Konami has recently revealed its new Metal Gear Arcade website, confirming that the dedicated cabinets support true stereoscopic 3D, along with built-in 5.1 surround sound for all players. The game itself appears to be a retooled version of the existing PS3 title Metal Gear Online, which opens up a number of intriguing questions.
The concept of stereoscopic 3D has been bubbling under the mainstream recently and it was only a matter of time before a high-profile video game would tackle it. Indeed, some might say that it was inevitable bearing in mind that so many other forms of media are experimenting with 3D – the "RealD" 3D system in cinemas has proved to be a substantial hit and is the first mainstream roll-out of the kind of polarised 3D imaging previously used in theme park attractions like Universal's Shrek 3D. UK satellite broadcaster Sky is currently trialling 3D sports material behind the scenes, while George Lucas is once again rumoured to be tooling around with Star Wars in an effort to create a new presentation based on the same polarised 3D principles.
Moving into the realm of video games, while Metal Gear Arcade looks set to the first high-profile 3D game, Blitz Games is producing a PS3/Xbox 360 stereoscopic 3D experience, whilst Sony's own experiments using GT5, WipEout HD and Motorstorm are a matter of public record. Namco Bandai has already deployed a 3D version of Ridge Racer 7 in Japanese arcades that, like all of these 3D implementations, requires special glasses. There's one important thing to point out here. These aren't the old red/blue anaglyph 3D glasses from 50s cinema – the polarised 3D we're talking about here works with higher refresh rates (up to 120Hz in current implementations), is less head-ache inducing and doesn't compromise colour. The effect can be extraordinary.
NVIDIA's 3D Vision glasses operate on a different, but related principle and work with a number of great PC games – Burnout Paradise is supported with an extremely impressive implementation that offers an experience that makes the console versions rather mundane in comparison. Despite the small market, developers have told me that NVIDIA is pushing the technology strongly in an effort to convince them to support the 3D Vision standard within their games. The firm has already outlined the basic principles of its system and you can check out their own GDC presentation on the way its technology works here.
All of which is fascinating, except there are a number of major problems to tackle. The primary concern is the display itself. Very few HDTVs support 120Hz in the here and now, and while the amount of new models to hit the shelves is going to increase, the volume of content in mainstream media needs to pick up the pace in order to drive sales of new TVs. That being the case, any transition into a 3D standard is likely to be ongoing even when Xbox Next and PS4 are reaching the end of their lifespans.
There's a horsepower issue to overcome too. The basic concept of stereoscopic 3D is that a distinct, unique image is being generated for each eye at any given point. In basic terms this means that gaming hardware is being tasked with working twice as fast as it is right now in order to maintain the same refresh rate. Clearly, double the processing power, bandwidth and memory doesn't materialise from nowhere. Namco's Ridge Racer 7 3D game achieves its immersive tri-dimensional effect by dropping down from 60 frames per second to an effective 30FPS. The 3D effect works, but one of the defining core values of what Ridge Racer is – and has always been – is compromised as a result.
Returning to the present, few details have emerged thus far on how Metal Gear Arcade operates. The chances are that it works either by utilising PC hardware for a better-than-PS3 experience with horsepower to spare (one GPU per eye), or else it uses Sony's concept of connecting two PS3s together by LAN and merging the two HDMI outputs to produce a 120Hz 3D-ready signal. Sony's technique of combining multiple PS3s is effectively the only way these games could have achieved the stereoscopic effect with no loss of refresh rate.