Monday, August 2, 2010

The Future of Multiplayer Gaming: 3D [UPDATED]

Don't scoff, don't sigh, don't even blink at me the wrong way. By the time you finish reading this, you'll believe me.

3D technology is being lauded at as useless, quality-draining "luxury" that film makers are being forced to film their movies in by the big studios (the reason why Sam Raimi stepped away from Spider-Man 4 and led to the reboot), and that Sony is, somehow, so far up it's ass, we've got a handful of 3D games coming our way: Killzone 3, Sly Cooper Collection, WipEout HD (already here, actually), and many others. Hell, even TV networks are broadcasting in 3D, when the adoption rate is probably lower than what it would take to make this entry viable, and that makes absolutely no goddamned sense.

With online multiplayer gaming soaring over the past 7 years - mostly thanks to Xbox Live and Halo 2 - the sanctity of the previous form of popular multiplayer, split screen, has died out pretty damned quick. Hell, GoldenEye was the forefather of split screen, then Halo: CE took the world by storm, offering up system-link (or LAN) to get 16 people together. Ever hear of a frat broskie willingly take part in a LAN-party that didn't involve torturing the souls of those in said party before Halo? I didn't think so.

I like split-screen multiplayer. During Halo 2's reign, me and two of my friends would gather 'round close to 8 or 9 o'clock, play until midnight, cruise down to Taco Hell Bell, suffer from the inevitable indigestion that is shitty Mexican food, and finish the night off with Super Troopers (hence my uncontrollable urge to quote the movie from "You boys like Mexeeco?" to "I love acid!!!" and everything inbetween). We'd team up on Xbox Live, me and one friend got as high as level 13, whereas the other one had something like 28: he was good, and it was the first game he kicked my ass in, and consistently does. 3 of us on one TV, playing the world. I would use my friends screens as a secondary, or even tertiary, screen to help keep an eye on the entire battlefield.

But let's take that concept back in time, to where split-screen gaming meant you only played 4 people at a time, a day of GoldenEye. The phrase "screen looker" would probably be met with a resounding, questionable stare in the direction of the speaker, often wondering "What in bloody hell is your problem?" with the consensus that you've fallen off your wagon prior to split-screen gaming, but once the concept started, the only true way was to arrange yourselves with the TV and throw up blockers or sheets as to help divert your eyes from your opponents. If you were on teams, you had an extra set of eyes on the other side of the map. Life was good.

Online gaming, as stated above, killed split-screen multiplayer. The burden of screen-lookers was immediately killed once you took the Couch Factor out of the equation; nobody next to you, no screen looker. However, with a recent 3D technology modification, your quarreling is soon to be put to rest.

The boys over at 3D Vision Blog have "hacked" a pair of NVIDIA 3D Vision glasses to allow for 3D images to be put back in 2D images, but the end result isn't as simple as this sentence. You see, they did a lot to the glasses (shutters, IR sensors, bridging various things, a lot of soldering), but the end result is pretty scoffable at first: your glasses only interpret one of the projected 3D images.

Take, for example, any 3D movie. To make it 3D, the viewer has to be given two images of the exact same thing. Remember those blue and red-outlined images? Those were effectively the same image, overlayed one another, but slightly shifted to allow for the 3D effect. These hacked glasses would only receive one of the two images, thusly turning your 3D movie back to 2D. Working backwards, right?


Take, for example, this set of comments from Engadget's interpretation of the article:

BraydenJames: Why?
MichaelB: so instead of split screen on a video game it is full screen and you cant see your partners screen. so this would be great for 1v1 on the say console.

Pure. Fucking. Genius.

Your split-screen multiplayer sessions are delegated, still, by horrible 3D glasses, however, you enjoy the thrill of having the entire screen to yourself whilst battling your friend in a "split-screen" multiplayer match. To the casual onlooker, the screen will look like a Jackson Pollock painting, as you and your friend's images are overlapped, causing the confusion to said onlooker. However, you don't run the risk of having the dickish, screen-looker killing the experience. They wouldn't be able to take their glasses off, as doing so, you become just as confused as the guy in the background wondering what in the hell you guys are doing.

Split-screen gaming could very easily make a huge comeback. The TV's don't require modification - although your mind would, despite dropping over two, or even three, large on a TV that offers a feature that has little use right now. The only extensive thing to do would be modify the glasses and create this overlapping multiplayer image. The drawback is, as MichaelB put it, that only 2 people could play against each other.

They could, by some grace of god, be able to project three or even four different images, and make it so that certain pairs of glasses only interpret said images. The glasses may require an additional heft to them to allow for a wireless receiver/transmitter so it syncs with the system much like a wireless controller does, and the game will only transmit one image to it's paired glasses. Glasses synced to player 1 will only receive player 1's image, glasses on player 2 only receive player's 2 image and so on and so forth. Hell, you could have up to as many people as you want, just as long as the system can handle multiple devices for multiple profiles. The 360 can handle up to 8 different wireless devices on Microsoft's proprietary wireless tech (4 controllers, 4 wireless headsets tied to 4 different profiles), yet the PS3 has 7 slots. However, the PS3, as well as the Wii, supports Bluetooth, and I've always seen Bluetooth as a poor wireless technology. The 360 may only handle up to 4 people locally and the PS3 7, but it's a viable option.

The only downfall to gamers is that they would have to invest in a 3D TV, which, the cheapest one comes in just above $2,000, and additional 3D glasses, which, in their current, non-awesome state, run for $150 a piece. I can only imagine how high that price would go for a pair of 3D glasses that can receive and interpret a signal from a gaming platform.

This would be a grand adventure for developers and gamers alike, it's just a matter if they want to adventure down another, darkened path from the already gloomy one that is 3D technology.

[UPDATED] Today, NVIDIA announced their 3D Vision Pro glasses, which "makes use of RF syncing to give the glasses a 150 foot range, along with avoiding some of those line of sight and crosstalk issues that plague the IR glasses used by most 3D-at-home applications," according to Engadget.

Rather than rely of infrared communication - Wiimotes and the Sensor Bar, TV remotes, etc. - you can a continuously, uninterrupted communication stream between the glasses and the RF (Radio Frequency) receiver. This would allow for a more reliable connection between the user and the interface, allowing for something far more grander than 3D movies, but something more practical, such as "3D modeling and medical imaging;" again, Engadget's words, not mine (although I do share the idea).

And again, like I said, the price is something to wince over. $350 for the glasses, and $400 for the receiver.

God. Damn.