Why Sony is wrong about 3D video games

I’ve played a bunch of 3D games. I’ve seen a bunch of 3D movies. Now that the novelty has worn off, I can tell you quite happily that the technology doesn’t really add anything in and of itself to the experience. It’s initially immersive, in a silly fairground way, but in terms of making a game world really immersive it’s actually pretty small potatoes compared to the revolution that HD rendering, mighty horsepower and progressively refined controls have brought. Did you watch Toy Story 3 in 3D? Did you marvel through 40 minutes of 3D eye-goggling, before you stopped noticing that the effect was even there? Yeah, me too. And that’s what I’ve found with 3D gaming as well.

But as gimmicks go, it’s certainly a striking one for as long as this initial hype period lasts. And thus, right now, it seems like a killer bullet point for the back of a game box. And I think that potentially leads to a dangerous situation where, at least until the novelty wears off, developers can just stick ‘3D display’ in a list of features and grab a whole boatload of guaranteed buzz and chic.

Think about Killzone 3. I have no doubt that it’s going to be a great game. Ditto with Motorstorm Apocalypse. In fact I’ve played Killzone. I know it’s fun. But what about those two games has dominated all of the previews so far? The gameplay? The graphics? How they’re going to build upon their respective franchise’s trappings in exciting and progressive ways? No. It’s been the fact that they’re in 3D.

Above: It's going to be great, but could we have the real reasons why now please?

Tri-dimensionality aside, what do you really know about Killzone 3, other than the fact that it’s snowy and has jet packs? And what about Motorstorm, other than that it’s now set in urban environments and has explosions? The real focus in terms of coverage has all been on those magic bank-account-emptying glasses, and while I have no worries about the quality of those two games themselves, I really do worry that everyone’s been so distracted by what is essentially just a garnish to the real meat.

It just doesn%26rsquo;t look that great yet

In terms of evoking more than two dimensions, the tech works. The illusion of depth itself is profound on first look. The impression of manipulating solid objects moving in and out of the screen is definitely convincing. But in terms of making games look good? I’m not yet convinced. And it’s because the other technology just doesn’t feel ready yet.

The processing power doesn’t seem to be there in our current generation of consoles. In fact some developers have already spoken out on this matter,stating that 3D won’t be feasiblein a satisfying way until the next generation eventually comes along. In order to work, a 3D game has to render the screen image twice, putting twice the stress on the machine running it. Thus, we have to lose either a chunk of screen resolution or a chunk of the frame rate. There’s a reason Sony is currently recommending that 3D game developers don’t think about going higher than 720P. Justin’srecent experiencewith Gran Turismo 5 seemed to back up this worry.

Above: Well worth a a four-year wait

Then factor in the need to wear dark glasses. Immediately any game or movie becomes a much gloomier experience with pole-axed contrast levels. Is that the sort of thing we all bought and tweaked our shiny new HD TVs to deal with? Do we really want to have to recalibrate out screen settings to eye-searing brightness every time we don the goggles to fire up a 3D game?

And aside from all that, I’ve never yet played a 3D game that looked ‘right’ to me. Even ignoring the rendering hits and darkness, there’s something about real-time polygonal graphics displayed in current 3D technology that just looks a bit weird. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a strange sheen and glassiness to things that really smears out the quality of the original graphics when combined with the two issues mentioned about. There’s more than a hint of grit and Vaseline about it, and that’s not what we bought HD consoles for. In a lot of ways, it feels like a step back.

And if you’re still unconvinced by my claims that 3D gaming is neither a big deal nor a genuinely pleasing technology right now, consider this. How many developers have openly shared Sony’s ‘3D is the goddamn future!’ enthusiasm so far, while simultaneously managing to be neither owned by Sony or associated with a PlayStation 3 exclusive? I think 3D could have a place in the future of our media consumption, but now, for many reasons, is really not the time.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.