Michael Jackson made an attempt. "Spy Kids" gave it a shot. They even tried it with "Jaws." And later this year, VH1's "I Love the '80s" and NBC's "Medium" will take their own stabs at it. But after decades that have established 3-D as little more than a cardboard fad, will the screen interpretation of the third dimension finally prove to pop best in video games?
This fall, PlayStation 2 owners are getting a chance to see if a thieving raccoon named Sly Cooper can succeed where "Captain EO" and a bloodthirsty shark failed. "Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves," which was released last week, will allow gamers to play levels in 3-D.
In a sewer beneath the game's Venice, Italy, streets, a player wearing the packed-in glasses (or any other red-and-cyan spectacle they have from the last time the fad rolled through) will see dust specks and laser beams seemingly emerge from their TV screens. As they dash the character from screen-left to screen-right through a rotating cylindrical cage, the turning metal-work might seem close enough for a couch-bound player to touch. And in a different stage, with the player's point of view trailing Sly's zooming biplane, leaves, smoke and assorted detritus might cause a flinch or two.
Or at least that's the hope.
For the last two years, Bruce Oberg — co-founder of "Sly" developer Sucker Punch — has been trying, initially in his spare time, to figure out a way to do 3-D gaming right.
"3-D movies have given 3-D a bad rap, because they give people headaches a lot," Oberg told MTV News, politely avoiding any mention of most of those films' critical response. 3-D games haven't fared much better. Game developers have found ways to make gaming work — commercially and critically — with dance pads, external cameras and microphone headsets, but 3-D has been a frontier explored and abandoned with little lasting success.
One of the only even marginally well-known 3-D games, the 1987 Nintendo Entertainment System title "Rad Racer," offered an optional 3-D mode that didn't do enough to establish a following. "It was a noble attempt," said Oberg. "But it was pretty hard to see any 3-D stuff."
Oberg said old 3-D games, as few as there were, hadn't even been his inspiration for the "Sly" experiment. When he was young his grandfather had introduced him to stereo photography, a technique that involves placing two nearly identical photos — shot in close parallel to each other — in a device that forces a viewer's left eye to focus on the left, the right on the right. The result is the illusion of a three-dimensional image.
During the development of 2004's "Sly 2: Band of Thieves" Oberg decided he might be able to recreate the effect in a video game. He figured that the game's "camera" could depict two views of the action, shifted just slightly off from each other, and gamers with red-and-cyan glasses would see 3-D. Unfortunately it didn't work.
"When you're doing 3-D, there are like six different things you have to do right otherwise it looks all flicker-y and you get a headache or something," he said. It turned out that the game's two camera angles had to converge; colors needed to be tricked out. Plus there were problems with Sly, whose blue outfit was disappearing in 3-D glasses' cyan right lenses but not through the red one on the left.
The 3-D idea was cut from the game. But as development for "Sly 3" began, Oberg returned to the idea. He did a few more tweaks and worked with the rest of the development team to create parts of the game that would really pop. In theory, the gondola chase through Venice would provide a "Star Wars" trench run rush when played in 3-D. The result wasn't as good as Oberg had hoped.
But the biplane level sparkled, as did a "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"-inspired treetop battle in the game's China. He seemed to have pulled it off.
As the Electronic Entertainment Expo approached in May, Oberg was excited but uncertain how the trade show crowds would respond. "The big fear was people were going to put on the glasses and say, 'I don't see anything' and walk away," he said. Instead the response was overwhelmingly positive. "That was the happiest moment for me, knowing that we figured out a way where the vast majority of people would see it and it would work. And we didn't have people vomiting on the floor right there."
With the game now in stores, gamers can decide how well it truly works. Each of the game's globe-spanning levels includes several missions, one of which is specifically designed to be played in 3-D (but can be played normally, for the un-bespectacled).
A video game trend may be under way. Gamers in Japan will get another shot at 3-D gaming. The Japanese version of this fall's PlayStation Portable "Metal Gear Ac!d 2" will be bundled with a brick-shaped viewfinder dubbed the "Solid Eye." The device functions like 3-D glasses, according to a representative from the game's publisher, Konami. Because Solid Eye attaches to the front of a PSP, gamers used to playing their handheld gamers while resting the system in their lap will instead have to hold the set-up to their face as if they were using binoculars. It may sound unusual, but the same development studio behind "Ac!d 2" also created the "Boktai" series for Game Boy Advance. Those games included a solar sensor and required players to fight in-game vampires with sunlight collected in the real world.
Unlike "Sly 3," all of "Ac!d 2" can be played in 3-D, if players choose the option. The game disc will even include movies from "Metal Gear Solid 3" specifically encoded to be viewed in 3-D. A Konami representative could not confirm whether the Solid Eye device will be released in the U.S.