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Nintendo 3DS and other 3D

While at GDC, I had some time to try out the Nintendo 3DS, in both movie and game modes.

I’m not really impressed. The 3D top screen is kind of cool, but it’s cool in the same way a 3D lenticular bookmark is cool – it’s interesting to look at it and say “it’s cool that we can do that,” but it’s not something you’re going to be staring at, slack-jawed, for hours. In the same way, the 3D screen is cute, but not mindblowing. It has an illusion of depth, yes, and it doesn’t require glasses. Perhaps the most impressive part of the technology is that it was brought to market so quickly; it feels like 3D screens should be a feature on the next handheld generation, not this one.

Maybe it feels that way for a good reason, because the 3DS just doesn’t work. The 3D effect is limited by the edges of the small screen, and the transition from simulated 3D to real depth and real objects is painful. The 3D itself is poor – I did a demo of Kid Icarus Uprising, and the 3D feels like a bunch of flattened sheets of paper stacked on top of each other, a totally weak 3D effect. If you move or tilt the 3DS at all, the image slips out of 3D focus, and it’s like an ice spike to the visual processing centers of your brain.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m not a 3D hater. I’m actually a huge advocate, and I saw some other interesting 3D tech at the show.

At the Crysis 2 booth, they were showing off the game on huge flat-screen TVs, and players only had to wear Real3D glasses – unpowered, cheap glasses, like you get at the movies. I have no idea how this worked – I thought Real3D relied on having two projectors putting out oppositely-polarized light. It’s possible that these TVs were double-resolution and that each LED was calibrated to give out a certain polarity…which would be pretty badass.

The 3D effect was okay. The same as the 3DS, really – multiple flattened sheets on a scene, instead of real depth.

What really blew me away was doing a Fable III demo on a computer monitor, using an Nvidia card and powered stereoscopic 3D glasses. When I got the depth set right, it was like looking at action figures running around a diorama. Every character had a real sense of weight and existence. I could sense details in space, such as how the character’s sword came out towards the camera, and even that the cuffs on their jacket were distinct from the sleeves. This is what 3D is supposed to be; it created a real sense of weight and depth, and made these characters more believable as real entities running around a real world, rather than characters on a screen.

In conclusion: buy a 3DS if you want, but don’t buy it for the 3D gimmick. The wonder will wear off in 15 minutes. My recommendation is to wait a few more months; 3D technology just keeps getting better and better, and maybe soon we’ll have the killer app that proves that the future is three-dimensional.

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