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Gaming with a 3D Vision

by October 02, 2009
James Camerons Avatar: The Game

James Cameron's Avatar: The Game

The recent 3D Entertainment Summit held in Universal City, California brought together a prestigious group of people from the finance, corporate and entertainment worlds - all under the umbrella of engaging, debating and defining the newest and most compelling developments occurring in the 3D marketplace. Through panels and discussions, ways and means were talked through in order to find insight and a reality for creating 3D among the viewing public. Also discussed were methods for extending the 3D experience so as to go beyond that of just the movies.

One of the ways that 3D can be extended is in its use in video games - but not as a continuation of the type of technology that has gone on before. Just as 3D has improved its over time, so too are the latest elements in producing 3D seen as impacting the overall gaming experience at home through stereoscopic 3D gaming. Towards a goal of creating a 3D experience at home where gamers will be able to have an immersive 3D experience.

Which brings us to video game publisher Ubisoft, who participated in two different  panels related to 3D gaming. Ubisoft is responsible for developing James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game, which is based on the much anticipated 3D movie. The game is being produced to be 3D compatible and in a way that will positively impact how gamers will see 3D now and moving forward. 

Brent George Speaks Out

Brent George, the Animation Director for the Avatar video game, points out that there has been a severe level of improvement in the technological advancement that represents 3D today as opposed to yesterday.  “You can see that 3D is becoming much more acceptable in the theaters and it’s because I feel like the majority of people believe that it’s now much more pleasing to the eye and a much more successful form of the technology.”

All of which makes Ubisoft’s working with the 3D title more viable, thanks to the fact that the title was being designed from the ground up to be best seen in stereoscopic 3D. “We went down the same road as the technology being used for the movie,” he says. “And a lot of the reason why the technology is so good is because it’s playing at a much faster frequency - that being 120 Hz.  It’s not like the old school stuff [wearing a blue and a red-filtered glasses], which just sort of taints the picture – the color.  It's also not the less acceptable kind of 3D video that you’re getting from a computer through a supporting graphic card. All of these are playing at much slower frequencies and require special equipment, making it not terribly accessible. What we’re doing at Ubisoft is definitely the first couple of steps of a revolution as far as we’re concerned.

Fighting the sky

An early demonstration of the game occurred at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Presented behind closed doors for selected individuals, the game was displayed on a 103 inch Panasonic Plasma screen as well as that of a 42 inch display using a built-in 3D decoder provided by the Canadian-based Sensio Corporation. “The interesting thing is that as far as the game is concerned it puts out a stereoscopic signal regardless,” points out George. “It's up to the television or your projector or whatever format it’s going to be played on to take that signal and parse it and deliver it in a certain way.  The ones we’ve been using, the technology that we’ve been using up to this point has been primarily the Panasonic television, which has its own proprietary technology to take that signal and do something with it.  As far as I know, the way the Panasonic works is that it’s got two televisions built actually into kind of one.  That’s why it’s very much a prototype and I think a lot of it has to do with how big the screen is.” George adds that the Panasonic works with the LCD shutters of a pair of glasses and so is communicating through transmitters - you need a direct line of sight to the shutters of the glasses that have the shutters in them.

The game was also being demoed on LCD screens like that from a Hyundai. “There are other companies making these TVs, using polarized light to create the 3D image similarly to that found in movie theaters. The glasses themselves are very lightweight since there are no batteries or receivers built into them. The glasses are polarized in different directions and the television is emitting a left and right eye signal with different polarizations of light.  So it’s a very passive way of filtering out to the two different eye signals.

Jungle fighting

Where are the 3D Televisions?

George says that these types of televisions are becoming much more popular on the market, accepting a video signal and then parsing and displaying it in a certain way for the 3D effect. He feels that this is going to be the next landmark in home entertainment, once the barrier of lack of content is overcome, and so Ubisoft wants to be at the forefront of 3D’s use for gaming at home. “I think a lot of why people haven’t been all that pleased with 3D’s use at home has to do not only with the lack of content, but also with the special equipment requirements and the lack of accessibility,” he says. “I think things will change as soon as people have the ability to watch this kind of 3D on their own television as opposed to having some sort of special system.  I think that that’s going to change.”

One wonders whether a game presented in 3D has the technology working against it since only a small segment of gamers have a 3D-enabled television at present. “I don’t see that as a problem,” says George. “Certainly no company wants to deter people from buying a game because the experience will be less satisfying for those who don’t have a 3D enabled television or even the monitor that plays 120 Hz. What we’re doing is having the 3D enabled with a switch - you turn it on if your TV supports 3D and leave it off if it doesn’t.”  Of course the 3D effect has to be worth seeing, which is why George points out that they won the best use of 3D at the recent Penny Arcade Gaming-con show in Seattle (PAX), beating out World of Warcraft and the new Resident Evil game coupled with Nvidia graphics card technology.


James Cameron's Avatar: The Game

So let’s get to some specifics about James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game then. To begin, the stereoscopic effect is being rendered in real time, the 3D engine working in a virtual world with virtual cameras all based on real time playback based on the inputs for the controller and the camera.

And it’s done in third person, with the point of view being behind and slightly above the main character. According to George, the reason for doing this is that it enhances the game. “We designed the game to be next-generation for all who played, but we were always from the beginning – from the onset of the project we knew we were going to offer it in 3D.  So the difference between doing that versus a lot of other games that just sort of use the technology on top of what’s already been done – emulating 3D – is that we always tweaked and tuned the game – the camera, what you see on the screen, the interface – to take advantage of and to look even better if you actually had 3D capability.” George says this translates into a good looking game in 2D but really excels in 3D. “In the game the camera is behind and a little bit above your player character on the screen.  Right away that gave us a really nice sense of depth.”

Lush landscape

A lot of the levels are very lush with a jungle setting and with animals everywhere. By providing depth, the game can take advantage of the 3D and see how the environment affects the player and vice versa. “If you take a look at a present day 3D movie, you’ll notice that the designers of the films are treating 3D less like a gimmick now... they’re treating it like another color in their palette – a little bit more tastefully.  It used to be things shooting off the screen at you but now it’s like you’re looking through a window and there’s depth beyond that window.  So you really get sucked into that portal that sort of forms on your television.”

George points out that this is what they wanted to do with the game, and from those who have previewed it, the effect has been of people watching the game and getting pulled into it. “Once in a while you’ll see people ducking if they’re not used to the whole 3D effect, as tracers fire or a leaf seems to brush against your head,” he chuckles. “There are a lot of nice things that are happening naturally and which create a  level of immersion. We wanted the game to stimulate the player so that they actually felt they were visiting Pandora and interacting with the characters and the ‘reality’ of the world. You can ride the animals and fly the vehicle that you have in the movie. And all with the kind of feeling like you’re really witnessing it all through this little window that we created.”

James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game will be released in December 2009 on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 video game systems, as well as on the Nintendo Wii, DS, PSP and Windows-based computers.



3D Entertainment Summit