Tech Interview: PlayStation 3D

Evolution Studios on how Sony is building a 3D future for gaming.

We may not have flying cars, or miniature pet elephants, but at least some bits of the future films and books have been promising us for the last century are now coming to pass. One bit in particular is way ahead of what you might expect: 3D games aren't just something exciting for the future, they are something Sony has up and running, and will be inviting developers to make as early as this year. With the exception of some active shutter glasses and a, er, 3D TV, PS3 owners already have most of the equipment they will need.

That's why we were very excited to head up to Evolution Studios last week and take a long, hard, playable 3D look at what Sony's numerous internal studios and a few third parties have been cooking up. You can read Digital Foundry's in-depth impressions elsewhere on the site, and today we're sharing the rest of our conversation with senior development manager Simon Benson and senior programmer Ian Bickerstaff.

If you weren't sure how 3D works, whether it's for you, how it came about, what the difference is between PS3's system and other systems, or even how PlayStation 3 in 3D relates to what you get if you're one of the millions of people going to the cinema to watch James Cameron's Avatar, then read on.

Eurogamer: The first thing we saw of PlayStation 3D was something Namco did with Ridge Racer 7. People mentioned its frame-rate. Is it 60FPS with 30 allocated to each eye?

Ian Bickerstaff: The guy who was involved with it now works for Sony Japan.

He's now seen as a 3D expert and he's been roped into the cause. It's really good actually. Independently the 3D running there is very similar to what we are promoting. We're on absolutely the same wavelength. There are no internal politics here, it's easy. It's the right answer, it does actually look really good.

Eurogamer: We've seen PS3 3D at two different CES shows now. When did you start work on it internally? Have you been incubating this solution from day one, or has it evolved from something else into what we're seeing today?

Ian Bickerstaff: I joined Evolution Studios in 2005 before it was acquired by Sony. In the background at a very low level, just bubbling under, I was just carrying on with a little bit of 3D stuff I'd done previously at British Aerospace. Even then I thought that this is a technology that one day is going to come into its own.

Eurogamer: Was it in a sense a case of separate threads within Sony coming together as the base technology matured?

Ian Bickerstaff: What happened one day was that we showed MotorStorm and a few other bits and bobs to some very, very senior people from Sony Electronics. They said, "It's funny you should show us that. We are actually developing something similar." It was like, "Oh yes, now there's a reason for it!" so the two things came together very well.

Eurogamer: Did you have compatible displays to show this stuff? What we're seeing [demoed today] is a 60Hz game, but effectively 120 frames being generated per second. Conventional displays won't work with it.

Ian Bickerstaff: There's a terrible picture of us from 1997 wearing liquid crystal shutter glasses, viewing a 120Hz 3D image. It's been available for many, many years. It was done using a projector costing 50,000 to 60,000, maybe more. The point is that all this technology has been around for ages but cost millions and millions of pounds in the simulation industry.

It is interesting that the simulation industry was prepared to pay that to have 3D because of the benefits but it's just amazing to me that suddenly this is going to be available as a consumer item in people's living rooms.

It's always been possible to do R&D on this technology. Out there you'll find lots of people who worked on 3D with very expensive viewing systems. In car design there are immersive walls and there's these things called "caves" where you have a 3D image on the walls of a cube around you and all that sort of stuff. They're all great and amazing but ludicrously expensive, but now [3D] is going to be in people's living rooms.

Eurogamer: So why is it happening here at Evolution Studios?

Simon Benson: We're a small team but we're working across all the studios, so you've got an awful lot of other people involved. It's not like we're doing all the coding ourselves - we just assist people, and evangelise 3D.

The job is one of education. Myself and Ian, we're based in the northwest and have a lot of experience with 3D, so we got involved. Because we came from a different industry where effectively we were working with multi-processor Onyxes with all the kind of effects you get now in the PlayStation 3.

We've got that background of working with very, very advanced technology. We've already worked with 3D, we've already been doing the things that have made it to the home over time so we all have the history and the knowledge.

These days it's a lot easier to work with people globally so it's never been a problem, location has never been an issue. We work very closely with Europe, America and Japan.

Eurogamer: The word from CES was you use active shutter. Is that what we're using today?

Simon Benson: Yes it's active shutter.

Ian Bickerstaff: 60Hz per eye.

Simon Benson: We've not actually had the production ones here.

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