About the Visor

March 24, 2010

The Virtual Boy marks Nintendo´s biggest business flop in the company´s history. The red-color-based stereoscopic device didn´t see the success that Nintendo wanted to achieve. Yesterday, the same company announced to risk another attempt at introducing 3D to video games. The Nintendo 3DS-announcement came completely out of left field, nobody expected it to be mentioned on a random Tuesday morning. There are lots of reasons that could explain why Nintendo did announce their next generation handheld now, but that is irrelevant to this article. What counts is that 3D makes a return to gaming. It´s not the first mention of 3D in a long time, though. Not only is Sony working on 3DTVs, but also have Nintendo-fans been hyping the rumored Nintendo ON-system, one of the most popular fakes in the video games history, that was supposed to feature a 3D visor, also called 3D glasses. It´s these 3D visors that I´m going to talk about in this article. What kinds of technologies are there, why do many gamers love the idea of a visor, and what would it actually bring to the table of further evolving the gaming experience?

eMagin´s Z800-visor

The technology of Visors

There are basically three different 3d-glasses technologies, two of them active, the other one passive. Active means that the visor is more complex, using electronic hardware, usually more expensive, while passive visors are cheap, non-complex items.

First technology are the shutter glasses, or also called “Liquid Crystal Shutter Glasses”. These are active visors, as they work in synchronization to the image shown on screen. The shutter glasses works via blocking or passing light through the device, working together with the framerate of the display used. It uses two different timed images, which results in lowering the actually experienced framerate into half, i.e. if you have a 120 Hz-display, you´ll get 60 Hz-output. The visor itself uses said liquid crystals to alternate between blocking and passing light. In terms of comfort and usability, many people reported that this kind of 3D is rather tiring for the eyes.

The next technology is called “Display Glasses“, though I like to call them “3D-video glasses”. They´re also the most expensive ones. That´s because these glasses actually have two displays built into the device. Basically, there´s a small screen for each eye. It should, thus, be obvious why this is the most expensive technology. And that´s also how it creates a 3D-effect, by offering each eye its own image. For a better understanding of how these two displayed images look like, close one of your eyes and look at an object in front of you. Then close the other eye and look again. You´ll notice that both times your field of vision will have change the angle of that object. That´s how these visors work. Now, this technology is also the most interesting one for gaming, not only because you wouldn´t need a TV anymore, but also could it create a free-look, without any sort of borders. Just turn your head and you´ll be able to look around inside a virtual world as if it was real. Most prominent manufacturer of these visors is eMagin.

The last technology is actually not only a single one. There´s quite a lot of different approaches, but they work very similar in the end. The glasses itself are totally inexpensive and cheap, specially compared to the above mentioned visors. The most prominent glasses of this kind are the red-green visors you sometimes find in TV-magazines. There also exist glasses that don´t rely on red and green, but otherwise polarize the light that´s coming from some source. No matter what kind you use, it always comes down to light being polarized, so that there´s two images created, one that can only be seen by the left, and one that can only be seen by the right eye. Each images slightly vary and thus create the 3D-effect. That´s the kind of visors youll get to use in cinema, for example when watching James Cameron´s avatar. Cheap doesn´t mean that it´s not good, but these passive glasses handicap is that they are dependent on the output-source, which is why Sony and other TV-manufacturers are working on a unified 3DTV-standard.

Nintendo´s Virtual Boy

A fascination called visor

Now, why is it that these 3D-visors are attracting so many people, fascinating a lot of gamers? First of all, it´s because 3D-effects are awesome. That´s not a well explained point, but everyone that never before has seen 3D, and then watches some IMAX-3D movie will go away with that reaction, “awesome”. The way artificial objects jump in the viewer´s face is something that cannot be explained with words. In terms of video gaming, 3D plays a big role for immersion, something that has become more and more important the more powerful video game-systems became. Games like Fallout 3 or GTA4 show what is possible in terms of creating a more or less believable virtual world. What´s missing is the accurate presentation of these worlds, which is exactly what 3D could make reality. Specially the 3D-video-glasses, such as those from eMagin, are fascinating. Their technology would allow for entering virtual worlds. That sentence doesn´t give justice to the importance of what it does. You have to imagine it like this: This technology would be as far as gaming and virtual worlds can go…without creating the Matrix, the one from the same-named movies. Virtual Reality couldn´t be enhanced any further. Well, maybe the invention of full body-holograms could do something similar, but then, at the point we´re able to use holograms for mass market-use, we´ll probably also be able to enter the Matrix.

