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PSLS Presents – Mick Hocking, Senior Director for SCEE, Director of World Wide Studio’s 3D Stereoscopic Team

July 28, 2010 Written by Sebastian Moss

3D gaming is the future, with Sony pushing the extra dimension on the PlayStation 3, bringing 3D Photo Support, 3D YouTube, and of course, 3D games. But are 3D TV’s harmful? Does 3D disadvantage 2D users in multiplayer? To get the answers to these questions, and much more, PlayStation LifeStyle chatted with Mick Hocking, Senior Director for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and Director of World Wide Studio’s 3D Stereoscopic Team, at this year’s Develop Conference in Brighton.

Hi Mick, could you start by introducing yourself and telling us about your work at Sony?

Hello, my name is Mick Hocking, I’m the Senior Director for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. I look after 3 studios in the North West of England, which is Evolution Studios, Liverpool Studios and Big Big Studios, and I’m also director of World Wide Studio’s 3D Stereoscopic Team.

During your conference you showed Avatar’s success to prove how 3D has been very popular, but at the same time the DVDs and Blu-Ray sales were very high, yet they weren’t in 3D, so can you really use that to show that 3D is actually that popular?

Yeah, I think the point is with Avatar is that many people’s experience with 3D for a lot of years now has been anaglyph – the red and blue glasses – and it’s been quite bad quality and people got this idea that: “Well, ok, it’s got some depth to it – but it doesn’t really look that good”. I think what happened with Avatar in the cinemas is that it’s the first time a film has been done in high quality from start to finish in 3D using the highest quality animation, making use of the highest resolution cinemas, and the best use of 3D techniques. And the fact that it’s the most successful film of all time indicates that there is a big audience out there.

The market for home use now is growing, we are at the very start of that market, so I don’t think it’s a surprise at all that right now the 3D Blu-Ray market is not as big as the film market, because the players and the TVs just aren’t out there yet. This year is really the start of Home entertainment in 3D and you’ll see it rapidly grow in the next few years, as the 3D TVs get out there and the 3D Blu-Ray players, like PlayStation 3.

Clash of the Titans, the movie, was criticised by industry heads for having quite poor 3D, thus harming people’s perception of 3D. Is this something that Sony is trying to stop happening with games for the PS3?

Well, I think, that is the whole point. What is true of really good high quality 3D is that people come back for more – they’ll be amazed by the experience. If you put bad quality 3D in front of people it has the opposite effect and they’ll go: “Alright, well, it was uncomfortable to view, I had to take my glasses off, I left the cinema”. So, you are actually doing damage to this emerging market, that is why we are going to such efforts within Sony to train people properly in how to create the highest possible quality 3D. That’s why we make sure the teams we work with are educated in all aspects of 3D, they look at all the best practices, we look at all the game content that they produce, to make sure it’s of the highest quality. Because, the first impression we want people to have of our 3D games is “Wow” – we want that ‘Avatar effect’ for games and that’s why we are working hard towards that.with all of our games teams and those of 3rd parties.

But are you actively trying to stop third party publishers from releasing poor quality 3D?

No, we can’t actively stop someone making a bad 3D game, unfortunately. We try our best to educate and most of the third party publishers have approached us and we work with them and actively encourage them to get as much knowledge about 3D as they possibly can. Our QA teams are trained, so if they send us something really bad then hopefully our QA teams will say “that’s no good to view”. At the end of the day, of course, it’s their decision.

You also said that 3D helps with depth, accuracy and immersion, but will that disadvantage 2D TV owners in a multiplayer game?

There is maybe a competitive edge if you have a 3D TV, we are going to study that and see just what that level of advantage could be. It’s a very interesting point; it’s an interesting to think that if I’m playing multiplayer and I’ve got a 3D TV and I get a better score than my opponents playing in 2D then what’s gonna happen then? Do I have an unfair advantage? Will my opponents go out and buy a 3D TV to level up the playing field? For me, as a gamer, that’s the first thing I would do, so you are not going to get an advantage over me. So, you know, it could be a positive thing, I think.

And you predicted that there will be 5-10 million 3D TVs sold in the next 12 months – how many of those people do you expect will have PS3s?

Very hard to tell. I think, what we do know at the moment is that the early adopters of 3D technology are a very similar, if not the same, target market as the PS3 – technophiles, people who love high quality movies – they love high quality 3D games. This is why we are also pushing the PS3 as the ideal 3D content platform, because you can do 3D movies on it, you can do games on it, you can do photography on it, and, in the future, who knows what else. So, we expect the early adopters will be a very similar market to the PS3 market. But right now,  it’s still very early to tell, because the 3D TVs have only been out there for about 8 weeks so far. So, we’ll see over the next 12 months how it develops.

So, do you think 3D content will help broaden the PlayStation’s audience or will it just appeal to people who have or are going to get a PlayStation?

I think, overall, it will have some broadening effect because some of the gaming experiences can be that bit more intuitive and also we can innovate in new ways with 3D. It’s also a bit of a wow-factor to bring people in to look at this experience on a 3D TV. When you show your Mum and Dad or your Gran the latest games in 3D, they are like “wow – how did you do that?” So, I think that it’s got the potential for us to get new audiences interested in the medium.. I think 3D enhances just about all of the existing types of genre, but what is special is when we combine things like Move and 3D together… when people are viewing stuff in the way they are normally used to viewing it they are much more accepting of it… so, when we combine things like Move, which is nice and intuitive and doesn’t need any explanation, with 3D on the screen, we find that it is a very compelling experience. We think that new audiences will enjoy that come to PS3 as a result.

It’s obvious that the PS3 was a major factor in helping Blu-Ray become the high definition format of choice, how important do you think the PS3 will factor into helping 3D’s adoption rate?

