Retronauts Special #3 – Live From TooManyGames 2014

As promised, we went on our east coast journey for this volume of Retronauts, and we’ve come back with this recording of our panel at TooManyGames 2014, titled The Life and Times of the 3DO.

Retronauts never covered 3DO (the company nor the platform) in earnest, and for us and many other game nerds, it’s been the butt of a joke. However, the system was not exactly DOA, despite some obvious stumbles out of the gate. And after doing a bunch of work writing about Warp, who started on 3DO, I thought it would make a good, fun episode that could, in fact, fit in a 60-minute convention panel.

I took a less casual approach with the panel than we have in the past, with an A-to-Z presentation that hits some key historical facts about the 3DO, from Trip Hawkins’ attempt to shake up the industry, and onward to a selection of 3DO games worth talking about. (There’s nearly nothing mentioned in the talk that requires you see it — and if so, there’s the video links below — but for the sake of completion, I’ve uploaded a hastily-exported PDF of the slides).

Though TooManyGames’ panel rooms were small compared to other venues we’ve been, the place was nearly full and everyone seemed to have a good time. Thanks to everyone who came, and suggested TMG to us in the first place. As for the rest of you, enjoy the show!

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Videos used and referenced in the show:

20 thoughts on “Retronauts Special #3 – Live From TooManyGames 2014

  1. Was really sad to have missed this show with it only being an hour from my place. Either way, was nice to get to hear it regardless of being there or not. Would be cool to have you guys at another East Coast show in the future. You probably hear it a lot, but MAGFest is worth looking into if you guys plan on continuing your tours (by doing another Kickstarter or what have you).

    Ray at Jeremy “Have you been listening?” Haha ouch. Jeremy recovered from that though.

      • Someone needed to be up there showing all the people in the crowd how to dress.

        I thought Ray did a great job taking charge of this, he had a certain enthusiasm in his voice that you don’t hear on the regular episodes. But maybe by for future live shows where you keep this format, each of you could drive your own segments about the subject in order to kind of pass it along to each other so it’s not so dominated by one of you? Still, I enjoyed it regardless, like I said beforehand!

  2. Hey guys, just wanted to chime in on a small detail regarding the output resolution of 3DO.

    This is actually one of its largest hardware flaws and is likely the result of its multimedia aspirations. You see, the system was only capable of 480i interlaced output. The problem is that *ALL* of its gaming content was actually rendered internally at 320×240 rather than 640×480. It was a perfect fit for proper 240p output but the hardware instead interlaced everything. The result? Flicker and degradation of image quality.

    On interlaced displays 240p is basically a trick to create a progressive image by using a low resolution. This created a stable image that we know and love with retro systems. When using higher resolutions, however, an interlaced mode was utilized. On PlayStation 2 developers used a special field-rendering mode which would alternate odd and even scanlines to allow for higher performance with a lower overall resolution. This is where the “jaggies” came from. Dreamcast, Xbox, and the like all employed flicker filters in 480i to combat this (in addition to using a full frame-buffer for everything) which was often mistaken as “anti-aliasing”.

    With 3DO, by using 480i without any flicker filtering, and sticking with resolutions better suited to 240p you end up with an image lacking any of the benefits you’d get from using a higher resolution output. On modern scalers, such as the XRGB, this actually creates severe issues in which the normally sharp pixels become distorted and blurry in motion. The results are quite hideous. On a proper CRT the scanlines don’t actually line up properly with the pixels either giving the impression that the pixels aren’t evenly distributed.

    So, while the specs may claim a maximum resolution of 640×480, this was never really used by any of its software and its output was ultimately limited by this as a result.

    Loved the episode!

    • [3DO output resolution] is actually one of its largest hardware flaws and is likely the result of its multimedia aspirations. You see, the system was only capable of 480i interlaced output. The problem is that *ALL* of its gaming content was actually rendered internally at 320×240 rather than 640×480. It was a perfect fit for proper 240p output but the hardware instead interlaced everything. The result? Flicker and degradation of image quality.

      Sort of correct, but incomplete. 3DO did 480i because that was the NTSC video standard, meaning it would be compatible with every NTSC consumer video device known to man (some VCRs wouldn’t record the 240p/60 spewed out by other consoles; even to this day, some modern video capture devices are confused by it).

