(Originally posted June 21, 2014 on GamerXChange.net – No longer running)
Virtual reality has come a long way since the days of the Virtual Boy. With Occulus Rift leading the way, many other gaming companies, indie and major, have gotten in on the craze. One of those companies is Sony Computer Entertainment who is making strides in the field of virtual reality entertainment with their upcoming device, Project Morpheus. Very few people have been able to get their hands on Morpheus as it is displayed at trade shows and the like. However, thanks to the great folks over at PlayStation, I was one of the fortunate few who was able to try out the device and play a couple of demos at E3 2014. The technology we now have, has opened up a new set of possibilities for virtual reality and I’m a believer that greatness can be achieved.
My experience with Project Morpheus was a fairly moderate one in length but heavy in impact. Sony had a dark, stable-like booth set up on the E3 show floor where about 12 demo stations for Morpheus were set up. I was able to take part in two different demos, one on each side of the booth.
As I got into the booth, the first demo I was given access to was a tech demo called Street Luge. Street Luge is exactly as it sounds – Luging down a street. But first, before the demo started, I had to get geared up. Now I’m a fellow who wears glasses and has an oddly shaped (big) head. These “lovely” features of mine contributed to the few concerns I had about the VR headset. I was wondering how comfortable Morpheus would be and if I would be able to wear it at all. You’ll be glad to know, as it stands now, the gear is comfortable and fits even those of us who have bigger heads and have to wear glasses. With the glasses, the bottom part of the visor didn’t close completely and a little light was shining through, but you are able to adjust the headset enough so that it is barely noticeable.
The weight of the device is distributed well so that the front part (with the display) doesn’t weigh down on your face much or cause your neck to bend. This was important to me because for most avid gamers, gaming sessions do not last five minutes. If we’re going to be wearing a headset for a while, it needs to be comfortable and safe. Although I didn’t spend a very extended period of time with the headset, the time I did spend with it led me to believe that this will not be a major issue if the design stays relatively the same.
Going back to the actual demo now, Street Luge consisted of me sitting in a comfy reclined bean bag/chair on the ground and simply moving my head side to side to move the sled. There were no other controllers, just my head and the headset. Street Luge was a first person demo – I could see my virtual body laying on a sled – that had me speeding down a street on a luge with obstacles like traffic whizzing by and daunting bends in the road to make turns on. With slight movements of my head, I was able to control where the luge went and in turn, which way I would go. The game quickly immerses you in the feel that you yourself are speeding down that street and you must dodge these vehicles and make these turns so that no harm comes to you. It was exhilarating and exciting. Yes, my heart was pounding a bit more than usual. The accuracy of the headset was spot on with my head motions. I didn’t have to swing my head side to side and get whiplash. Even on turns where it seemed that I was going to hit the wall or hit a vehicle, I didn’t have to swing my head so much to get out of the way and avoid danger. The tracking was obviously very good. This demo was the first demo to open up a world of possibilities for VR gaming to me.
The next demo I tried was one you may have seen on TV shows like the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or demos through other media avenues: The Medievil training ground. I too had seen this demo prior to trying it out; I wasn’t very impressed, that is until I tried it for myself. It’s a whole different experience when you are on the other side. For this demo, I was standing up and given two PlayStation Move motion controllers. Yes, those still exist and if Project Morpheus is any indication, they may be coming back better than ever. The Move controllers acted as my hands in-game and again, the VR headset tracked all motions of my head. Together, the Moves and the headset tracked the position of my body. So taking a step forward and back in real life would do the same in the game. The controls were simple and motions fluid. To start off the demo, I just got a feel for my hands. Squeezing the triggers on the Move controllers would clench my hands in the game. In the demo, I had a dummy knight that I could fight. So I started slinging some punches at it. Who’s to say how ridiculous I looked outside of the game? All I know is that inside, it was awesome. After knocking the limbs and head of the dummy off a couple of times with my fists of steel, I was given a weapon rack to each side of me where I could choose any weapon that I wanted. Having two hands, I decided, “why not? Time to dual wield.” I took up two swords and started swinging, slashing, and stabbing my way through the dummy. The motion tracking was again, spot on. The only time it got a little difficult was when I got a little too excited and started walking forward, getting – what I thought was in the dummy’s face – but was in reality too close to the PS4 camera. After readjusting my body placement, the demo went fairly smoothly again.
The next part of the demo had me exchanging my weapons for a set of bow and arrows where I had to hit targets all around the training ground and to a mace that I could swing around valiantly. All motions and actions came naturally like an extended part of my virtual body. To close out the demo, a massive dragon swooped down and swallowed me up. It was amazing and considering it’s only a tech demo, it made me excited for the numerous possibilities that VR gaming could bring back to the table.
As it is right now, a prototype, I would be very happy with Project Morpheus. The tech demos that I was given the chance to play with, really showed off the potential of virtual reality gaming in the present. Since the technology and games are still being developed, I can’t wait until we are able to get our hands on the completed version of the headset. The motion tracking, immersion, and presence in the game are great. You really do feel like you’re in a different world – a virtual reality. These are leaps and bounds beyond virtual reality of the past. I was skeptical when I first went in to the Project Morpheus demo booth but came out a true believer. I’m excited for the headset and I’m excited to see what developers can do for the headset. Project Morpheus was one of the best things I experienced at E3 2014 and it could possibly be one of the best things coming to gaming in the near future.
Project Morpheus is still in development and has no release timeframe yet.
I wasn’t able to take too many pictures and I wasn’t able to take any videos, so check out this official PlayStation feature on Project Morpheus from GDC and you can see some of the photos I did take at E3 below: