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When Avatar figuratively exploded onto the scene, many of us were taken aback by the re-introduction of decent 3-D effects in film. The exquisitely developed depth, glossy holograms, and delicious visuals quenched our appetites for a new form of visceral experience.

But in the usual, ridiculous overreaction by almost everybody in the media and general populace to what can almost definitely be defined as a fad, 3-D has re-emerged as the buzzword for the early part of this decade. Once again, content producers and hardware makers alike begin to rub their hands together with glee, as rabid tech nerds and people with too much money begin buying TVs in the hope that will will get to play Modern Warfare 2 with slightly more cohesion.

There are two types of product innovation – one that takes something that already exists and improves it, and the that other invents a technology and tries to find uses for it. James Cameron spent ten years developing a camera that could create the film he had wanted to make for years. Samsung and LG developed 3-D televisions because people seemed to like Avatar. Hmm.

Don’t get me wrong, innovation within our industry is integral to its future success and viability. But every 10 years or so the industry constantly finds avenues to push the same useless and expensive technologies (Virtual Reality, anyone?) that provide a very basic and almost frivolous purpose. 3-D is one of them.

The reason I even have an issue with 3-D at all relates to the same reason I have (albeit less) issues with motion control and the absolute obsession with HD graphics; games will cost more, be shorter, and take longer to develop. In the case of 3-D, a game will spend months and millions of dollars in post production to develop an effect that, frankly, gives you a headache after 15 minutes and requires that you stare almost intently at the middle of the screen.

About 6 months ago, before Avatar was released, I had the unfortunate experience of playing the game on a prototype 3-D TV. Headaches aside, it’s a mechanism that requires you to wear glasses and sit in a particular position to get the faint illusion of depth or, in reality, blurry and dark out of focus shapes that are excruciating to watch and even more irritating to play.

What happened to creating games with more intuitive gameplay? When did we start falling back into the leaky boat of stupid gimmicks? Back in the early 90s, Sega went broke creating useless and expensive add-ons to their consoles to provide the illusion of progress, but when people quickly realised that their Sega CD and 32x provided nothing extra besides a hole in their wallet, they started walking away from their products.

“But wait, James!” you might say, sitting forward in your computer chair. “None of the major players are focusing on 3-D right now, aren’t you jumping the gun?”.

I wish I was.

Nintendo recently leaked plans for a 3-D successor to the DS. Sony‘s already started wasting money on creating designer glasses and a new range of Bravias that they want you to pay thousands more to replace your perfectly awesome 50″ LED TV. Microsoft quickly ran out and spruked that the Xbox 360 is “fully capable of providing 3-D”.

It’s inevitable that within the next 3 years, the focus will have left the real innovation of how we genuinely interact with our games, only to be replaced by the ability to see Ekans dance across your screen (OMG ITS LIKE I CAN TOUCH HIM) in the next iteration of Pokemon.

It’s such a shame, too. While indie developers experiment with new, exciting, and inexpensive techniques for immersion by using already refined sound and video techniques, major technological innovators default to old and previously failed tech to squeeze even more money out of you instead of improving or augmenting what is already available.

Let’s take Natal. Natal takes existing technology and augments it at a fraction of the cost that nu-3D is asking. As a result, you’re offered a significantly more immersive experience with the entire body mapped and exploited; your voice and even the direction of your eyes and minute features are taken into account.

Still not convinced? What about the completely unexplored use of binaural recording? Through the exploitation of how your brain decodes sound, you can create virtual channels that make it seem like someone is stalking you from behind or even throwing objects at you from the front.

I’ll just go out and say it, if it hasn’t been clear enough already: 3-D is a fad. Television makers have been waiting for a success like Avatar to quickly seize a bewildered and excitable community with regrettable purchases. But maybe I’m giving the industry too much credit, after so many years of genuine improvements to video and audio clarity, physical interaction, and gameplay mechanics.

3-D is a 60-year-old misdirection on an epic scale from developers and hardware makers to actually innovate. It’s a distraction (like HD) from developing interesting, original and creative gameplay experiences. It’s a gimmick, and a particularly boring and unimaginative one at that. It exists simply – and only – to make money, not advance technology; although it seems everyone is keen to take a big long sip of Snake Oil.

If this monochromatic 3-D is really the future of gaming, I’ll eat my hat. Hell, I’ll even eat a pair of 3-D glasses for dessert, as long as I don’t have to actually use them first.

  1. I find it very, very strange that whenever this or any other cultural debate (think games-as-art) springs up, people automatically jump to one extreme or the other.