      The resolution most often used internally was indeed 320×240. However, the hardware had configurable interpolation filters to up-sample the image to 640×480. Subjectively, however, some people thought the resulting image looked blurry, and some games got into the habit of turning the filters off to get a sharper picture, at the expense of increased flicker. (Indeed, the vertical interpolation is a preferences setting in the pack-in title Crash and Burn.)

      On interlaced displays 240p is basically a trick to create a progressive image by using a low resolution.

      What it is is non-standard video that just happened to be accepted by nearly all TVs — just one of the NTSC fields repeated over and over again.

      When using higher resolutions, however, an interlaced mode was utilized. On PlayStation 2 developers used a special field-rendering mode which would alternate odd and even scanlines to allow for higher performance with a lower overall resolution. This is where the “jaggies” came from. Dreamcast, Xbox, and the like all employed flicker filters in 480i to combat this (in addition to using a full frame-buffer for everything) which was often mistaken as “anti-aliasing”.

      I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to be comparing the 3DO’s video and rendering capabilities to consoles that were designed and manufactured five to eight years later — that’s at least four iterations of Moore’s Law raising chip densities and crushing the cost of components down. And, as I pointed out earlier, the 3DO did have a flicker filter, whose usage was optional.

      With 3DO, by using 480i without any flicker filtering, and sticking with resolutions better suited to 240p you end up with an image lacking any of the benefits you’d get from using a higher resolution output. On modern scalers, such as the XRGB, this actually creates severe issues in which the normally sharp pixels become distorted and blurry in motion. The results are quite hideous. On a proper CRT the scanlines don’t actually line up properly with the pixels either giving the impression that the pixels aren’t evenly distributed.

      Then I must have a not-modern scaler, as the 3DO looks good enough on my Samsung HD DLP. And I’d like to see this CRT showing alignment issues, because 3DO’s signal was checked and tested on broadcast-quality equipment. (I had a ridiculously expensive Sony “broadcast reference” monitor in my cube, which never displayed 3DO’s signal other than perfectly.)

      I suppose 3DO should be flattered that you’re primarily comparing it to the following generation, rather than the consoles from its own generation (Sega Saturn, Sony PS1, Atari Jaguar). Just be aware that such comparisons will necessarily be uneven.

  3. Is 3DO emulation any good? I am deeply curious but scared to buy one, the things are terribly unreliable and quite expensive nowadays.

  4. I question the distribution of this thing. Was it sold only at electronic retailers like other high end, stereo – type equipment? I was admittedly a bit young for the 3DO’s prime, but I have never seen the thing in the wild, even when it would have been clearance product. (Disclaimer: I grew up in Kentucky, not exactly the technology epicenter.)

    • The only place I ever saw one on the wild was in a TV and stereo store in a mall in Florida. And it didn’t really impress me. That and the price was pretty shocking.

  5. The Saturn port of Road Rash is righteous. If you’re thinking of getting a 3DO just for that… maybe don’t.

  6. It was really cool to meet you guys, all I really knew about 3DO prior to this was that they made a million army man games.

    Anyone play The apple 2 in the convention center?

  7. Loved the episode, Ray’s presentation was great, he didn’t made me want to buy a 3DO (very few thing would justify getting one I think), but made me want to check out the games he listed as being good 3DO titles.

    I only missed mentioning The Need For Speed, even though the game was ported to multiple consoles later it began as a 3DO game.

  8. Wish I could have made it to the live show. Still enjoyed listening to the episode. I really didn’t know much about the system aside from it being kinda expensive.

  9. I remember seeing it in a JC Penny catalog some time later and being shocked by the price as well.

  10. When I was seventeeeeeeen
    I made my dad buy a 3DOoooooo
    I used all the points Trip Hawkins used
    when he was on t veeeeeee
    My Dad finally agreeeeeeed
    we stayed up n played Need for Speeeeeeed
    when I was seventeeeeeeeeeen.

  11. Good live show. Now all we need is for you guys to come to Chicago.

    I like the comment about the mating of the Genesis and Super NES controller–I’ve never really even noticed that. Now looking back at it, though, 3d0 was probably in a better position than the PSone was in, considering the hoopla surrounding it. I guess if they had acquired that one killer app it may have had a better chance. Oh well…I did like Slam and Jam, though.

  12. I also knew a guy in grade school that had one, but I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of the machine. He was kind of a jerk.

    I had no idea the library was as big as it apparently was. Good stuff, guys

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