap to 3D.
The racing titles made way for a space shooter called SuperStardust HD, and this is where things got a little less alluring. The game looked to be played on a 2D plain, with 3D effects for exploding asteroids and enemies confusing the viewer rather than making the experience more engaging. These kinds of games will doubtlessly be given the 3D treatment as the technology is more widely adopted, but it is hardly necessary given the style of the gameplay and the very, very busy nature of the graphical effects. In short it’s probably a bit like sticking popping candy underneath your eyelids; fizzy and painful.
The final title on show was a 3D version of KillZone 2. Or rather it was a cinematic that focused on a bullet flying from a rifle through a slow motion crowd of combatants before finally arriving for a headshot on an enemy commander. It was all very pretty, and the 3D effects were put to good use with crumbling rubble and the travelling bullet feeling disturbingly visceral. However, this isn’t how the effect will look in-game, and so it is of little relevance to the person who is going to be playing it. Some real time footage would have been nice, and so FPS lovers will have to reserve judgement until a full release arrives.
At one point a Sony representative said that playing in 3D will give the gamer an advantage in online matchups against those stuck in the second dimension. I was sceptical at first, but seeing obstacles in the distance in racing titles might make this so. I expect that being able to judge depth will also help in FPS games, although since we didn’t get to see any in action, I can’t say that with any certainty.
I’m giving the whole 3D gaming thing a tentative thumbs up, but there are several issues which make it a technology for wealthy early adopters only. The first is that the active shutter glasses, which you need to watch any of Sony’s new 3D TVs, suffer from the same light-obscuring problems as the simpler polarising glasses you get given in the cinema. It’s like looking at the screen whilst wearing sunglasses, and even in a fully dark room you’ll wish that the colours and bright, crisp HD visuals weren’t compromised so thoroughly. Sony’s new TVs are some of the most impressive for raw visual fidelity that I’ve ever seen, but slipping on the 3D glasses immediately makes all of their hard work pointless. I can only guess how much of an impact it will have once generic 3D TVs are on the market in more affordable price brackets.
The second issue with 3D games is that this brand new technology looks like it is going to be out of date in the next five years, with the first 3D TVs that don’t require glasses set to arrive in 2015 according to some predictions. It’ll probably be a decade before 3D TV is cheap and widespread enough for anyone to pick one up, although Sony and its analysts say that 40 per cent of UK households will have some kind of 3D viewing device by 2014. I’m still not convinced, and even if I stumble across a suitcase full of money in the next few days, I’ll probably save it for more important things like rent, rather than on technology that is more elitist and exclusionary than most of its predecessors.
Check out Henry’s article for all of the details that Sony spewed out in a presentation before the demoing began.
Thanks to TechRadar & Sony for the pictures.