Yesterday, Sony entered the virtual reality fray by announcing Project Morpheus , a new virtual reality initiative aimed at making a VR headset for the PS4. Today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Stephen Totilo and I swung by Sony's booth to check it out.
In a private meeting with Sony's Anton Mikhailov and Jeff Stafford, we both tried out a couple of game demos and got a good feel for the headset. Here's what the setup looks like backstage:
There you can see a full array of PS4 peripherals -- a DualShock 4 controller, PlayStation Camera, the Morpheus headset prototype, and the A/V box that will split out the headset's signal to make it mirror to a TV or other screen.
Here are a couple of close-ups of the headset:
Stephen went first, to play a demo of EVE Valkyrie, an outer-space starship shooter set in the EVE Online universe. The fit of the headset was interesting:
As you can see, it's designed to put most of the weight on the user's head, and tightens from the plastic connector in the back. The actual eyepiece hangs from a sort of halo headband, and needs to be adjusted flush up against the user's face.
Here's another shot of Stephen using it:
Video time. In this first video, we get a close look at the Morpheus headset:
In the second video, I try out a demo called The Deep, developed by Sony's London Studio, with the Morpheus on my head and a PS4 controller in my hand:
Playing The Deep does effectively give you the sense that you're actually standing in a shark tank, gradually descending into the murky depths. It's not for the faint of heart, though it might be good for some people (cough Luke Plunkett cough) to confront their fear of sharks. I do wish I could've gotten that damned flare gun to hurt the shark.
After our demo, Stephen and I spoke with Sony head of worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida and Richard Marks, chief researcher at Sony's Magic Lab. We talked about their plans for the headset and the future of VR on PS4. A few specifics:
- They gave no price, not even a ballpark for the final version.
- They described a pretty cool scenario where you'd run a cable out of the headset's A/V box to your TV and see a single-screen version of the VR game on that screen. A second player could then grab a controller and play a game along with the VR player. As an example, Yoshida said that in The Deep, a second player can control the path of a turtle that swims around the diving cage. He said that VR offered a lot of possibilities for asynchronous gaming similar to the Wii U, with several players playing on the TV taking on the VR player. The setup will allow for four controllers, and while the headset currently counts for one of them, Marks said that they're still figuring out whether it will always be that way.
- They're not distributing advance or prototype headsets for PC indie developers, for now it will be only for developers making games on PS4.
- Yoshida confirmed that the commercial release will not happen in 2014.
- Yoshida said that Sony is working on dedicated gaming experiences for Morpheus, indicating that Sony's approach will involve making games that are just for Morpheus and would also explore allowing there to be Morpheus-only modes for non-VR games. They specifically said they don't want to just port PS4 games to Morpheus, for example, a normal PS4 FPS that would also be playable in VR.
We'll have more on Sony's virtual reality headset soon, including more detailed thoughts on how Project Morpheus compares with the new Oculus Rift headset . The bottom line, for now: Video game VR is here and it's no joke, and what Sony's got so far seems promising.