Last updated on August 7th, 2015
VR Headsets. We’ve seen them come and go over the years as if it was trying to outdo our changes in style of clothing. You could tell something was there, something intriguing, but with flat colors and angular shapes made out of what looked like large childhood building blocks, if VR were to ever catch on, it sure had a huge uphill battle to fight. Like VR, 3-D has periodically reappeared in the mainstream over the years, with each iteration improving upon the last. The seventh generation consoles, like the PS3, showed us that 3-D could enhance one’s enjoyment of their games. More so, TV’s manufacturers came to capitalize on 3-D this time around, offering a convoluted mess with variations in prices and sizes, and a multitude of proprietary glasses.
During that time frame, a startup company began to emerge as a big and well-known name in tech, and they’re now synonymous with the potential merging of the 3-D and VR worlds – Oculus Rift. Key developers from various studios and tech companies came on board that fixes all the problems over the years that always flatlined the notion of VR becoming the next big thing, all hope was renewed with the potential of staying power when Sony joined the game. Project Morpheus, Sony’s headset announcement at this past GDC 2014 that blind-sided many, if not all, has now deterred there being a monopoly in the VR sector. Even though Sony has a history of dabbling in the VR headset venue for a while now, thing’s feel different this time around. While OR is catering to the PC crowd, Sony is bringing the headset to the PlayStation faithful, a game changer if you will (no pun intended). Competition breeds improvement’s and the winner of it all will be us, the consumers, and rightfully so.
Which now brings us to E3 2014, where game developers and professionals meet and greet those in the press and fans of their games or tech thereof. The very place and time where the somewhat general public finally get’s to try first hand what Morpheus is, what the weight is like, and how does it work and play – this is where I come in. Due to the PlayStation MVP program, I got the chance to experience Project Morpheus and I’m going to walk you through the best of my ability to hopefully make you feel as if you were there and give my thoughts after. So bear with me, you are now stepping in my shoes (and yes, it was quite dark, No Flash allowed in area …so Night time mode on my Camera).
Setup and Design
Standing in line, there is what looks like an indoor horse stable (as funny as it sounds) with two sides and five open stalls for all to witness individuals using Morpheus on each side, totaling out 10 areas for people to try Morpheus. Near the front of each area’s banister is a white stand with a glass top and the following items are laid out on top from left to right:
- Two PlayStation Move Controller’s sitting in a charge cradle
- A DualShock 4 (which the lightbar was lit green the whole time)
- A small black box that hooked up to the PS4 [via HDMI] which was right beside it and went to a small TV [via HDMI as well] that was on the floor (unknown size, so don’t ask, more than likely less than 24”)
- The PlayStation 4 Camera hovering slightly under the small stand.
This small black box mentioned earlier seems to be the driving force to get Project Morpheus to work it’s VR tech as the headset was also hooked up via HDMI on a separate smaller stand off to the side.
Looking at Project Morpheus for the first time , after being told it’s a prototype, it still looks like a consumer-friendly product. Project Morpheus has an adjustable headband that is made of thick plastic overall, but the internal head band inside that rests around your head is made of a soft mesh material for comfort. While the overall headset is made of plastic, so are most products on the market for the sake of weight. The support of the headband and plastic construction of Project Morpheus makes it almost feel as if it’s not even there, so it’s extremely lightweight actually, but does retain a slight heft from the front display for obvious reasons.
Now Project Morpheus has an open construct design that is well thought out for those who wear glasses and, even more so, those who want to use their own headphones. Project Morpheus has no built-in, over-the-ear speakers whatsoever, in order to appease those who have their own preferred over-the-ear equipment (though it is mentioned here that some sort of surround sound audio is provided out the headset but maybe wasn’t utilized due to the volume on the E3 floor.) Besides the audio, video is of course the key component of the headset and the HMD (Head Mounted Display) It is instantly in-your-face once Project Morpheus is placed over your head – it’s like having 60″+ flat panels placed in front of you.
Once Project Morpheus is on your head, things start fairly quickly as one of two demo’s are set up in order to experience what Project Morpheus can do. One deals with the Project Morpheus itself in a comfortable environment while sitting in a beanbag chair, and another is in combination of the headset with peripherals while standing up, each is a seven minute session. So with this in mind, it only makes sense to be sitting down in a bean bag chair, legs out for what looks like a Street Luge demo. This first demo is meant to convey that feeling of going down a steep incline on busy highway, while lying down on a board moving at considerably high speed. As your eyes focus to what seems like a 90-degree viewing angle, assistants make adjustments to fit the headband snugly in order assure the headset doesn’t fall off.
Once the demo is started, the headset’s motion tracking – in combination to what the Playstation 4 camera is seeing afar off (aka the four blue lights on the front, and the ones on the back of Project Morpheus) – are both being utilized in order to track your movements accurately. Tilting your head left and right at an angle turns the board slightly in that direction while looking side to side not only allows you to see what’s going by you at break-neck speeds, but kinda gives better left and right control adjustments which can only be explained as a kart racer’s power-slide. Though having the combination of the fast gameplay and looking left and right too quickly with the headset does cause some tearing or an odd judder, it’s only noticeable if you try to look for it. It is, after all, only a demo. You can also look down to see your body on the board, only below the neck however, hopefully to increase immersion that it’s you inside the game doing all this.
The goal is to get a great time while trying to avoid various vehicles on the highway. You are going against traffic and the congestion only gets worse the further you get down the course. You can also utilize trucks for speed and go under vehicles in a reckless manner, but it’s quite fun. While the speed is there, it never felt as if you are truly being penalized for it as only a speed reduction is given if you ever hit a vehicle, no bumping or at least a sort of sliding collision detail of vehicles whatsoever, which you’ll get over eventually. Also, while you could see your body at any time, more of it should have been viewable on screen. You aren’t going to keep looking down at your body often enough to make sure that you’re part of the game, but to be fair, the tech still worked quite well in regards to controlling the board in the luge demo session and did quite well in validating the VR Tech.
After avoiding traffic (or at least trying to), you finally reach the bottom of the luge course, and the demo ends. The first Project Morpheus headset is removed in order for you to move to another play area (another stall) to utilize the the PlayStation Move controllers. While the second Morpheus headset is being put on and adjusted, it’s immediately apparent that this new demo is some sort of a medieval knight’s training grounds which requires one to stand the whole time using the PlayStation Move Controllers.
The demo consists of a castle-like backdrop, a dummy in a suit of armor with hay made targets spaced around it on the ground and in the air. It’s apparent right away that the immersion on this feels quite different than the luge demo. As each of the Move controllers are placed in each hand, gauntlets of you as a knight appear on screen. Squeezing and holding the triggers clenches each fist, and the PlayStation 4 Camera is being utilized to track where the Move controllers are at. The dummy mentioned earlier is brought up extremely close in order for you to reach easily with gauntlets. Acting like a punching bag, you can hit the dummy repeatedly at it’s arms, legs, head, and torso with upper cuts, jabs, and low blows – it was practically like a boxer’s workout.
After a few minutes pass, you are told that there is a sword rack off to your right. Looking to the right with the headset shows your prize and as you pull out your sword, you can now one handed attack the dummy in a more aggressive way to dismember. Hacking downward, slashing upward, or clashing the sword at each body part causes each arm, leg, and even the head to fall to the ground in pieces. Over time, the sword is magically replaced with a Flail that causes the same exact dismemberment but often you feel as if the spiked ball is going to hit you by accident, an odd feeling but the illusion gives off a great immersive state as a result.
After a bit of time, the dummy knight is shifted near the back of the training ground once a bow appears in your hand (replacing the flail) in order to have target practice at it from a far, along with the hay made targets. While trying to aim down the crosshairs of the crossbow, and enjoying seeing the dummy ragdoll like crazy over the stationary hay made targets, the Demo does come to an abrupt end. A ferocious dragon drops in on this training session and the immersive effect of Morpheus shows with your now added fear of how close the dragon is and as it’s about to put you down it’s throat.
Now if I have to nitpick anything, it was that if the Move controller’s ever is out of view of Morpheus’s HMD, the gauntlets stopped moving obviously (despite the PS4 camera still able to see them) but it’s more at the fault of the person playing. If the Move controllers never leaves the sight of Project Morpheus’s display, you were golden – which is great as the Medieval Knights Training Grounds demo was impressive.
After experiencing both demo sessions and Project Morpheus overall, I walked away impressed. Call me a believer, I will be buying on day 1 once it releases. It was fun, immesive, and made me realize that finally VR has been done right and Project Morpheus is a fantastic experience that’s being catered to the PS4 owners. Many Developers, even the guys behind Unreal have already announced support for Project Morpheus, which should bring some exciting games in the future most definitely. While I may have only tried two demo’s, I honestly can’t wait to get a chance to try the headset again, moreso own it once games release with a back of the box label that says “Morpheus Compatible”… we can only dream for now!