Mick Hocking on 3D and virtual reality

Mick Hocking on 3D and virtual reality

Mick Hocking on 3D and virtual reality

In his keynote at this year's Develop conference, Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios senior director Mick Hocking looked back at a year in which the third place became the third dimension as 3D games arrived on PlayStation 3. We caught up with him at the event to discuss what 3D really adds to games, the importance of tuning it properly and why virtual reality really will take off this time.

This year your themes seem to be what's been learned so far about 3D, and how to make it better.
Yeah, it's a big message. We started saying this about 12 months ago, and we're pushing this message very hard for very important reasons, which is that we've got to ensure that our developers only produce the highest quality 3D experiences. So part of my talk covers what that means technically – what is a technically correct 3D experience? And then creatively: only include 3D if it adds something to the game experience, don't just include it for the sake of it. There's an awful lot you can do with 3D, and a lot of people don't understand how to adjust 3D parameters and the effects that those adjustments will have. So the important message is get it technically correct, include it where it adds to the effect and try to make the most of it creatively.

But the overall thing is: make great quality 3D. We've done 50 3D games now on PS3 and we've worked really hard to educate developers and get them up to speed – I think we've done a great job. But over the past 12 months we've seen examples in other mediums and other areas where people haven't produced great quality 3D. The problem is, when people see poor quality 3D, they label all of 3D as a poor quality experience – and that's not true. One thing that's particular to the [game] medium is that if it's done really well, and it's comfortable to view, it can really add to your immersion, your perception of speed and depth, and to the gameplay. If it's not done well, it can be uncomfortable and put you off. There's no reason that it should be like that if developers get trained up and understand how to do it. So we want them to come and speak to us, and we'll help them and offer advice on which technical solution might suit their game.

When 3D started coming to home gaming, everyone wanted to know what it could add. Now that the technology is more established, what do you think it can contribute?
It depends on the type of game. We've converted a lot of different games from a lot of different genres to 3D. With racing games, you've got obvious things like an increased perception of speed, distance, proximity – how does that affect the gameplay? Well, you can judge cornering distances, and you can judge overtaking manoeuvres better, which will help your lap time, which helps you get better at the game.

SCE Worldwide Studios senior director Mick Hocking

Is there any documented evidence of that benefit?
There is evidence out there and we're conducting our own research into this as well. But one of the best examples of it is that some of my 3D team built the most sophisticated driving simulators in the world – the Formula One driving simulators for people like McLaren and Red Bull. They're full stereoscopic simulators for a very good reason: it's the only way the drivers can get a similar experience to the real world, and therefore when they train they can get better as they would in the real world. In things like action games, what we're doing at the moment is enhancing the overall immersion: bringing you more into the world, making you feel more part of the battle. The same way that surround sound makes you feel like you're in the middle of the action because you got the correct sounds all around you.

I think we're only starting to scratch the surface of what's possible, though. Adjusting stereoscopic 3D parameters –  the interaxial, the focal length of your camera and all these different parameters – will in the same scene fundamentally change how you perceive the objects. I've got an example in my talk which is just a guy pointing at the screen. It's perfectly correct 3D, but he looks very flat. But then by simply adjusting the 3D parameters, suddenly he looks extremely round, and his hand's coming right out towards you. This is an issue they've had to deal with in Hollywood because actors don't want to look really round, like eggs, on the screen. So a lot of famous Hollywood actors have limitations on how they can be filmed in 3D because they want to look flat and chiselled!

One of the big things is that in many mediums, a lot of people don't understand how to use 3D; it's true in film, it's true in TV and it's true in games. Sony's quite unique in that it has the full hardware and full content stream within it's core business – we do everything for film: we produce the content, we make the hardware and we do the same with TV and with games. So we have a lot of dealings with Sony Pictures and Electronics, coming up with new 3D hardware like the PlayStation monitor or the head-mounted display. But we also exchange best practice on how to produce great quality 3D and how to properly implement different effects in 3D. But there's a lot of learning needed by a lot of people still.