There’s been a lot of attention on the upcoming VR headsets such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Sony’s newly-announced Project Morpheus. Following its unveiling at GDC a couple of months ago, Sony has their new VR experiment on display at E3 2014 in Los Angeles, and we got to try it out yesterday.
The Project Morpheus set up is pretty much identical to what they did at GDC, however due to the volume of people at E3 they are handling the demos with a bit of control. Instead of just having an endless line, Sony hands out return tickets at the start of the day with a return time when you can check out the headset. As there are only a limited number of hours each day of E3, they tend to run out of these tickets within ten or twenty minutes.
Sony had a couple of demos to show off the headset. One was a street luge where you sat on a small pad/chair on the floor that allowed you to lean left and right. Another was a knight with a training dummy and you stood up with two Move controllers to interact with the demo. I played the knight demo.
As you cannot see anything with the headset on, Sony has someone guiding you through the whole thing at each demo station. First you have the headset put on, and it adjusts to a perfect seal against your face. This isn’t like a HMD that just has a big screen hanging in front of your eyes, it’s a lot like a scuba mask with how it rests on your face. When tightened on your head, the whole world is blocked out except for what you see in the headset.
Following the headset is a pair of headphones that support directional audio, so if you hear something over your right shoulder you can look that direction and see it. Then you have to grip the two Move controllers. Since you can’t see the real world while in this virtual castle courtyard, the demo guy has you hold out your hands as he places the controllers in each one. Then when looking down you can see two disembodied armored hands and pressing the trigger on the controllers will open and close the grip allowing you to interact with objects in the world.
The first part of the demo has you pulling the dummy towards you and basically punching and slapping it to see how it interacts. I assume this is just to get you used to flailing your arms with the Move controllers. Following that you can turn to your left or right to find a weapon rack over your shoulder, and then reach out with your arms and grab a sword in each hand. The swords can chop off the limbs and head of the training dummy, so you spend a few minutes destroying the dummy prior to your right hand weapon switching to a flail.
After you have some fun beating up the dummy with the flail, you’re given a crossbow. There are targets in front of you, but if you look around you can find other things to shoot. Hit a soft target and the bolt will stick, turn to your left and shoot the bronze statue and they’ll ricochet off. You can look down the iron sights of the crossbow by pulling the controller up to your face. The demo ends with a huge dragon landing and eating you as you look up at it.
Obviously you’re wondering what the experience was like. The full 360 degree world is very impressive. Looking left, right, up, down, or even turning around reveals seamless visuals. Even at this first preview version Morpheus doesn’t have the scan-lines issues that people complained about in the earlier versions of the Oculus Rift (which has apparently been fixed in the HD version). The graphics in the knight demo were about what you’d expect from a PS4 demo meant to show off functionality as opposed to cutting-edge graphics.
What surprised me the most was that I couldn’t detect any latency in either the head tracking or the Move tracking. The Morpheus has a light bar like the Dual Shock 4, and of course the Move controllers have the light balls. It’s tracked by the PS4 camera and a smaller box that the headset runs to, and the whole experience felt pretty smooth and seamless. At this early stage of the VR project, that’s very promising for the finished consumer version.
People have been raving about the Oculus Rift for a while now, and Sony seems to be in a good position to provide something just as impressive for PS4 owners. VR is finally getting to that stage that people had hoped for, and don’t be surprised to see something similar come out of Microsoft within the next year. This is a very exciting new frontier for gaming, and after trying Morpheus I found myself walking around the E3 floor and seeing lots of FPS games (Evolve, Call of Duty, etc.) and wondering how much cooler they would be in a full 360 degree VR setting.