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Will ‘Avatar’ win over skeptical gamers?

Ubisoft hopes core players will take to S3D title

While Panasonic and James Cameron are counting on “Avatar” to bring stereoscopic 3D (S3D) into the living room, many observers feel video games are the killer app.

Gamers, though, aren’t too excited about the idea. The response to S3D so far has been tepid, at best.

“It’s extremely gimmicky and adds nothing to the gameplay or overall experience,” says Nicholas DiMucci, a 24-year old core gamer. “It … gets stale quickly.”

Core gamers, of course, are just a part of the videogame audience. Nintendo’s Wii has brought in a large number of casual fans. But publishers initially focus new technologies and playing styles on the core. If those players enjoy them, they often act as evangelists, singing the tech’s praises to the masses.

The biggest test of S3D gaming will hit on Nov. 24, when Ubisoft releases “James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game.” The number of people taking advantage of the stereo 3D capabilities likely won’t be big, since at present few homes are capable of viewing S3D. But the idea is to begin building buzz for the technology.

One gamer who saw the “Avatar” demonstration in S3D in June says the game “was gorgeous, especially in 3D,” but notes that he believes “it would be tough replicating that same experience in your own living room.”

Gamers see several technological drawbacks to S3D: Images tend to ghost on LCD screens, and setup can be a frustrating experience (often slowing down a game’s frame rate). There’s also a perception problem for the technology to overcome. Attempts to introduce S3D gaming on the PC in the mid-’90s were atrocious, causing nausea and headaches. Many gamers immediately think of that when 3D gaming of any sort is mentioned.

Most important, though, they believe developers are not interested in designing games for S3D.

Manufacturers disagree.

“We think the gaming community will be on this really fast,” says Bob Perry, executive vice president of Panasonic Consumer Electronics. “Having this full dimensionality when playing games, particularly action games, is simply amazing. We believe there’s a huge amount of synergy.”

It’s another chicken/egg problem for home 3D. Video games could, in fact, be a killer app for these stereo TV sets, but publishers won’t invest in creating S3D titles until there is a significant installed base of stereoscopic sets in homes.

Even then, gamers question how comfortable the experience will be, since stereoscopic 3D sets require users to wear specialized glasses.

“It’s fantastic for a 30-minute briefing, but when you sit down to play 10 hours of ‘Resident Evil,’ are you going to want to wear those glasses for that long? I don’t know,” says Will Smith, a gaming enthusiast and the editor of Maximum PC magazine.

“(Stereoscopic) 3D just doesn’t have the hard benefits that high-definition (television) did.”

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