Ahead of his Develop Liverpool keynote, Sony's Mick Hocking talks cutting-edge PS3 tech

Sonyâ??s 3D vision

This week at Develop in Liverpool, SCEE studio director Mick Hocking will frame 3D gaming from its most dramatic viewpoint – not through handheld devices, nor one of Sony’s pricey HD sets, but on the silver screen.

It’s a typically extravagant move from the PlayStation 3 manufacturer, and not one without its own cinema-sized technical challenges.

But what Sony will have in front of it this Thursday is a theatre full of industry professionals that it can sway to join the so-called 3D revolution.

Ahead of the event, Develop talks to Hocking about how far Sony has come with the tech, and how far it needs to go.

Develop in Liverpool is just three days away – at your keynote address, what message do you want to drive home?
HOCKING: Well there’s two messages we want to get out at Develop in Liverpool.

The first is that interest in 3D is growing fast, and many different industries are investing heavily in 3D right now. The 3D market is going to continue to grow with film, TV, websites and games all set to embrace the technology.

There’s a lot more 3D films on the way in cinemas, and over the next few years 3D will begin to dominate the home space. Many of the major broadcasters like Sky have already launched their first 3D channels, and across the world many more broadcasters are looking to follow suit.

What many of the entertainment industries are doing right now is learning about 3D – like figuring out how to film, edit and produce content in 3D.

Once people see the range of amazing content that 3D offers, they’ll make the decision to buy a 3D TV set. It’s really all about getting high quality 3D content out there for people to see at this early stage of the market.

There are already camcorders and cameras that support 3D and more soon to launch will also support 3D. YouTube and Flickr and other sites already allow the uploading of 3D content that can be shared with your family and friends.

The second point we’ll get across is just how many games are being made in 3D right now. We’re applying 3D to more than 20 internal games at Sony. It’s a very positive thing to see the great level of interest in 3D from our development studios.

To what extent is Sony engaged with external and independent developers on 3D technology?
We’re actively talking to developers and publishers, and we’re also offering training to them to help them get up to speed with 3D.

3D isn’t just about adding depth to a picture – developers need to know how to get the very best out of the technology on PS3 and we’ll ensure that they do.

The problem is that if 3D is applied to a game without proper understanding of the medium then that can produce low quality results and that can bring the whole tech back a step, its very important that players’ first experience of 3D is a good one, so we’ve got to help to ensure that developers get it right.

One of our missions is to help other developers with things like how to optimise their game with 3D, to not only make it technically correct but also to be more inventive with it, how to get the most creatively from it for their particular type of game.

How do you mean ‘inventive’?
Well, one great example is in Killzone 3, when you’re playing in 3D, where the player has to plant an explosive charge on the wall.

When they do, the charge comes out of the screen and looks like it’s in the room with you, and honestly it feels like an explosive charge has been placed on your TV. It’s
amazing! This is just one the incredible things that the Killzone team has done with 3D. I have to say Killzone looks absolutely stunning in 3D!

We’ve also got 3D in MotorStorm Apocalypse, just imagine racing under collapsing skyscrapers, during an earth quake whilst battling other racers all in 3D, it looks absolutely stunning! I’ll be showing some of the latest 3D games during my Develop talk.

And those kinds of scenarios will surely be your pitch to other developers, right? You can show them an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
Absolutely, this is about bang for buck. The analysis we’ve got for the games we’re doing internally – and we’re adding 3D to a lot of our games – is that the average investment for adding 3D can be as low as two per cent in time and budget; if you think about how profound 3D can make a game, I think that’s more than worth it.

It obviously depends on your particular game and the method that you choose for conversion but done right, great 3D can be added for a very low investment.

You’re referring to the 3D in your triple-A games though, right? Is a two-per cent budget increase on those titles, when applied to smaller indie games, really so cheap for developers?
Well, games that are simpler tend to be easier to convert, so it still works out as quite cheap. The likes of Killzone 3 and Motorstorm are pushing the system as hard as they can go and both of them were converted within a matter of weeks

Do you have internal projections on how many developers are going to embrace 3D?
Well I’ve got a list right here, and as I said we’ve got more than 20 games internally, and more than that external.

How many external?
Well we’ve got more external games being made in 3D than we have internal.

Some of them are massive names. That’s a really, really good sign that the industry is behind our unique message that 3D is a key element in the future of home consoles.

But this is all happening because of how engaged we are with the industry.

If a studio wants to make an FPS in 3D, then we might bring over a copy of Killzone. If they want a racer, we might show them Motorstorm Apocalypse.

We want to show people what can be done, and get them excited in the tech.

Can you give me a number, though? A rule of thumb so people are a bit more aware of how much the industry is behind 3D?
Okay, well I can say that overall we have more than fifty titles currently being converted into 3D, and this number if growing fast. I can tell you, games are leading the way when it comes to the driving the whole 3D revolution.

In terms of dev budget and cost, you said 3D adds on another two per cent. How about processing power?

It all depends how a game is converted, if a technique like reprojection is used then is can be as low as 3ms of GPU time.

But it all depends how a game converts to 3D. If a game draws two entire frames with split-screen then its developers will find it easier to convert. There are also a lot of new techniques that can drive processor usage down.

What about the games you’ve been working with, or have been associated with? We’re sure developers will want to know how much processor usage the PS3 should dedicate to 3D.
It’s different for each game, because it all depends on what you were doing with the game originally. There isn’t really an average, it depends on how your engine was constructed, what your game does, and what technique you use to create the 3D and so on.

A rule of thumb?
We’ve seen the whole range, really. Games that have implemented it with little impact at all, and more complex games like Motorstorm which is 720p at 30hz and pushes the PS3 to its limits, which was converted in a few weeks.

Finally, Sony’s pushing hard on 3D in the home, but will it bring its technology beyond the home console onto, say, mobile devices?
Well, [laughs], well, our focus absolutely is the home space right now. That’s where 3D will triumph. On the big screen is where, for the moment, players can experience 3D at its best.

However, 3D on mobile devices, and other forms of 3D, are all possible and many companies are working on them right now. We also have techniques like holographics for the PS3 that I think will be very interesting for the future 3D games.

In regards to that we have some new technology that we’ve shown to developers that uses 3D techniques, it allows two players to play full screen multi-player games but without each being able to see the others view, and they have been massively keen on them. There’s lots to come.

This isn’t just about adding 3D to the PS3 – there’s a whole wave of new technologies and techniques that make use of 3D and the 3D hardware that we can use to enhance our games with in the future.

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