gdc 2015

Epic Boss Tim Sweeney: VR Destined For A Better Fate Than 3D

by Matt Bertz on Mar 10, 2015 at 10:01 AM

Read a story on the promise of virtual reality on this or another website, and you will inevitably come across a reader comment dismissing the head-mounted tech as another gimmick, just like the failed push to make 3D a destination experience for gaming, film, and television. Epic Games boss Tim Sweeney thinks comparing the two is apples to oranges.

"Well 3D televisions were this concept that could never really work properly," Sweeney says. "You have a screen in a physical location in the world and there is only one point where that is going to look right for the viewer. If you are further away from that point, then your eyes are converging on the wrong location and that’s completely wrong and if you’re off center from the point it’s going to look completely wrong. So everything about the 3D movies is wrong unless you are standing in one magical position and that’s kind of an abomination that the content industry and the movie industry especially never recognized how wrong that was and when it had marketing on all these products with a deeply flawed experience, you’re going to have very high expectations of reality. The moment you go beyond just a 2D image on a screen your brain circuits kick in that this is supposed to be reality and if it is not perfect it is incredibly jarring."

This technical limitation is one of several reasons why 3D came crashing back to earth after the considerable push from tech manufacturers in 2010. After a chilly consumer reaction, content creators abandoned 3D programming, developers shied away from making it a central part of the game design, and manufacturers eventually abandoned the promise of 3D for more marketable features like ultra high definition displays and smart TVs. Virtual reality may ultimately prove a tough sell as well to some consumers, but Sweeney doesn't think it will be derailed by technical limitations.   

"With VR you are in that one magical position, your eyes are properly located relative to the screen so you have to control of each frame of the image for every viewer of the game which does not happen with a lot of people sitting in a theater and so it can be done perfectly," Sweeney says. "The only barriers to doing it perfectly are the latency of the hardware, the resolution of the screen, and the quality of the objects. All these are human engineering parameters that will be improved over time. I think we will be at a point where in 10 years the quality of the hardware and the polish it has achieved will be so high that it will be genuinely indistinguishable from reality."