Well, when we launch our update to support 3D Blu-Ray playback on the PS3 there will be an almost instant market of more than 36 Million PS3′s out there that can play 3D Blu-Ray movies, I think that has got to be a major factor in the uptake of 3D Blu-Ray movies and also a great driver for the purchase of 3D TV’s.

How will user-generated content be affected by 3D, considering levels may not be made with 3D in mind?

An interesting one. We would actively encourage those teams that have the ability to create user-created content to support 3D and add that to their editors so that their users can view it in 3D. I can’t think of a game where it would be a problem, I mean, LittleBigPlanet, if they convert to 3D in the future, has a limited amount of depth in the scenes in the  game, so, it would work beautifully in 3D. and the level creator would probably benefit from 3D as well. I think, most games would with UGC would be ok in 3D but we’ve not looked into this in detail yet…

ModNation Racers?

ModNation should be ok as well, but as I said we haven’t looked into this in detail yet.

Far Cry?

Yeah, the same sort of techniques for calculating the depth of a normal game would apply to those maps. Because we advise the use of depth budgets, so as long as teams understand the medium and follow the guidelines for producing good quality 3D there should not be a problem.. So, I think, it should be ok with user created content, but again, we are at the start of it, so we’ll see how it develops.

Recently, there has been a lot of controversy over whether 3D will actually harm you and possibly damage your eyes. Could you comment on that?

We’ve not seen any reports that say that 3D is bad for you. All we advise is normal viewer discretion – it’s the same thing as anything else when you are viewing content. And, no, we are not aware of any way that 3D harms you.

Apparently, some 3D TVs are not recommended to be watched for more than a few hours…

Yeah, I think, it’s normal viewer discretion, though. Same as ‘don’t sit too near the TV – don’t stare at the TV for too long’.  We are not aware of any reports that say 3D causes actual medical harm, all the normal electronics tests have been done in in our consumer electronics division in Japan, and we put the normal warnings on the set, which is viewer discretion; if you find this uncomfortable don’t do it.

For 3D games, the PS3 only supports up to 720P – is that something that you can upgrade in the future?

I don’t know if that will change in future, I believe, that is to do with bandwidth, we do 1080P at 24Hz for the movies and 720P at 60Hz for games, it’s just the amount of information that you’re shoving across the HDMI link, I think.

At what point in development, do you think, is it best to start developing a game for 3D?

It’s obviously much easier the earlier you start, it’s slightly harder retrofitting a game for 3D, but only because you’ve made all your optimisations already for a standard game. Worst case is 30Hz, no two player split screen, and a game where you are absolutely hammering the system already. In this case the team have probably already optimised the game a great deal. When someone says “Hey, lets put it in 3D” then the team know they have to optimise more. But even with games like that, we have found that the teams can get the games in 3D in a fairly short time if they want to. Typically, once you put the 3D TV in the studio with some of the latest 3D games on it, they get inspired – you know what engineers are like, they can pretty much do anything as long as you get them inspired to do it. Over the last 2 years we’ve been retrofitting 3D to a lot of genres, as we showed in the presentation, to see what the effect was. We are now working with a lot of new games, and because we are doing 3D from the start, you just build it into the renderer, the game works in 3D, then it’s just about making the game comfortable to view and getting in all the best effects you possibly can. The exciting bit is when the teams start to really understand the medium and start applying their creativity to the use of 3D.

For this question, we’re merely looking for your personal opinion. Which game do you believe best showcases how 3D can improve the gameplay experience and immersion?

That’s a tough one, I would have to say MotorStorm Apocalypse!! But then that’s my team that’s making that game, other than that it has to be Killzone 3 right now. I think in both these games the 3D is really helping to deliver a more intense and compelling gameplay experience. In MSA, 3D enhances the sense of speed and danger as they player races through the crumbling city, debris flying towards them, and a great sense of vertigo as they fall through cracks that open up in the road. Towards the end of the E3 demo we had entire skyscrapers falling down on top of you, in 3D you get a real sense of the danger, of this huge building looming over you with rumble and glass showing down on to your car as you try and survive to the end of the race. With Killzone I think the 3D really helps bring the player into the battle, you almost duck out of the way when enemy ordinance flies past you, or the shrapnel from an explosion. In the new game the use of jet-packs is huge fun combined with 3D, you get an immense sense of vertigo looking down through your feet at the action below, or even something simple like when you pull a comrade our of a trench, there’s this real sense of depth, of having to reach down and help your comrade up to safety.

Do you believe certain genres benefit more from 3D than others?

I think there are genres that we expected to benefit from 3D like Racing, or Sports, but what surprised us in our work over the last 2 years has been that just about all games that we have converted to 3D have benefited. Things like FPS’s and Action games look stunning in 3D and it really helps to draw the player into the heart of the action within the game. Games like Super StarDust and the R&D work we did on LBP show just how great those games can look in 3D.

Nintendo recently revealed the 3DS, do you think that 3D will play an important role in Sony’s next portable device?

I can’t comment on any future plans for portables at this time. I can say that 3D can be very effective on portable devices and with the small screen size a number of auto-stereoscopic, that is glasses-free, techniques can be used.

You talked about the 3D photo viewer, when is that coming out?

It is later this year, we’ve not announced a date yet.

Will that be part of the already available PS3 Photo Viewer?

We haven’t announced that yet.

Is that any 3D photos or just Sony ones?

I think, it is using the MPO format, which is an agreed 3D photo format, so it should take photos from any camera that supports that format.

And the 3D Movies patch, when is that coming?

No date on that yet, but later this year.

‘Later later’ this year or ‘earlier later’ this year?

Later this year!

PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank Mick and SCEE for taking the time to hold the interview. Stay tuned to PSLS for more news, reviews and interviews.