Importance for Gaming

What would such a visor mean for games? That´s what many less-interested gamers ask whenever some enthusiast brings up that topic. There are a lot of possibilities. I just mentioned the creation of a true virtual reality-experience. Move your head to look around and the image displayed on the visor will change accordingly. It´ll make you feel as if you are inside another world. But it could also be used for flat games, only creating a simple 3D-effect to enhance the images quality. That´s what people expect the Nintendo 3DS to do, where you could play a Paper Mario-game and all the different objects are outputted on different layers within the 3D-image. It doesn´t have that much gameplay-purpose, but it is still a big step toward improved immersion. 3D-visors could also be used in third-person games like The Legend of Zelda. Again, the image would be outputted to feature a very nice 3D-effect, but additionally, by moving your head you could look around inside the world of Hyrule, while your neutral head-position would be locked onto Link, the game-character. That would create a different feeling of immersion compared to the above mentioned first-person-experience, and it´d remove the need of camera control. Simply look around to change your field of vision.

Virtual Reality

In the end, where 3D-visors would succeed in is making the old wish of a virtual reality come true. So many books and movies gave us impressions of what such virtual realities could be like, see Tron, Digimon or The Matrix. It´d be the ultimate dream-machine, letting you experience whatever you want, but cannot in reality. It´s such an enormous thing that wouldn´t only impact the gaming industry, but potentially every single human´s life. When everyone can have any experience, it could change the way we treat our life, our sense for working, our demand for certain wishes. You wouldn´t need to be a millionaire to drive a Ferrari. Just hop into your virtual reality and drive on. Just like that. Of course, visors alone wouldn´t make that experience. There´s also the control interface that needed to be worked on, but seeing how motion-controls are becoming standard on video game system, that shouldn´t be a problem in the future. And even then, the most important part of creating a virtual reality are the visuals, the 3D-effects, the free-look. The hardware for that experience is expensive, but at least it seems people will be getting used to wearing glasses, with 3DTVs forcing you to wear these. It´s an exciting time we´re living in, from an entertainment point of view, and by writing this article I wanted to give all the people that didn´t know that much about the often mentioned visors more insight into the topic, and, most importantly, why a lot of people love the idea of using them in video games. Visors are talked about so often, so hopefully you now have a clearer picture about the whole fascination.


Magic made real – Future technologies beyond Minority Report

February 20, 2010

If I had the choice, I´d love to live in a world full of fantasy and magic – you know, with all kinds of exploration and cool visual elements. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a Mana Tree or something else that helps us using magic. But there is an alternative way, a way made possible by our modern reality. Or near future reality, to be more precise. It´s advanced technology that has the potential of creating a world full of seemingly magical elements.

I wanted to talk about this topic for a long time, since it is something that could change our world on a fundamental basis. Originally, I planned to use the anime “Dennou Coil” as a sole example for what I´m going to talk about, but I´ll gladly admit that I underestimated fellow tech-fans. It´s because of those people and their commitment to their joy of exploring new technical advancements that I can provide you this article today. From here on, I´d like to simply present you three actually under-development examples of projects that could bring us closer to a world of fantasy, using technology instead of mana.

