At PAX Prime 2015 last weekend, I got a chance to try out Sony’s virtual reality system for the first time. Running on a PlayStation 4 and using a pair of Move controllers, the headset codenamed Project Morpheus was shown off with a variety of demonstrations with themes such as horror and a kitchen environment.
I opted for a heist scenario in which a getaway driver and I tried to escape a flotilla of assailants on pursuit vehicles, which sounded like the best combination of movement and action for a short demo with the Project Morpheus hardware. Using the Move controllers to represent each hand and their respective triggers to hold or release grip, the level sent waves of enemies that required my shotgun riding character to grab virtual clips, fire a hail of bullets and repeat to survive the firefight through the highways of London. The experience of grabbing clips from the side compartment or the glovebox (which I had to open myself with a pinch and pull action) is quite memorable as I eventually figured out a balance of firing at enemies and shifting clips from the side onto the car dashboard for easy accessibility as the mission progressed. There was a fluidity and responsiveness to the input that was really exciting, I can imagine some amazing experiences when paired with iconic Sony franchises such as Uncharted or Metal Gear Solid from a first person perspective and the Project Morpheus hardware system.
The car itself also contains various points of interaction, allowing the player to open the door while in motion (but don’t fall out!), open the glovebox, tweak the air flow grates and more with a simple pinch of a Move trigger and utilizing any of the six degrees of motion for feedback. I tried throwing clips at the motorcycle riding enemies or slamming them with my car door to test the limits of the simulation, but neither had a noticeable effect on their behaviour.
Project Morpheus showed a lot of promise with its combination of a long developed headset and tactile input controllers for an experience running on in-market consumer hardware. There are still some visual quality issues to need improvement to match the fidelity of the Oculus Rift based on the demo I tried, but the team at Sony has a strong foundation to build upon.
Aside from a couple of minutes on a DK1 at the beginning of the year, I had never experienced a modern virtual reality headset experience before PAX Prime 2015. That brief exposure in April on deprecated hardware was still impressive as I looked around a virtual movie theatre and a sunny city intersection, it captured my imagination in a way that only other quantum leaps in fidelity and/or uniqueness like the arrival of high definition had accomplished. After spending some time with the consumer version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, I am confident that this will be the next exponential leap.
The headset itself is minimalist: a snug visor that houses a pair of discrete viewing screens, an adjustable strap that wraps around your head and hinge mounted head sets that swing down onto your ears after everything else is in place. It’s really tight, requiring multiple attempts to wedge the headset over my glasses without squishing my face and the expert help of a second person to Velcro strap it into place; there will be a learning curve for users who need to put on and disengage the headset on their own upon release. Grabbing a controller (which I used) or a Oculus Touch (which I didn’t get to try) will be challenging for home users until a deployment pattern is established, fortunately the event staff were on hand to carefully pass an Xbox One controller before each experience launched.
I opted for the most vivid, sensory stimulating demos available and E.V.E. Valkyrie fit the bill as space combat simulator with a full 360 degree range of motion and fast paced action to show off the Rift hardware. This is a great demo to start with: the user interface overlay has an augmented reality design that seamlessly displays info to the pilot, the enemy ships zoom around with an impressive awareness of their surroundings and the full 360 degree of movement and action is the perfect experience to swivel around and look at the world in. This style of virtual combat should translate well into Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and a whole host of other space combat games that need a freedom of movement and level of immersion that hadn’t previously been possible.
In stark contrast is Edge of Nowhere, a title being developed by Insomniac Games as a deliberately paced adventure. The demo combined platforming with a pronounced clamber effect for getting up onto edges, a deliberate stride for your character and a smart mix of in-game lighting sources such as a lantern and the sunlight filtered through the atmosphere of an arctic tundra. The game displays the Rift’s capability to use the player’s point of view independently of the controls with effects such as vignetting around the visible area to emphasize a climactic ending sequence which is better left unspoiled.
Going back to trying older headsets such as the DK2 at smaller demonstration is trying: the video resolution, refresh rate, parallax effect handling and other elements of the virtual reality experience has been noticeably improved with each iteration of the Rift hardware. The upcoming commercial release of the Oculus Rift is poised to be a paradigm shifting device with a combination of world class hardware, stellar technical talent such as John Carmack and the strong financial backing of Facebook puts Oculus at the forefront of the virtual reality revolution.