Speaking at Ravensbourne’s 3D Storytelling event on Friday, Sony’s Mick Hocking spoke about the company’s 3D gaming strategy and plans for the future
Mick Hocking, who is Vice President of the Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) UK Studios and Director of the Worldwide Studios 3D Team, conducted a fascinating talk where he revealed a surprise hit for Sony’s powerful console which actually has nothing to do with 3D gaming at all. 62 million 3D enabled PlayStation 3 units have been sold globally and Sony continue to invest resources in offering its users high quality 3D entertainment services, with now over 80 3D games to choose from.
Hocking revealed that one of the most popular features on the console, which originally launched back in 2006, is 3D photography. User generated and professional 3D images have been popular enough for Sony to update its PlayMemories software to enable playback of 3D photos where the parallax is constantly managed for consistent and comfortable 3D viewing.
3D photos have proven so popular that the console now provides native support up to the top level Cross Media Bar. Later this year, Sony will offer cloud support so people can enjoy their 3D photos on any connected device and PlayMemories Online will launch this spring.
Third party support has been essential for the success of 3D gaming according to Mick Hocking who said “All major gaming platforms support a wide range of 3D and this is a very positive thing for the games industry because it means crucially, for our third party publishers, they can now justify investment in 3D games right the way across all the platforms which is much better for them”. He continued to say “We have been really pleased with how PlayStation developers have really embraced 3D and made such great use of it in some of the games over the last couple of years.”
Talking about the challenges of producing 3D games, Mick Hocking emphasised the importance of maintaining quality throughout the entire ecosystem. “In all the studies we have done with our PlayStation communities, a consistent message comes back which is there is great interest in 3D gaming from our communities but they want high quality 3D gaming – the more high quality 3D gaming we can give them, the more we will get people to embrace it and follow 3D gaming for a long time”. With that, Hocking listed the ten key rules used as reference points when designing a 3D game…
Ensure the eyes are the correct way round.
Ensure the images contain the same elements.
Ensure the images are captured at the same moment in time.
Ensure there is no vertical parallax.
Ensure the parallax is within a comfortable range.
Ensure there is sufficient parallax to perceive a 3D image.
Ensure there are no depth conflicts
Ensure there are no sustained window violations.
No rapid changes in parallax.
Adding depth to a game requires considerations not raised in 2D games, especially the question of where scene elements appear in space. Examples Mick Hocking pointed to were the choice of where the cross hair should appear in the game Killzone 3 or where the words GAME OVER appear at the end of MotorStorm 3D Drift as the vehicle punches out of the screen, occupying the same space as the GAME OVER sign.
Another challenge for 3D gaming is managing processing power. Mick Hocking said one of the differences between producing 3D games and 3D TV shows/films is that coders try and squeeze as much as possible out of the system which has a fixed processing power and a fixed memory. All games teams want to get the best physics and graphics they can in the 2D version but with stereoscopic gaming, they are being asked to draw twice as much whilst keeping the games looking as good in 3D as they do in 2D without visual compromises.
One of the simplest ways to achieve good stereoscopic games is a process called dual rendering which a lot of the big studios are doing according to Hocking. However, when you are using two cameras, the platform has to support two entire scenes and because most games are written to only support a single camera in the first instance, it means re-engineering the pipeline to support that which can require quite a lot of work. Another technique is something could reprojection and this is something Sony has adapted from 3D computer animation. This process uses a Z-buffer to generate a left and right eye. A Z-buffer is a per pixel representation of the depth (or a depth map). On a per pixel basis, it is worked out how far away a pixel is in the original image and this is off-setted to synthesise a camera. This can be done as a post process meaning games can be converted to 3D. However, this process has a major drawback. If you are synthesising another eye, anything close to the player is going to cause a problem, because the synthesised camera will be able to see beyond it but there will be a gap in the data behind it – the occlusion problem (of which is a problem when converting films to 3D and where a process called in-painting is usually brought in). Sony has used various blending techniques to solve this and Mick Hocking said that when it is seen in action, it can look as good as dual rendering.
Mick Hocking spoke about the value for money 3D gaming offers too, suggesting that of the 80 3D games produced so far, the stereoscopic element added about a 2% premium to the average production cost.
Mick Hocking concluded his talk with an optimistic outlook for the future of 3D gaming and briefly discussed a couple of future gaming plans saying “We see a very bright future for 3D in gaming – it is something we are very excited about and there are many different areas we are going to take 3D into the future. This year, we are launching a PlayStation 3D monitor with unique technology. We are very excited about pseudo holographics. This is simply done by having a PlayStation Eye camera sitting on the top of a regular 3D TV and head tracking the user. We are seeing where the user is in 3D space and because we know where they are viewing the 3D from, we can change the rendering of the 3D to produce this pseudo holographic effect. It is like looking through a window – as you move round you change your view of the object to you so it looks like a 3D object in space holographically. This is really stunning when we shrink objects down and bring them out into the room with you. But overall, the thing we are pushing for is to maintain very high quality 3D across the PlayStation 3 platform. It is essential. We know our consumers want these games and they want high quality 3D games.
You can watch the full of the presentation here.
MICK HOCKING TALKING AT 3DTV WORLD FORUM LAST YEAR
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