    I read this, and I’m still not certain what to think. Maybe 3D is a fad and won’t get us anywhere new. Then again, maybe it’s actually a decent idea with a bad history that might actually work this time. It seems rude to consign it to infamy when we haven’t seen the developers really go at it. People said motion control was a gimmick … well, they were sort of right, but, in some cases, very, very wrong.

    I’m not really disagreeing until I can work my head around it, but I’m trying to keep an open mind here. Let’s see what happens before making the call to arms, or something.

    • I’m just worried about companies spending limited resources on things like this when they could be focusing in other, much more worthwhile areas.

      For it’s credit, MS seems to be steering clear of 3D, from my limited research I found barely anything other then their claim that the 360 “can support it”.

  2. avatar Dave

    You give credit to MS for staying clear of new tech ? How absurd, it’s like praising Apple not to go for the touchscreen with the Ipod->Itouch. MS is only staying clear of 3D because they have no share in it ( review the whole HDDVD fiasco ) . Last time I checked, the X360 had HDMI 1.2 and no way to support 3D signal ( which requires 1.3+ ).

    • You misinterpret me. I give credit to Microsoft for investing in technology (Natal, Surface) that will outlast what I consider a fad.

    • avatar Ryhanon

      It’s not new tech. It’s very, very old tech that fizzled and died 60 years ago. While true, it has changed and evolved slightly in those 60 years, it is still basically the same thing.

      Also, the 360 is capable of supporting 3D depending on the 3D solution you’re talking about. Not to mention, once people have Natal in their homes (that is, if anyone actually buys it), games will easily be able to take advantage of head tracking via Natal, creating a 3D effect for a very low cost. That is the only venture into 3D that I’m willing to even consider supporting at this stage due to the low consumer cost.

  3. avatar jhall

    this article so one sided its disgusting, samsung and LG did not launch an entire line of 3d ready tv’s BECAUSE of avatar. All the major consumer electronics manufacturers have been developing 3d products since well before avatars theatrical debut, as evidenced by the tremendous launch of said products at the 2010 CES which took place only a month after avatars release.
    To even think that a manufacturer could go from not having a 3d product line to having an extensive multi display 3d tv lineup in less than a months time is a pipe dream

    like it or not 3d is here in a big way that you cant ignore, you’re just going to have to suck it up

  4. avatar Malcolm Euxerxes

    If you showed the current kind of 3D to anyone 60 years ago, you’d have blown their minds straight out. This tech is not 60 years old, and to profess that it is shows quite a bit of ignorance on the subject.

    I do agree that Avatar was monochromatic, but when I saw cirque du soleil in 3D at IMAX in 2002, it was absolutely bursting with detail and color. I thought to myself back then, if they can just make this affordable, it’ll be in every house.

    I’d be interested to know how familiar the author really is with the ongoing progress in 3D. How much hands-on experience have you had, and with what range of 3D products? Or is this a gut-reaction stab in the dark?

    • I’ve had a reasonably good grasp of use.

      Like I mentioned in the article, I played a pre-release version of Avatar on a 3D JVC TV. I’ve also attended a consumer show here in Brisbane where I demo’d a Sharp 3D Projector, along with seeing a few 3-D movies in the cinema.

      So, actually, I’ve had more hands-on experience with 3-D then most punters.

  5. avatar tarbis

    M$ is investing on something that Sony and Nintendo rejected. Natal is no more than another Eyetoy. M$ is gonna have the shock of their life when they releases Natal.
    3-D maybe a fad but get this, it’s successful today. Bec, it has been improved a lot. Very much like that mouse that you’re holding now. Before it uses trackball, now it uses a LED. Many think that the LED thing was a fad, now they’re all using it bec they saw the big improvement.
    Better prepare a lot of salt if you’re gonna eat that hat and 3-D glasses ‘coz the future of 3-D is NOW.

    • I think, personally, it’s successful *at the moment*. People are fickle with technology – and I’m pretty sure that the large majority of the mainstream will not go out and purchase a $3000 3-D TV when they just forked that out a year ago for a brand spanking new HDTV.

  6. avatar Tom


    Months and millions of dollars in post production? That couldn’t be further from the truth? 3D engines already render a certain point of view when playing the game. To get stereoscopic 3D, the engine now simply renders two separate perspectives, one for each eye. Implementing this is a very simple and quick process for developers.

    In a lot of cases nVidia’s 3D vision (which has been out for a long time now) is capable of forcing the engine to do just that, without the developer needing to put in any extra work. Consoles will no doubt use a similar system.

