3D Gaming: How It Can Be Done Properly And Not Suck
There\’s been an idea formenting in the back of my head since I got the 3DS, slowly making its way forward to the frontlines, trying to be captured in concrete words, formed out of abstraction. The birth of the idea finally took place while I was watching Hugo in 3D at the theater. I\’ve noticed that the more you are forced to \”review\” media and be a \”critic\” the less you actually watch films; instead you begin to watch yourself watching the film. Yes, it\’s very meta. When you have to review a game, you don\’t play the game. You observe yourself playing the game. You pay attention to what the game makes you feel or fails to make you feel. You observe your frustrations, your excitement, your wonder, your boredom, and every other feeling you\’re capable of under the emotional spectrum. It kind of destroys entertainment for you because it\’s no longer there solely as an escape. It\’s there for you to judge. You are being entertained in order to judge how well you were entertained.
Of course, the more you do it, the more you learn how to do both at once. And then you can start to have fun again.
So, it was there in the movie theater, while I was trying to actually enjoy the movie, Hugo, that my brain shoved that formenting idea into my head, and then I understood what 3D really means to film and gaming.
I remember being a kid and watching something in 3D for the first time. I think it was the mini-film, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, at Disney World. As my eyes tried to defy me into believing that I was shrunk to the size of a mouse, a pair of 3D glasses did their part in convincing me of this reality. But, the only part of the 3D effect that had any actual effect was when something exploded on screen and little bits of glass seemes to fly out of the movie projection in the general trajectory of my head. The entire audience ducked down out of harm\’s way in the same reflex movement. Yes, it fooled everybody.
Basically, 3D was just a gimmick at the time, an effect. It played no role throughout the mini-film other than for its few scare tactics. 3D has been waxing and waning in popularity, surprisingly, since the 1950\’s. Most of that has to do with the advancement of technology adding new potency to the 3D effect each time an \”upgrade\” is released. But, I\’m not interested in analyzing the technical or practical components of 3D, such as eye-ball fatigue or the awful practice of converting a 2D film to 3D just to make more money. I want to take a look at how 3D affects the overall quality of the sensory experience present in media and entertainment.
I think there are three roles that 3D can play in enhancing a movie or game:
1) The first is the superficial special effect, like that of the exploding glass flying at the screen. The reason we like that is because it surprises our brain. It excites us because it play a trick on our mind. But, it\’s very limited in its use, and if overused we would slowly get bored of it. If you had bullets \’whizzing by you\’ every time an enemy shot at you in a video game, you would eventually get annoyed.
2) The second way it can enhance the quality of a film or game is through the overall addition to the depth perception of the visuals. Our eyes are wired and positioned to see the world in 3D. When we see a reproduction of real life on a screen, our brain wants it to mimic real life. We get more engrossed in the film or game when it seems to have a natural depth perception.
But, there are two problems with this. First of all, the images we have been seeing until now have been three-dimensional enough to provide us with most of the depth perception our brains need. As Christopher Nolan has often been quoted as saying, \”95% of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution, color and so forth.\” So, calling a Super Mario 64 a 2D image in comparison to Super Mario 3D Land is misleading. The real jump to 3D happened on the Nintendo 64 and Playstation– not on the 3DS or on TVs that support 3D gaming!
The other problem is that even the extra 3D oomph gained from the recent 3D gaming or in 3D movies eventually become less of a \’surprise\’ to our brains and we begin to forget about it. It tends to fade away into the background as you get engrossed in a game. As time goes on we no longer care anymore about that little extra bit of 3D oomph. We were perfectly fine with the \’2D\’ gaming we had until then. Some people are getting annoyed over the amount of 3D going on in the theater, as well. They no longer are excited about the effect and they long for the day they don\’t have to put glasses on top of the pair of glasses they already wear a whole year round.
So, this is why I wanted to talk about the third role that 3D can play; the quality enhancement that is the most important to me, and the one that I hope more game developers and film directors begin to understand.
