At CES, 3D gaming’s a tough sell

I offer my impressions of 3D gaming, gleaned from the show floor at CES, with the caveat that I favor strong gameplay over superior graphics. Still, it was hard to even be a little excited about the future of gaming as Sony and others envision it.

My time with 3D games at CES consisted of a few minutes each of Super Stardust HD and Gran Turismo 5 on the Playstation 3, plus a 3D demo of Dark Void on the PC. Sony plans to make the PS3 3D-ready later this year with a firmware update, and Dark Void used existing technology and products.

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In these games, there’s no denying that the 3D effect works, though Sony kept its televisions in darked booths, making me curious how these games would look in a well-lit room. Super Stardust HD, a simple space shooter, looked the best, with its spaceships and asteroids popping off the game’s spherical play area, itself consisting of several 3D layers. My eyes were most stimulated when new asteroids flew in from beyond the screen, large at first and smaller as they floated down to earth.

Gran Turismo fared worse. Its cars looked like paper cut-outs along a flat road — hardly the desired effect for a game that’s supposed to be gorgeous. As for Dark Void, the 3D effect was minimal, as it was using a less advanced technology where the 3D imagery goes into the screen instead of popping out. It was also the most irritating on my eyes.

But my main qualm isn’t so much the quality of individual games as it is the lack of any noticeable benefits beyond “wow” factor. With the switch from standard television to HDTV, the player actually gained some added utility. Game developers were able to use smaller fonts and finer details. The result was more screen real estate for action, plus cool flourishes such as the writing on the walls by survivors in Left 4 Dead. With 3D, I’m not convinced that there’s any added utility that would improve the actual games.

I say this having not tried any first-person shooters. It’s possible that 3D could make distant players easier to distinguish from the landscape, but that’s just speculation. From my experience at the show, I won’t be rushing out for a 3D television when Sony turns on the PS3 firmware upgrade.