After HDTV comes 3DTV. At least, that's according to Andrew Oliver, whose company, Blitz Games, has a proprietary engine that produces 3D images on PS3 and Xbox 360. You need a 3DTV to display them, obviously, and without many of them around there's not a huge amount of excitement yet, but Blitz hopes to change that with its upcoming downloadable 3D game, Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade.
It's a side-scrolling kung-fu game with the pace and punch of an old Hong Kong film. Your ninja hero can punch, kick, roll and jump, and how he navigates platforms and controls the crowd will determine his level of success. Visual detail may have been sacrificed to reach the crucial-for-3D 1080p/60fps benchmark, but the result still packs personality and means gameplay is as smooth and fluid as a Bruce Lee roundhouse.
Of the 15 arenas Invincible Tiger packs, I've seen a blossom-strewn level with bamboo-topped huts, and a cave level, and both transformed when the 3D option was selected and glasses donned. It's the box-within-the-screen effect, rather than images pouring out of the TV, and ledges are given convincing depth. Punch one off the screen and they fly out at you. Wait for another wave and they run from the bottom of a tunnel rather than a circle on a wall. The TV takes a while to warm to the two images that eventually made my head and eyes hurt, but the effect is one I'd be interested in going back to. Intrigued, I sat down with Oliver at the recent Develop Conference in Brighton to find out more.
Eurogamer: Can you explain this crazy concept of 3DTV and stereoscopic vision to our readers?
Andrew Oliver: Games are 3D but they're about to go more 3D. You've probably seen that movies - computer-generated movies - have started to go 3D. Live action is coming, albeit a bit slower. The TV companies have realised that we're going to be watching 3D movies and that really, in a year or so, they're going to come into the home. So they're all saying, "Right, we've been doing HDTVs for a while, so let's make sure they can run 3D movies." So Samsung and Mitsubishi particularly have started to put 3D functionality into their top-end TVs ready for the movies. The movies are taking a little bit of time to come because you need to work out formats - cable, satellite, Blu-ray - but these TVs are sitting there capable of 3D. So we had a play and saw consoles working and actually displaying 3D images, which last year people were saying was impossible to do. And we thought, "It's only graphics, it can't be that difficult," so we did some playing around and we got it working.
I took it round to various publishers, our demo, and people were really sceptical: sceptical that you could do a full game and sceptical that there was really a market. So we've gone ahead and written our own game and we're just about finished. It's called Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Eurogamer: And that's for PSN and Xbox Live Arcade - a downloadable title?
Andrew Oliver: Yes it's downloadable, and that's because it is difficult doing 3D and we didn't get funding from any big publisher when we started it. Big games nowadays cost millions to make and we just thought, "Well, in a way this is a test and experiment, we've kind of got to get it working to prove it ourselves," so it was a smaller project that we thought we're going to put onto [the download services]. Although now it's been bought by Namco and will be published by Namco on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN. But we very much had to get it fully working before we got a publisher on board.
Eurogamer: So the actual 3D technology, is it just producing that two-colour image...
Andrew Oliver: EURGH! Two-colour image! I want to hit you! No! It's not the red/blue glasses. Have you seen a 3D movie?
Eurogamer: No, not a new one.
Andrew Oliver: Oh! Old movies: crap. We're in a new, digital age. We invented computers a few years ago...
Andrew Oliver: The red and blue glasses were invented in 1922, and they were s*** then and they're even worse now. They give you headaches and they're awful and they destroy the colours. We are not talking about that.
Eurogamer: Will you have to wear glasses?
Andrew Oliver: You will have... Yes and no. With the Mitsubishi and Samsung yes you do have to wear glasses. But if you come through to the other room we have a prototype [which later blew up] where you don't wear glasses.
I was a fan of Star Wars and we've all seen that holographic Princess Leia, and people think that would be a really difficult thing to do, that you'd need holographic technology. But you don't, because you've only got two eyes, and both of them see flat images. So if you close one eye, you see a flat image. So all you've got to do is get two flat images to your eyes and your brain will put it together in 3D. Now they tried to do that with colour filters, but obviously that destroys colour. Completely. But nowadays you can use 120Hz TV - so a TV running at twice the refresh rate - and put glasses on that effectively shut out your eyes alternately, and you look at the TV your left eye will see one image, your right eye will see the other, and if you can get the graphics printed right the illusion works in your brain. That's the trick.
Eurogamer: Won't this be useless without the appropriate TV?
Andrew Oliver: Yes. Yes. The game [Invincible Tiger] will work on regular TVs: old-style 1080p HDTVs. You know, one of the old ones. And it will work and look beautiful and it's a great game, and for 99 per cent of the market that's how they will see that game. But for some, who have started to buy these new TVs, they'll be able to see it in 3D with real depth, and it starts to look holographic, which is so cool - it's really, really cool.