Avatar has been hyped from here to outer space, but it does represent an important trend. Both the movie and the tie-in game are best viewed in 3D, and Hollywood’s appetite for the third dimension is apparent. Can the same be said for viewers at home and in the world of games?
Attempts at 3D have been around for a long while. Early games relied on the old-fashioned red and green specs, including a game called Wanderer. Badly received by the press, programmer Mike Singleton said that he could almost see in 3D without the specs by the end of the development period.
As graphic power increased, so 3D engines became more impressive but not necessarily at generating an image that stood out of the screen. The Virtual Boy was a failure for Nintendo with its odd shape, the headaches induced by the twin red LCD displays and a lack of decent games.
With the first 3D-capable monitors and TVs arriving, so games started to take advantage of them. Many relied on the shuttered principle, with special glasses synchronising as two separate images are displayed to each eye.
Nintendo themselves are trying again with the 3DS. Interestingly, this includes a control button to turn down the depth of the 3D “field”, presumably in an attempt to make things comfortable for the player. Shaped like a conventional DS with two screens, only the top screen displays the 3D image – the bottom screen is still touch-sensitive. Familiar Nintendo franchises will make the leap to 3DS, including the long-forgotten Kid Icarus, Zelda and Starfox.
Sony has updated the PS3 firmware to include the ability to display games in 3D on a suitable display. Killzone 3 has the double honour of being both in 3D and motion controlled, aiming to appeal to the hardcore gamer. These displays of course rely on the special glasses, a fact that Nintendo did not hesitate to point out.
Where does that leave Microsoft and PC users? There are monitors and graphics cards capable of displaying 3D, and of rendering existing graphics with added depth. But as ever it is money and development time that will prove costly to increase the number of 3D games. It could take years for fully 3D gaming to become the standard, much as there is still a large audience that does not game in high definition.