3D Makes Games Look Like Toys

Recently at Cologne Game Lab, we got ourselves a 3D flat-screen. We weren’t actually specifically interested in 3D. We had to buy some flat-screens for our students and simply decided to go with something that would be 3D compatible just in case. But it gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate the status quo on stereoscopic 3D technology for games.

Off the bat, the problem I had previously with the screen being darker wasn’t as prominent on our TV. So I presume that’s something that depends on the specific model you use. What I noticed were two other problems.

Excessive Flickering: The environment at GamesCom was generally quite dark so I haven’t noticed it at that time. But at the office during the day the shutter glasses did produce some quite unpleasant flickering. Especially when looking at bright surfaces (walls) next to the screen. The eyes got used to it after a couple of minutes but it summoned up memories of bad CRT monitors in the 90ies. Remember those?

The Toy Effect: Yet more worrisome was a completely different effect. We were playing the Motorstorm demo. One thing that immediately becomes apparent is that everything looks like a miniature toy model. The cars don’t look like real cars but like tiny RC cars. I was wondering why for a while and then I realized the problem.

You see, stereoscopic 3D depends very much on the DIFFERENCES between the two images your two eyes receive. Those differences are more prominent on objects nearby and less prominent on objects far away. Doing some research I read somewhere that actually, stereoscopic 3D ceases to make any difference for objects further away than 20m. At this distance, there is too little difference between the two images for your brain to pick up.

This renders realistic stereoscopic 3D practically useless in a many cases. It’s especially useless for establishing shots and the depiction of large, open areas. But there is a workaround. You can artificially increase the distance between the two virtual cameras that capture the scene. In realistic shot they should be as far apart as the eyes of a human. But if you increase the distance between them you can extend depth perception to objects much further away than 20m. There is one drawback: everything will feel smaller.

That’s exactly the effect we’ve seen in Motorstorm. So it seems like we might be looking at playing with a lot of very, very tiny soldiers, cars and spaceships in the future.

Again, I’m not sure how much this result is depends on the hardware I’m using or simply a not yet finished demo. However I’m still yet to see a flawless and convincing example of the implementation of stereoscopic 3D in a modern game. Have you tried 3D yet? What where your thoughts?

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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