Sony’s Virtual Reality headset reveal was a bit strange, a bit brave, and a bit incredible. Sony’s “next innovation” – a virtual reality headset for the PS4 by the name of Project Morpheus came almost from nowhere in a talk at GDC. No stream, but an Apple-esque reveal behind closed doors. We’ve heard rumblings of this for years, but didn’t expect such a final looking prototype – and it is still a prototype – this soon.
According to The Verge, who liveblogged the event, Yoshida showed a slide titled Virtual Reality before stating: “VR has been a dream of many gamers since the computer was invented. Many of us at PlayStation have dreamed of VR and what it could mean to the gaming community.”
This is something that they’ve clearly been experimenting with since PlayStation Move, taping some familiar looking orbs to their own 3D viewer headsets to get started. It sounds like a simple and neat solution, and something genuinely exciting. While it didn’t provide the immersion they wanted, it was a good beginning for their headset which they could refine over several years.
And now, that headset has been revealed as Project Morpheus, a VR system for use with the PS4. It’s a really sleek looking piece of equipment, with lights shining brightly for tracking by the PS Camera. This is part of why you’ve got that lightbar on the PS4. It’s definitely a prototype, but according to Yoshida, it’s “a good representation of how PlayStation will deliver VR.”
The reason they’ve unveiled it at GDC is that they’re still looking for developer feedback and for people to get on board. Yoshida also mentioned Oculus’ and Valve’s own systems, saying that it “shows how all of us as an industry can rally around a new medium like VR to push gaming forward.”
They’re even teaming up with NASA, which should make people with PS4s at home feel as though they’re with them when they discover new places. It sounds amazing, and will link in with Curiosity on Mars. We’re going to explore Mars. Or perhaps even the moon – NASA’s own Project Morpheus is a vertical landing test vehicle.
Richard Marks, from Sony’s Magic Lab, even teases that VR will be used for things you won’t expect. Who knows what that could mean exactly, but the NASA connection could provide a hint. It perhaps means that Sony are ready to move beyond games. Games have already been done by the name-checked Oculus, but what Sony’s wider plans are is still a mystery.
Sight, sound, tracking, control, ease of use, content. These are the main focuses when developing this VR kit.
Optics are key for sight, and they’ll be merging this with real world similarities in the sound to create the best experience possible. With the PS4’s enhanced graphical prowess, this seems doable. Beyond that, it’s all about the gameplay functionality – which the PS4 is already pushing with the DualShock 4’s inputs.
But it’s really PlayStation Move and the PS Camera which provide the basis for the tracking here. “Interaction is what makes games games. PS Move is already a really good VR controller,” said Richard Marks, continuing, “we’re really happy with our positioning in control here.” As for ease of use, you’ll be able to practically plug and play, one of their primary aims alongside comfort.
But content plays a huge part too. They have partners already, including game companies such a Crytek and Epic Games, engine creators with Havok and Unity, and then even Autodesk and software companies beyond that. They’re at a place where they can afford to make these connections, and what strong connections they are.
This is a new medium. It’s something still in its infancy, but their focus is on giving you the feeling of presence within games rather than literal design. Some game designs just won’t work, and Sony are planning to work around that in order to create the best experience. It’s all about framerate, calibration, rendering and 3D audio here, to increase the sense of immersion within the game. Everything has to be engineered to trick the brain into believing what it is seeing, which means that VR has to cater to your other sense as well.
Something that comes to mind is the fact that VR is most obviously applicable to first person games. These have expanded from shooter games into more and more genres recently, with some Oculus games already showing a brilliant sense of presence. We’ll still see third person or other views, but creating these with sense of presence will be a challenge – like an out-of-body experience. It will be an interesting thing that I’m sure we’ll see tackled in many ways over the next few years.
Project Morpheus feels like a culmination of everything Sony have been experimenting with through the last generation. PlayStation Move, 3D visuals, their head-mounted viewers and beyond. To bring these together in such a well-realised manner is extremely impressive, and truly feels like a good move for Sony.
And the name? It’s derived from the same place as the character in The Matrix, since Morpheus is the God of dreams and the headset presents the prospect of a dream-like reality. 1080p, 90 degree field of view, 60fps and a whole lot more in terms of immersion. This is ultimately the future of play, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next.
Images source: Geoff Keighley