    And if 3D gives you a headache after 15 minutes, then you’re in an unfortunate small minority which is not representative of the average gamer.

  7. avatar Chris

    I can understand the disappointment with 3D if one’s experience is limited to gaming with red/blue lens glasses. That system distorts the color and depth illusion, despite the best efforts to compensate. But the new polarized glasses, such as nVidia’s 3D system, provide a very good graphics.

    Why can’t we have our cake and eat it too? It is overly pessimistic to assume that 3D will always come at the expense of missing out on other factors that make quality games. You sound like the Thomas Malthus of gaming. We are not now in some golden age of gaming. As technlogies develop, certain aspects of game development will become less onerous and therefore balance out the difficulties that are added by new tech. It’s always been that way, and future appears to be no different. You don’t argue that adding surround sound to games makes them worse, because most contemporary games that are ” interesting, original and creative gameplay experiences” have surround sound. Why assume that adding 3D visuals will ruin games? Let’s just wait and see.

    • avatar pxsuc

      Chris! you are definitely right. But there’s no way without complaining of others when the revolutionary objects appeared in this world. Always same as this phenomenon in any history. Yes,so, we can enjoy the new inventory like new 3D,not just like 60 year old one. I’m with you.

  8. avatar Joe

    It’s really tough to say whether 3D will go anywhere, but here’s just my two cents…

    I recently visited Best Buy and watched a few different programs on their 3D TVs. I was instantly sold. The glasses mean nothing to me as I have no issue with wearing them over my current prescription glasses and I don’t experience any headache or nausea from 3D whatsoever. I was lucky enough to see a side-by-side comparison of non-3D and 3D programming and that’s what really sold it for me. The 3D was so engrossing compared to the “flat” and “distant” images of regular 2D images. I watched a short show on hot air balloons, then watched volleyball, and finished off with a quick trailer of a science fiction show that I unfortunately don’t know the name of. Each of these shows were incredible viewing in 3D, and I would love to experience that at home.

    Whether this will be relevant in gaming is yet to be seen… Only those lucky enough to try out Wipeout HD and Gran Turismo 5 in HD at select Sony booths really know the answer, but I am all for this new technology.

    3D is not the future of gaming; it is merely an added bonus. Just like how online gaming has not wiped out the demand for strong singleplayer oriented games. It is merely another feature that can enhance the act of playing the video games that we all know and love.

  9. avatar Dylan

    I’m just as happy to embrace new experiences as the next guy, but I am quite worried at the speed at which 3D television and gaming is being forced on us. I live in Australia, and the strength of the pro-3D media campaign is something to behold – the big companies really must be throwing a lot of money into pushing for coverage.

    A related concern is the effect that prolongued use of 3D images will have on the the brain, with regards to altered perception. I’m no expert on the matter but I remember reading an article that suggested that the brain is tricked with certian 3D display methods, and that there has been very little investigation into whether there might be possible side effects from watching 3D movies and games all day and/or night.

    I’d hate for anyone to, say, get into a car accident or suffer from ill effects due to this technology and I don’t really think that arguing that it might only affect a small percentage of the population is acceptible at all.

  10. avatar NOD

    What an utter and complete BS article. Summary, James does not like 3D. He has only seen and experienced it with Avatar and a consumer electronics show. He thinks it is a fad. Oh but Natal is innovative and new. HAHA. Perhaps this is more a concern that while Sony is fully invested in 3D that James’ console of choice will be left with Eye Toy 2.0 tech in 2D.

    It’s ok James, you will still be able to watch your HD-DVD’s in 2D on your console of choice. Heck you might even be able to control the whole experience by waving your hands around.

    Have fun with that.

    • I will, thanks.

      In any case, I have experienced it. I personally don’t think it will advance gaming, it requires a ridiculous amount of cash investment for a very small gain, it requires you to wear glasses at all times, and provides nothing but a faint illusion of depth. Dylan also makes a good point that noone has gone for significant sessions with 3D, so there might also be health effects that haven’t been tested.

      Those are pretty good reasons. If you would like to call me a luddite, go ahead, I’ll save my $3000 and put it towards something I consider a tangible benefit.

    • avatar Charlie Chaplin

      NOD, do you know how to read? You do? Ok good! Read this:

      “Let’s take Natal. Natal takes existing technology and augments it at a fraction of the cost that nu-3D is asking. As a result, you’re offered a significantly more immersive experience with the entire body mapped and exploited; your voice and even the direction of your eyes and minute features are taken into account.”

