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3D Gaming: An Avatar Dream for Some, a Potential Eyesore for Others

3D Gaming: An Avatar Dream for Some, a Potential Eyesore for Others
By Louis Bedigian

The true potential and possible pitfalls of 3D video games.

We know the fantasy all too well. Just last year, Up, Coraline and Avatar showed us the full potential of 3D – the next evolution in visual effects. Some are comparing this evolution to the moment when color films eclipsed those shot in black and white. Some believe that one day every single movie will be filmed with 3D in mind.

But the most interesting development might not come to theaters – it might happen right at home with your Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Dozens of developers are gearing up for what they believe will be a 3D evolution in gaming. This won’t be anything like the transition from 2D (side-scroller) to 3D gaming, in which the flat-but-fun gameplay of the past evolved into the lifelike experiences we enjoy today. This new form of 3D is, as far as we know, purely visual. But it is with those visuals that developers hope to create a fuller, richer and deeper experience.

Can they succeed? Will video games be more fun, more exciting, and more engaging in 3D? Let’s explore that thought and examine the true potential – and possible pitfalls – of three-dimensional video games.

 
Resident Evil and 3D: a match made in Heaven?

Creepy Good Fun

Here’s a way to put the “horror” back into “survival/horror”: combine a classic creepy formula (old-school Resident Evil or Silent Hill-style gameplay) with the most polished 3D effects you can muster. It wouldn’t be easy, and it would definitely be a gamble for the developer ballsy enough to attempt such a project. But let’s face it: the horror genre hasn’t been too scary lately.

By adding 3D to the experience, horror game developers would have a chance at revitalizing this dying genre. No, 3D isn’t a replacement for true gameplay innovation, but who knows if or when that’s going to come. More than half the fun of playing a horror game comes from its ability to scare the player. Thus, if zombies felt close enough to touch, if a Licker’s tongue could pop out of the screen, and if spiders or some other bug appeared to be crawling outside of the television, the same-old horror experiences would be scary again. And that’s just the obvious stuff – who knows how creepy the horror genre could get if developers really pushed 3D to its limits.

 
RPGs would be amazing in 3D.

Immersion Squared, Enix-Style 

Imagine what it’d be like to walk through Midgar if every building in the slums extended past the screen. Your television – maybe even your entire living room – would practically disappear within the enveloping visuals. As summoned monsters are unleashed, you feel as though you can reach out and touch their scaled, leather or furry backsides. When spells are cast, the particle effects bounce off the screen.

These are just a few of the possibilities of what 3D could do for RPGs, specifically the Final Fantasy series. The same could be said for adventure games (Zelda), action games (Uncharted, Tomb Raider), and platformers (Mario). Survival/horror may need 3D more than any other genre, but long-term, these are the genres that stand to benefit the most.

 
As we speak, Gran Turismo is being tested with 3D technology.

Racing Toward Victory…Or Disaster?

Think about what you do in a racing game: you cruise around a course, often one that’s shaped like an oval or a circle. As you make your way through each lap, what changes occur to the visuals? What new situations – other than collisions – are presented? Pit crews do not need to be in 3D. Buildings and trees that you will see a dozen times throughout a lengthy race do not need to be in 3D. The vehicle’s interior, which after a while most players don’t notice because they’re so focused on the road, does not need to be in 3D.

Football, basketball, hockey and soccer fans would argue that, given the constant changes that occur with these sports, their respective games might be able to utilize 3D technology in a cool and unique way. And those fans might be right. But my concern is that the thought of seeing balls and hockey pucks fly toward the screen won’t be as exciting in play as it is in theory. I’d love for developers to prove me wrong. But for now I’m going to remain a tad skeptical.

If there’s any sports game that could benefit from the use of 3D, it’s baseball, particularly if it’s combined with a motion controller. Though it isn’t possible for video games to perfectly re-create every element of the sport, the pitching and batting mechanics have serious lifelike potential. Imagine a baseball game with PS3-caliber graphics (or better), perfect motion controls (for swinging the bat), and 3D effects that were good enough to make players feel as though the ball could sail past their heads. If developers can get the timing right – it might be difficult to synch the motion controls with a 3D image moving as fast as a baseball – this could be the most impressive 3D experience of all.

 
Call of Duty has the potential to be breathtaking in 3D, but the copycat aftermath could be devastating.

Other Genres: Not Ready or Not Even Necessary?

At this point, there’s no reason to believe that other genres (strategy, fighting, simulation, etc.) need a 3D facelift. Boxing games have serious 3D potential. Flight/combat or flight simulators could benefit from it as well, but let’s not get our hopes up too high just yet. Remember, it wasn’t long ago that motion controllers were supposed to redefine the way we play every single kind of game. Here we are, four years after Wii’s launch, and almost all of our favorite games are still designed with traditional D-pad/thumbstick controllers in mind.

Where does that leave first-person shooters? One day, Halo or Call of Duty might do wonderful things with 3D. But the aftermath – every shooter copies the format, likely with pitiful results – would be too painful to bear. Given that everything we know about 3D is tied to visual (not gameplay) enhancements, I’d rather the genre skip 3D than suffer the consequences that the endless knock-offs would bring.

 
Dead or Alive fans are impatiently waiting for 3D, and I don’t think the gameplay has anything to do with it.

(Game) Time Could Be a Factor

Finally, there’s one major concern with 3D that all developers must consider: time. Movies are a two- or three-hour experience, whereas most games take at least six hours to finish. When you include replay value, online multiplayer modes and other gameplay-extending elements, the exposure to 3D is going to be much longer in games than it will ever be in movies or on TV.

Is this a bad thing? Probably not. But without knowing how 3D gaming will affect our eyes (will it irritate them? Will it make them sensitive?), and without knowing how gamers will respond at retail, developers should proceed with caution. Now is the time to experiment with the technology and demo it to as many gamers as possible.

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