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Jon Brown, Blogger

June 22, 2010

17 Min Read

I haven’t been to E3 this year, so I can’t actually tell you what the 3D display games have actually done with all that Z [depth]. Of course, I have watched the videos but, given the nature of the technology, I didn’t actually learn all that much. But that doesn’t stop me from hoping that, despite the tragically unfashionable glasses you have to wear, gamers are keen to have 3D in their homes.

But it’s not the hardcore early adopters that I am thinking about here - I want 3D displays to succeed because they will make games easier to “read”, and therefore play, especially for casual gamers.

Anyone who has run a game with a 3D environment, specifically one with any hint of free roaming, through user experience testing for casual or younger players will know it can be a pretty demoralizing thing to behold. It makes you want to make games the old fashioned way – make them and throw them over the wall straight into the market, without knowing the problems and then shout at the reviews if they’re bad.

Honestly, the ignorance is bliss, after all, games are reviewed by experienced adults who have highly honed skills, they can cope with anything, as long as it’s what every other game does. Everyone else, at least everyone except for a few million hardcore game players, is different, they find your game awkward to play, and they don’t blame themselves they, quite rightly, blame you.

I am convinced it’s the Z depth that’s the sticking point here. You might keep your action pretty much in a 2D plane, but if that plane is in the X and Z then be prepared to watch players struggle. These problems are not insurmountable. Iteration, usability testing and the time to do them both allows you to fine tune your controls, find the visual cues in the environment that lead the player astray, refine the geo to eliminate snags and chokes, and stop driving your poor test subjects crazy.

We will always have to do these things to make good games, so we should be following this process regardless of display technology but 3D displays will offer a level of environment readability that’s beyond anything we can currently do.

3D displays also provide an effective increase in real estate. Pushing and pulling game elements through the Z plane creates a sense of space far beyond a normal 2D display. As elements are separated by depth the brain finds it easier to distinguish between all the elements on offer.

The HUD, in particular, will no longer be something that needs to be picked out from the rest of the screen through excessive highlights and prompts. Action within the HUD will also be easier to emphasise to the player. It will be possible to draw their eye more effectively towards critical HUD information by pushing an element towards them, so it comes closer then moves further away, like current pulsing methods but a lot more forceful. You might think this isn’t much of a problem but getting less experienced players to notice the HUD is a constant battle.

For the reasons above, and a whole lot more that I haven’t found yet, I am hugely interested in 3D displays. They have the potential to grow the console market well beyond its current boundaries. Even better, fingers crossed, my job will get easier.

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