      He acknowledges right in the f**king article (that you probably didn’t look at beyond the first paragraph, as you were busy writing a poorly constructed attempt at a scathing mock summary) that Natal is a play on pre-existing technology.

      Take the fanboy goggles off pal, it’ll do wonders for your intelligence.

  11. Not really a fan of re-purchasing thousands of dollars of technology for something I don’t think is a very large upgrade; but I can see it getting better (or at least as good) than Avatar quality.

    Until then, I could care less. Gimmicky “Alice In Wonderland” 3D is just a way to charge more for a standard product.

  12. avatar G. Murdaugh

    I would have to agree with you, it’s just a cash in. In an economy that we are in now how can these morons expect people to pay more then they already have for their entertainment. Looking into this when you by one of these TV’s some of them will give you a pair of glasses (or 2) with them then you’ll have to buy the rest separate. With a family of five that would mean I would have to purchase extra pairs of glasses for everyone to utilize the feature and at $150 a pair (from what I’ve read there going to be going for) it’s just to much. Then (like blue-ray) they’ll want more for the disks, and the TV’s will be more. Come on I just got a new LED a few months (really sweet picture) ago and I’m going to chuck it and pop cash on another one just for this I don’t think so. This 3d crap will crash and burn just like Beta-max did or the Sega Saturn or the Genesis or 3DO or past uses of 3d in the theaters. Sure it looks pretty in the theaters now but my wallet crying isn’t. It should stay in the theaters where it belongs.

  13. avatar Link01

    3D hardly takes a toll on adding into a game … at all. It’s pretty ineffective in production time and cost.

  14. avatar FRED

    Frankly the writer doesnt know what heis talking about, games are akready 3d, the interface is the only difference and games will not have any kind of price increase resulting from the 3d experience. also games have better chances to get Real “DYNAMIC 3D” wich is related to the object you are currently looking at something that is not possible in movie teathers. this could be achieved by tracking eye movement and correcting object parallax Dinamically.

  15. avatar Malcolm Euxerxes


    That was hilarious!


  17. avatar Tunchy

    So…3D is a disctraction, but EyeToy, Natal (Mgestyk was first), alternative controls and….all what companies try to sell after the promised 1080p to the reality consumers founded: 720p, when it get its (MW2, 600p)

    3D is not Avatar. 3D -does the author read in the web 3D Nvidia´s retrocompatibility in PC with even previous games to this one?

    So too much money too buy new TVs or some pleople wasting before time it?

    Who cares about TV when they get stuck in 1080 for another decade?

  18. Personally, while I do enjoy some movies in 3D, I don’t have the thousands of dollars in my budget to again upgrade my TV and partake in this fad for the home. If you’ve got the money, great. Enjoy 3D. Me? No thanks. I’m good.

  19. avatar Crager

    You said it “in my limited research”. Heard of IZ3D anyone? Just played Modern warfare2 in full 3D on my computer for and hour. Monitor is the same price as a 2D one. Why even write an article when you are too lazy to do any research?? try Google.

  20. avatar Fred09

    Haha man author got owned here. Way out of his depth and talking bucketloads of smack.

    “Tangible benefit”….. People back in the day paid top dollar for 3D graphics cards that only offered “minor tangible benefits”. And there will be people who do the same with pure 3D gaming also. Product lifecycle curves man, get with the program!!!!

    Another thing the moronic author glossed over with minimal thought contact is cost: Samsung’s just launched here in Australia, and the prices are cheaper than their launch price for the equivalent model in 2009. Sure if you just bought a TV like this guy assumes the entire population of Australia has then great – hold out and the feature is included anyway in future TV releases the next time you buy. But if you’re in the market (which the author seems to assume is just out of the question), you’ll be getting a TV with the tech embedded for a better pricepoint than you think.

    Granted though the glasses are pricey, so that’s something they’re making margin on for sure – but for a category-defining innovation the pioneer’s buy-in price is pretty good.

    Cost to gaming argument is also dumb: Sony will release 3D updates for the playstation 3 for free. Nvidia’s own 3D glasses offering already covers a library of 300+ games. Given that it’s so easy for developers to implement, the author’s nostalgic violin-playing for story sacrifice is just without credence.

    Basically you suck author. You suck.

  21. avatar Jack

    WTF, 3D is completely useless anyway.

  22. avatar Ian

    I’m with Jack on this one, 3D is a waste of time and money.

    I was a good sport in the HD push, but I will not conform to 3D gaming.

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