E3: Analyst Believes Sony's 'Uncharted 3' Could Be the 'Avatar' of 3D Games

First stereoscopic 3D game from LA developer Naughty Dog drew on Hollywood 3D filmmaking techniques.

LOS ANGELES – Sony-owned game studio Naughty Dog is taking its bestselling video game franchise, Uncharted, to the third dimension. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception for PlayStation 3, the developer’s first stereoscopic 3D video game, makes its debut at Sony’s E3 booth this week. And the third-person action game is already drawing comparisons to James Cameron's Avatar.

Uncharted 3 could do for 3D gaming what Avatar did for 3D movies,” said analyst Jesse Divnich, vice president of capital research for Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR). “I’ve personally never been fond of games in stereoscopic 3D, but now that I have had to chance to experience Uncharted 3 in 3D, that opinion has changed."

The Santa Monica-based game developer studied hit 3D movies like Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon in the hopes of replicating that success in the interactive realm.

James Cameron’s Avatar movie sold a lot of people on the concept of 3D,” said Jacob Minkoff, co-lead designer on Uncharted 3 at Naughty Dog. “We really want Uncharted 3 to be the video game that you play in 3D at Costco or a Sony Style store and then want to buy a 3D TV for gaming.”

Minkoff and his development team turned to Hollywood filmmakers for guidance in navigating the 3D landscape. The new adventure sends Nathan Drake (Nolan North) on a searchfor the fabled "Atlantis of the Sands." Players will explore diverse locales like the Arabian Desert, as well as lush tropical jungles and treacherous mountaintops.

“Hollywood has been making 3D movies for many years and we’re only just dipping our toes into it in the video game space,” said Minkoff.

Players will actually become more immersed in the gameplay with 3D glasses, according to Minkoff. There’s now a much deeper sense of vertigo when Drake is climbing along a ledge and the player looks down into the abyss. From a combat perspective, when a player is hiding behind cover, they can more accurately peak out to gain better sightlines on enemies.

 “3D is just engrossing,” said Robert Cogburn, game designer on Uncharted 3 at Naughty Dog. “The multiplayer experience really pops when you’re playing in environments like the air strip level, where you’re dealing with moving cargo planes with spinning propellers.”

Justin Richmond, game director on Uncharted 3 at Naughty Dog, said the studio has taken the time-consuming process of rendering each frame of action twice, one for each eye. While more expensive, the process netted a bonus for gamers.

 “Even those who don’t play the game in 3D will be able to partake in the split-screen multiplayer action,” said Richmond.

 Minkoff said there’s a real art to designing good 3D games.

“Overall, people will still feel that they’re seeing a 3D experience, but you need to make it feel good to them as they’re watching it,” said Minkoff. “I don’t think many people realize how much work goes into each shot in a 3D game to make sure the player doesn’t get confused, feel sick or get sore eyes.”

Sony is investing heavily in 3D across all of its studios. Most of the company’s big games at E3 2011, including the new God of War, Resistance 3, and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, have been designed from the ground up to take advantage of 3D.

“One of the things quite unique to Sony is the fact that we’re the only business in the world that has the entire software and hardware chain of 3D within our core business,” said Mick Hocking, director of Sony Worldwide Studios 3D Stereoscopic Team.  “Not only do we pool the knowledge of the game studios, but we also talk to Sony Pictures about what they’ve learned from their latest techniques with 3D, their latest use of 3D cameras, or editing with 3D.  We’re also talking to Sony Electronics about what 3D devices they have coming out and what software we might be able to exploit.”

According to John Koller, director of hardware marketing, Sony Computer Entertainment America, currently 78 percent of PS3 owners have HDTVs. Koller believes the next logical step for these gamers is to upgrade to 3D TVs like Sony’s Bravia, although PS3 supports any 3D TV technology and manufacturer currently on the market.

But to drive 3D TV sales and open the door to a 3D living room, it’s ultimately going to take killer applications like Uncharted 3.