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Another dimension

As 3D continues it’s rise to prominence, Chris Lines is introduced to 888.com’s 3D casino and sees plenty of potential for future growth in a gaming experience that is already pretty good

Three dimensions are the new big thing, in TV, movies and the internet; universally hailed by all and sundry with gaudy, florid adjectives normally reserved for estate agents, drama students and Stuart Hall. “If you haven’t watched a football match in 3D yet,” purred Sky Sports anchor Richard Keys recently, “it’s sensational – trust me.” Trust him I did, donning my 3D glasses and coming away underwhelmed. Apart from when they use the fancy-pants 3D pitch-side camera on throw-ins, it’s really not that remarkable; the technology isn’t ready. And as for all of these made-for-3D movies like Piranha 3D, don’t get me started. Drop me in a frothing tank full-to-brim with gnashing, bloodthirsty fish before making me watch that sort of silly drivel. As you can probably tell, I am thus far unconvinced by 3D.

The only place I feel it’s working well so far is online. The nerd in me really wants to like the virtual world Second Life, though my 30-minute dalliance there was disappointing due to my mid-range laptop not being able to handle the graphics. But when it comes to gambling, I like it. I’ve been playing on PKR for well over two years now and enjoy its combination of enjoyable gameplay, winnable poker games and the ability to create a preposterous-looking virtual version of myself.

This made me the ideal person to send along to 888.com’s technology partners Digital Strip Ltd, for an introduction to 888’s new 3D casino. Digital Strip director Geoff Pearce welcomed me in from the bracing winter chill and ushered me to a meeting room for a demonstration of the software.

We start off (virtually, I mean) in the lobby area and I’m immediately warming to a design that is sleek, minimalist and modern. It’s all browser-based, which means it’s fine on a PC or a Mac, and you can move your 3D avatar around using keyboard or mouse depending on your preference. There’s roulette, blackjack and 10 different slots available as you walk around the casino. “It doesn’t take up a great deal of system memory,” says Pearce. “So as long as your computer was purchased in the last four years you should have no problems running it at all.”

As you move around the virtual casino, the most commonly used functions are all clickable at the bottom of the screen, while a handy ‘i’ button is good for first-time players. The toolbar meanwhile is dynamic depending on whether you’re in a roulette, blackjack or slots area of the casino.

The avatars themselves look decent enough. You won’t have your mind blown by the technical wizardry, but they’re a solid platform on which 888 can build in the coming years. Your avatar can make gestures (selected from a drop-down list), while anything you type into the chat bar appears above your avatar’s head. In this way, the casino’s virtual reality social network has some promise to develop into something pretty good. The chat is restricted to the room that you’re in, though you can private message a buddy. It’s little touches like this, and the fact that you can change a slot machine terminal to a different game, avoiding having to walk to another one, that give the casino the playability of a computer game but plenty of the look and feel of a real casino.

The ability to personalise is, of course, essential for any virtual reality to be immersive and fun. At 888, you can tinker with your avatar to your heart’s content, dressing them in the clothes you want, with the hair and features of your choosing. And if you get stuck with anything, 888 employ virtual moderators to be on hand and help players with anything they need.

This social aspect of the 3D casino is a top priority for 888 as they look to provide a gaming experience to satisfy today’s interaction-hungry internet users. “We’ll look to have more games that enhance social interaction,” says Pearce. “And maybe we’ll have a bar, where people can ‘meet’ and communicate with each other, buy each other a virtual drink, and so on.” It might sound rather silly if gaming and social networking are not your bag – but this is just a nod to the popularity of Second Life and other virtual realities. Just because 888 is a casino, why wouldn’t people want to buy each other a pixel-based cocktail? In the same way that people who love playing The Sims care about what their creations wear, eat, how they act and who they get up close and personal with.

The future looks promising for this venture in 3D from 888. “The architecture lends itself to a multi-tier environment, and we can re-skin things very easily,” says Pearce. So who knows, perhaps in time there will be poker, bingo, sports betting – all housed inside 888’s 3D casino. I just hope there isn’t some sort of virtual Richard Keys to keep telling me how wonderful it all is – that would be my virtual dystopia.
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