When I began my gaming career, we lived in a world where there was almost no such thing as a stereoscopic 3D gaming. 3D compatibility was limited to Nvidia graphics cards, and their software was ages out of date. 3D console gaming wasn’t on the horizon, and modern LCD panels didn’t have a hope in heck to be S-3D compatible because the high refresh rate needed for shutter glasses wasn’t invented yet.
Five years later, stereoscopic 3D is becoming an inexpensive and standardized display feature for PC, console, and now mobile gamers. Even the most resistant developers are begrudgingly adding 3D support to AAA titles because the market growth potential is too large to ignore. Even so, the stereoscopic 3D gaming industry is plagued by three remaining problems.
As a tech journalist who has written articles about stereoscopic 3D hardware and software, I can say from firsthand experience that it's a complex subject. I've seen credible websites post misinformation caused by a lack of understanding, and I think all journalists would benefit from a standardized and objective method of comparing these solutions." - Don Woligroski, Senior Editor & Technology Reviewer
The first is quality control. Try as they might, there have been some major 3D flops because the game developers honestly didn’t know what they were doing. While there is no need to mention names, here are some (not so) popular examples of games designed to be in stereoscopic 3D without the need for stereoscopic 3D drivers to do a 2D/3D extrapolation:
- AAA title for PC promoted as 3D Ready. Instead of having a left/right camera view which is needed for 3D viewing, it just has two left images offset from each other. Patch came several weeks after product release and 3D Readiness claim. 3D gamers are still dissatisfied.
- AAA title for PC. Promoted as 3D Ready. 3D images are reversed on one GPU, flat on another, depth-only capabilities until a follow-up patch. The game has been patched at least three to four times, and the most obvious stereoscopic 3D errors still haven’t been corrected.
- AAA title for PC and console. Depth-only capabilities, very limited scale of visual flexibility. The results were improved when a third party driver developer (DDD in this case) overwrote the game’s intentions, and did a fresh 3D extrapolation.
- AAA title begins with excellent 3D support, and one patch later...POOF! It sucks!
While I respect that there are marketing benefits and I'm not dissauading developers from chasing opportunities, game developers are risking their credibility when they prearrange 3D branding and certification deals before their titles are fully optimized for 3D. It’s like getting a drivers license before taking the course! It's equally damaging when they limit themselves to just one solution out of an otherwise diverse market.
"Testing standards are a critical step in the evolution of stereoscopic 3D for gaming. With a clearly defined way of measuring 3D hardware and software, developers will be able to improve the quality of their games and players will be able to make informed decisions about what to buy." - Philip Harris, Group Technical Director at EA Sports (Electronic Arts Canada).
The second problem is the secrecy around quality control. Every console maker, GPU manufacturer, and 3D software enabler has their own QA standard used to make games 3D Ready. This isn’t something publicly discussed and decided upon, it’s just something they came up with. It’s a war of words for technology enablers, because when you set your own QA standard, you suddenly have the ability to make claims about how many 3D games you support. What should be 200 games can become 600, what should be a terrible 3D game is suddenly 3D Ready. So while the 3D driver and native game developers on PC and console fight for the right to say 3D Ready in their marketing materials, the potential 3D product and game sales are getting undermined because there aren’t any checks and balances. If medicine was run the way the 3D industry runs itself, our life expectancy would be cut in half!
“The goal of game developers is to put the best products they can into the hands of consumers. The press plays a pivotal role in the growth and understanding of new technologies. Having a consistently applied yet evolving set of standards will help consumers and developers avoid confusion, and ensures that expectations can be quantified and met. It will create a win-win situation.” - Alan Price, Entrepreneur & President of S3DGA (Former CTO of EA Canada)
The final problem is media coverage. Technology writers are busy people who usually aren’t 3D experts. Combined with the above market confusion of 3D Readiness (or not readiness!), it’s no wonder 3D has been getting a bad rap in the press. To make matters worse, I don’t think technology writers are taking equal care in how they are doing their products reviews. Here are some actual examples:
- Writer claims 3D monitor only supports 720P gaming on PC. Why? He connected the display with the HDMI 1.4 connector and not the main DisplayPort connector the unit was really designed for (1920X1080P X 120Hz).
- Writer takes natively supported 3D games designed to run on their own, and tries to run them with stereoscopic 3D drivers (i.e. a major software conflict). Declares solution incompatible.
- Writer tests games based on depth-only adjustments. Doesn’t know about out of screen options.
- Writer fails to test on multiple 3D solutions – only one.
- Writer declares monitor solution as having too much ghosting. Failed to realize there is a setting to correct this. When error is discovered, refuses to correct article.
The list goes on, and on, and on. It’s a damaging situation for everyone because these writers could have audiences that are sized in the hundreds of thousands, and this first line of communication plays an important role in shaping product sales for game developers, display makers, technology enablers, and more. It needlessly hurts the reviewer’s credibility as well.
So here is a crazy idea. Instead of having the industry continue in its divided camps, and leaving the press to their own devices to sort things out….what would happen if the two sides actually met and agreed on some things?
In the technology press, there are standardized tests and benchmarking tools for video games, as well as a common language. Stereoscopic 3D gaming can be handled the same way if the techniques are discussed, invented, and agreed upon. Imagine the benefits of developing a game and knowing in advance what measuring stick it will be tested against? Or being able to confirm or deny media statements with measurable data?
For journalists, this would be an opportunity to shape 3D gaming’s future and help define what it means to be 3D Ready. Based on agreed specifications, tools can be developed that writers could use to test stereoscopic 3D games, and make sure published articles are credible and hold up to public scrutiny.
For technology enablers out there, this would be a golden opportunity to help educate game developers and press about their 3D technologies. They would learn more about what customers want and increase their chances for well reviewed product lines by helping make sure that review tests and methodologies are both fair and accurate. With game developers and media working together on improving the customer experience, it’s even more important for technology enablers to be in that room as well!
“Jointly establishing what it really means to be 3D Ready will be the most important development in the industry since 120Hz monitors. GameGrade3D is a giant step in the right direction, and jointly building on this and similar tools for media to use will benefit all customers.” - Jon Peddie, CEO of Jon Peddie Research.
The S-3D Gaming Alliance and its members are forming a press steering team to accomplish the above. Together, we want to firm up what it means to be 3D Ready so game developers and technology enablers have firm goals and markers to aim for. This wouldn’t interfere with artistic choices or subjective opinions – it’s more about having measurable ways to check quality assurance, visual flexibility, and hardware performance in stereoscopic 3D.
We’ve already got leading game developers and technology enablers attached like Electronic Arts, Digital Extremes, Dynamic Digital Depth, MasterImage3D, and more. We’ve also secured some top analysts like Jon Peddie (Jon Peddie Research), Don Woligroski (from Tom’s Hardware) and additional names to be announced later.
For game developers and press taking an interest in 3D technologies, we hope you agree that this is a very important effort. One of the reasons I’m personally excited by it is because I don’t think it has ever been tried before. We’d like to get a strong group of companies and media professionals attached to this, so please email [email protected] to learn more. These are just starting ideas, and the sky is the limit!