The Games We Play

In the last issue I reported on the wave of investment on-going in the 3D space. Fascinating developments will be appearing for some time. So will the inevitable conferences. I attended the recent 3D Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles, which had such a list of speakers and panelists that it made one wonder who was left to be in the audience. What caught my eye, however, was an interesting announcement from Trioviz and Darkworks that was timed for the event.

With the dense slate of 3D movies coming up, developers are keen to produce technologies that bring 3D into the home. The wonderful thing about consumer 3D is that there are so many methods to choose from. There is no shortage of schemes to compress left and right stereoscopic images into one, so that 3D broadcasts can use conventional transmission technology. There are many ways to get stereoscopic images onto a DVD or Blu-ray disc. There are several types of display possible, each requiring a different method of sequencing the left-right image. There are a number of different types of glasses, and, of course, methods that require no glasses. All one needs to see 3D at home is to have the right decoder on hand, the right display technology, the right glasses, and all of the bits in-between to make them work together. And then figure out the right combination all over again for the next movie. Sounds like a piece of cake? Well, if it doesn’t, then you may find yourself joining the ranks of those that say it’ll be 10 years before 3D at home is viable. Some might say that 3D in the home technology will make you yearn for the good ol’ days when it was only HD DVD vs Blu-ray.

Where the challenge of bringing 3D into the home seems less daunting, however, is in 3D games. This has to do with two important and unique components of the gaming industry. First, the distribution channel for 3D gaming already exists. This is due to the fact that, unlike movie entertainment, game content is generated on the fly by the game engine. In fact, all aspects of the game are controlled by the game developer, making it possible for the developer to allow a user to configure the game to the 3D display of their choice. In other words, one doesn’t buy a 3D game console. One buys a 3D game designed for their console, and configures each game for 3D display that one owns. Thus, the pre-existing distribution channel for 3D. The second aspect of gaming that makes it a natural for 3D is the demographic that this industry targets. The youthful player of video games is a prime consumer of 3D.

In contrast, movie distributors have no comparable control over the home 3D experience. The distribution method requires a decision to be made regarding how the 3D content is encoded. Without standards, there is no guarantee that the encoding method selected by distributor A will be the same as that of distributor B. Without standards, there is no guarantee that the player owned by consumer A decodes 3D in the same way as that of consumer B. And on the problem only gets more complex as you get deeper into the system. The consumer 3D experience must be standardized throughout the entire supply chain, including the components in the home, for there to be a successful home 3D content market. So 3D is great business for the standards bodies. I was recently told that no less than four standards organizations were engaged in some form of 3D standardization activity.

With less moving parts cluttering the path to success, the display industry would be smart to target the 3D game market. But is a special display needed at all to enjoy 3D games? The answer to this question is what makes so interesting this past week’s announcement of a partnership between game developer Darkworks and 3D technology provider Trioviz.

While they were in LA for the 3D Entertainment Summit, I met with Alexis Arragon, technology manager at Darkworks, and Christophe Brossier, CEO of Trioviz. Darkworks is known as the developer of the horror game Cold Fear. Trioviz offers a fascinating 3D display method that is viewable both with and without 3D glasses on ordinary television screens. When watching Trioviz-prepared content with its 3D passive glasses, you see the content in 3D. But if you take the glasses off, you just see it in 2D, without the double images normally seen with stereoscopic content. I won’t go into the details of the technology. It’s safe to say that the 3D is not as good as 3D digital cinema, but it is surprisingly good. When viewing game content with their method, it was obvious that this would be a fun way to play.

These two companies are jointly developing a “software development kit,” or SDK. The SDK will make it a snap for any game to generate Trioviz 3D displays. As it happens, all quality game software already keeps track of where its objects and characters are in 3D space. This is necessary even with 2D displays to correctly place objects and give them the right perspective. For a Trioviz 3D game display, the game developer will simply supply both objects and depth map to the Trioviz software display engine included with their distribution, and within milliseconds, the viewer will see Trioviz 3D on a regular television screen.

The intent of this discussion is not to promote a particular 3D technology, but to bring forward a real-world example for how much simpler it is to bring 3D games to the home than to bring 3D movies to the home. To bring 3D movies to the home, lots of decisions have to be made if uniform 3D distribution channels are to develop, most of which cannot be simply left to the consumer. But in the game market, the distribution channels for 3D content already exist. With technologies such as Trioviz, a generation of game players could soon become accustomed to 3D in the home without a single standard being written. With a little luck, they'll be watching 3D movies at home when they grow up.

By Michael Karagosian, founder and president of MKPE Consulting LLC, a Los Angeles-based consultancy in the entertainment industry.

Source: Digital Cinema Report