Speed Still Stymies Stereo

On the hardware side, the vidgame industry is embracing 3D at a rapid clip. Sony plans to make the PlayStation 3 3D-capable later this year, and Nintendo will introduce a 3D handheld system in June. But, so far, developers have been a bit less eager to embrace the technology.

The problem, ironically, is tied to hardware. To achieve stereoscopic 3D effects on today's consoles, developers generally have to compromise the frame rate of their games, which is a lot to ask.

"If your game is pushing the hardware it's running on, that's a challenge," says Christian Svensson, veep of strategic planning and business development at Capcom. "There are some companies that are showing console 3D games that were previously running at 60 frames per second that are now at 30."

That's something that's unlikely to change in this vidgame generation. But when the PlayStation 4 and next Xbox start to roll out (which is expected to be sometime around 2015), 3D could be a major component.

"I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg with it," says Marc Rein, VP at Epic Games. "The consoles aren't powerful enough to really do it now. My minimum vision for the PS4 is to have the power to run at 1080p at 120 frames per second. I hope to see something that can do a lot more than that, but that's my minimum."

Even then, developers agree it's going to take a truly epic release to convince gamers that 3D is the wave of the future for the industry. In other words, the vidgame industry is still in search of its Avatar.

"I think it will be kind of like 3D movies right now," says Lorne Lanning, co-founder and president of Oddworld Inhabitants. "If you don't have 3D for an animated film now, you're just not going to perform as well. When games start to go 3D, it will be the same. We've already seen Modern Warfare 2 set a new bar with visual fidelity. Imagine adding 3D to that. When that happens, there's going to be a greater rush to 3D in gaming."

One big advantage 3D gaming has in its favor is price. While transitioning games to high definition was extraordinarily expensive, there's very little cost in making the jump to 3D, say developers. Most additional expenses come from engineering tweaks and extra testing costs.

Nintendo's push to embrace the technology could also spur interest. The 3DS, a handheld gaming system that does not require the user to wear special glasses, could be a good litmus test for how players will react to 3D gaming. While Nintendo has a tight gag rule on developers about system specifics, those familiar with the system think it could give the technology a significant boost.

"While there's not a lot I can talk about, there are some applications of 3D technology (with the system) that may open people's eyes in a way they're not expecting," says Svensson.

By Chris Morris, Variety