3) The last \”use\” for 3D can\’t be summed up in one sentence. So, I\’ll try and put the idea into words. When I think in terms of film, it would go into the category of effective filmmaking or cinematic technique. When I think of gaming, it would go into the category of visual, artistic, or graphical style.
In film, the master director or cinematographer knows how to frame or shoot a scene in a way that evokes the emotion, expression, or artistic nature appropriate to that particular scene. For example, Alfred Hitchcock was known for using shadows and lighting to evoke the tension in the scene. Zooming the camera in for a close-up was perfect for heightening emotion, whereas emotion could be quickly dissipated by panning all the way out, distant from a scene. Lighting techniques, aesthetics, camera positioning, movement, and expression– all these things are taught to the potential filmmaker in film school. But, how would you classify the effect of long shadows differently than the effect of 3D? 3D is the way our eyes see things naturally. It is a technical achievement in getting our eyes to believe the scene more wholeheartedly. But the lighting in a scene can affect the way our mind interprets the symbolic, artistic, or emotional nature of the scene. It is different than just the technology inherent in the depth perception.
But, this is where I think everyone is understanding 3D in the wrong dimension. (Bad pun, I know.) The best use of 3D is not when it\’s being used for depth perception from a technological or scientific standpoint. And its best use is also not for surprise or shock tactics. The way I think 3D can be used for the betterment of gaming and film is when it\’s used to artistically enhance the visual style of the game or film. For example: When I was playing Super Mario 3D Land, I marveled at the vibrant colors and vivid world that looked like a magical world come to life. The visual style was already appealing to me. But, when I turned on the 3D, it took the visual style up to a whole new level. Mario seemed to be almost tangible, as if he were made of clay. The vibrancy and colorfulness of the Mushroom Kingdom was amplified by the 3D. So, the 3D was not being used to surprise me or for technological \’coolness\’. It was being used to enhance the vibrancy and \’aliveness\’ of the already bursting-with-creativity graphical style. I contrast this with so many other 3DS games where I tell myself, \”Oh, that\’s pretty cool\”, for the first few minutes of gameplay and then completely forget about the 3D for the rest of the game.
People talked about how great the 3D was in Avatar by James Cameron. So, every other movie began to copy it. But, how come none of them have the same effect? Why don\’t they do as good a job? Of course, there is something to be said for the expensive equipment Cameron used. But, it\’s also because the 3D complimented the visual style he was aiming for. Sweeping vistas, epic panoramic and aerial views, a colorful and vivid alien world inhabited by CGI 3D models of an alien race, camera shots hurdling through space and time, bending perspective. These are the types of elements 3D naturally complements. It rises above plain old \”extra depth perception\” to become something greater. It becomes part and parcel with the arresting visual style.
This is also what hit me when sitting in the theater, watching Hugo. I was paying attention to the color motifs of cobalt blue and burgundy used heavily throughout the film by Scorsese. And then I noticed the smoke. And the simplicity of the scenes, allowing us to focus on one single image in each scene and become enchanted with it, childlike. As I marveled at his skill in visual mastery, I suddenly realized how it was specifically because of this visually wondrous style that I was appreciating the 3D! The 3D added to the childlike imagination that seemed to pervade each scene. [I just checked right now to see what awards Hugo won and I\’m delighted to see it won five Oscars – cinematography, art direction, visual effects, sound, and sound editing. Believe me, I didn\’t know this until I got up to writing the previous sentence.]
So, I conclude, in hope that some developer out there reads this editorial and takes it to heart. 3D can be a gift to gaming, or it can be a sad effect that gets neglected and serves no other purpose than to drain your batteries and fatigue your eyes. If the developers use it to enhance the visual or graphical style of the game, rather than saying, \”It\’s 3D. It\’s cool. We\’ll add it in and I\’m sure they\’ll love it,\” — then we can really be blessed with visually breathtaking games on the 3DS and in gaming. And the same goes for film. If directors had an art direction they were aiming for and they felt that 3D would complement it, then I absolutely agree it should be used. But, if it\’s slapped on as a way to make more money without making sense for the visual style, then it\’s just a waste and the 3D craze will end up in decline.