Sony's Project Morpheus joins the virtual reality gold rush
Changes in the way we interact with video games tend to come in waves. Sony introduced the modern controller, with its many buttons and dual analog sticks, with the first PlayStation. Microsoft brought online gaming to the masses with its Xbox Live service. Nintendo led the shift to motion-controlled gaming with the Wii. While advances in visual and sound systems merely changed games' presentation, giving them a prettier facade even as the underlying structures remained the same, these products changed the way games work.
Now it seems Sony and Microsoft are poised to push things forward again with virtual reality headsets, bringing people into their games instead of making them interact with a television set on the other end of the room.
Sony announced its take on this virtual future last night with the Project Morpheus headset; Microsoft's efforts were revealed in a Wall Street Journal report published earlier this week. They will compete against Valve, the gaming company reportedly making its own headset, and the Oculus Rift headset that raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter in September 2012.
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The Verge notes how important Sony's entrance into the virtual reality market can be, and how its efforts will be influenced by competitive products:
Sony's announcement today, however, marks the first serious effort from a first-party platform holder, and could prove the most attractive option yet for VR developers. 'We have seen passionate people at Oculus VR and Valve introduce VR prototypes and share their learnings,' said [Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei] Yoshida. 'I have an enormous amount of respect for them. This shows how all of us as an industry can rally around a new medium like VR to push gaming forward.'The Wall Street Journal warns against too much excitement about these marvelous goggles:
It's unclear how the market might react to more combinations of goggles and videogames. Consumers have shown little excitement so far about 3-D television, in part because of the need to wear glasses that augment images on the display.
Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities who owns Sony shares, says people tend to only accept the glasses in movie theaters. In the home, 'goggles-free 3-D is what it's going to take,' he said. The Guardian places the rush to develop and release virtual reality headsets in context:
While 1992’s film the Lawnmower Man popularised a vision of the future in which virtual reality dominated life, the high cost of components has made the technology prohibitively expensive to date. But on Tuesday Sony Computer Entertainment announced Project Morpheus, a virtual reality headset that works with the company’sPlayStation 4 video game console. The headset will fool its wearer into believing they have entered a simulated 3D world and, potentially, bring the science-fiction dreams of the 1990s to the consumer market.Ars Technica reports on Sony's main objective for Project Morpheus:
If there was one overarching theme to Sony's Project Morpheus announcement, it was the potential for virtual reality to achieve a sense of 'presence' for the user. [Sony R&D engineer Richard] Marks defined this as 'that feeling of being somewhere else,' saying how well Sony can achieve this will determine how well VR will do with a wider audience.Engadget explains the meaning behind the name:
In a Q&A following tonight's session, we were told by R&D engineer Anton Mikhailov that the headset was given its project name for "the god of dreams" (he's not lying).Re/code reports that being brought into a video game can be distressing:
In explaining the technical side of what works and what doesn’t in virtual reality content, [Sony R&D senior software engineer Anton] Mikhailov said immersion can be a double-edged sword: It puts the gamer more deeply into the game, but also introduces new emotions like intense fear or claustrophobia not found in traditional games.
'You have a lot of new emotions to work with, so please be very careful,' Mikhailov said. 'But some of these can be fun to watch.' Pando weighs in
Michael Carney noted the Oculus Rift's popularity in a June 2013 report on its parent company's fundraising:
Gaming industry insiders called the company the 'the belle of the ball' at E3 this year. That’s on the back of a nomination for 'best hardware of the year' last year. Its product is not yet commercially available and no official release date has been set for the $300 consumer units in sight. The company recently upgraded to HD, and shipped 7,500 to developers looking to build for the platform. Thus far, Team Fortress 2, Museum of the Microstar, Half-Life 2 and Tuscany Razer Hydra are available to play on the headset with a few dozen more titles in development.