The main feature of the anime “Dennou Coil” was that the characters in that fictional reality all are wearing glasses. Special data glasses, that are made of a transparence material, but let you see virtual content that is integrated into your surrounding real world seamlessly. It isn´t explained in detail of how it worked in that anime-series; one could imagine that the glasses work in combination with very precise GPS-technology and miniature camera-tracking devices. That way, the glasses allow the characters to see virtual pet dogs running in front of them as if they existed in reality. All that while the real environment is also integrated into the digital world, meaning that your virtual pet dog won´t be able to run right through a real tree or wall. Now imagine that instead of integrating a virtual pet dog we´re integrating a giant dragon and you finally get a grasp of what I meant when I was talking about making magic real.

The first of the three real “existing” examples (set in quotation marks because they´re either just concepts, yet, or rather far off from being available for mass usage) that I´d like to show you comes from some Israeli comedy TV-show. It isn´t a realized concept and the video is “fake”, to say so, but it shows off a really great concept. Instead of sleek glasses like those from the above mentioned anime-show, here you have to wear a rather big apparatus, consisting of a camera and visor. The camera captures the environment, while the visor integrates virtual content accordingly to the camera´s input data. As can be seen in the following video, that allows for shooter-games to take place in reality. Poor paintball-manufacturer would probably lose their jobs – but it´d be awesome nonetheless. See for yourself:

Video: Augmented Reality Game Example – Future of Augmented Reality Gaming

The next example is something that is actually worked on for mass market usage – and, according to the leader of Oblong Industries, being used in companies already. That company´s leader is John Underkoffler, who created the concept of the popular Minority Report´s computer system for Steven Spielberg´s movie. He founded Oblong Industries and then attempted to make the fictional idea reality – and succeeded. The project´s name is g-speak and works exactly like you would imagine it, if you´ve seen the Tom Cruise-starring movie. The technology used for g-speak goes beyond mouse and keybord and let´s the user interact by just their fingers´ movements. Videos can show this better than words, so just click the next link and scroll down a bit to find two videos, showcasing the g-speak-technology. Maybe he´s a bit overly confidend, but Underkoffler said he thinks the average PC-user might be able to get this technology in about five years. It´d be great if true, but it is already great to see someone working on this stuff at all.

Video: Minority Report is real – the g-speak technology

I guess you think how anything could top the above stuff. But here comes Pranav Mistry, a genius guy from India, and his project SixthSense. Again, just watch the video below to see exactly what it is, though only a few words: The SixthSense-technology consists of a mobile camera-and-projector-device that you wear somewhere on the front of your body. Meanwhile, the tips of your pointy- and middle fingers will have to be marked by the use of color. Pattie Maes, who works together with Mistry at the MIT Media Lab, said that you could just color your fingernails and it´d work. What SixthSense does, is that it recognices typical gestures of your hands and inputs data accordingly. The most impressive scene from the demo is when Mistry does the usual photo-taking gesture, just the gesture without a camera in his hand, and the picture IS taken. Now, that is only part of what makes this technology so groundbreaking: With help of the projector ANY surface becomes your operating area. You can browse the photo you have just taken moments ago, or you could write or do whatever you want. The final, and most important, part of SixthSense, though, is its real-time connectivity to information. You go to the super market, grab a box of eggs, and on the surface of the egg box, it´d show you if the eggs are from an ecological friendly producer. And you could click onto the information on that surface to gain further information. This really makes it a connection of the real and the virtual world. And now watch the video to see even more fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, Pattie Maes is more realistic about future release dates for this technology, and it might take ten years or more for SixthSense to arrive on the mass market. On the plus side, Pranav Mistry said how this technology wouldn´t be more expensive than your typical cell phone and would be easy to mass manufacture.

Video: Pranav Mistry presenting SixthSense-technology at TED

So this is the technology to watch out for. Who knows, maybe it´ll be videogames that will help one of these technologies to reach the mass market. We already have the Wii´s gesture controls, that have been improved upon by MotionPlus just last year, and Microsoft is even closer to the above concepts with its upcoming project Natal. We cannot know for sure, but however way, knowing that technology like the above IS in the works makes me incredibly happy – and excited.