Saturday, 14 March 2015

Sony Morpheus gets a better screen, a more comfortable headset and a fun demo (hands-on)

sony returned to GDC in 2015 with a new version of its Project Morpheus VR headset. Last year I came away intrigued by the potential of the hardware and interested in what Sony had up its game design sleeves. This year I finally got a reason to get excited about VR, 

Design and hardware improvements

Before we get that demo though, let's talk about some of the hardware and design improvements. The redesigned headset features a 5.7-inch OLED screen -- last year's was LCD -- which may have made a difference in image clarity, but to be honest that was a year ago, so I can't be sure. 2015's demos are different too, so it's difficult to compare. However, I will say that there were a lot of polygons being thrown around and there were a noticeable amount of jaggies around the edges.
Sony says Morpheus spits out images at double the refresh rate now compared to 2014, which should produce little to no motion blur, but since I don't remember experiencing much motion blur last year I'd say it's doing well in that department.

Sony also improved the design slightly and as a result, the headset felt more comfortable on my face. The cushions inside feel softer and the visor can now be adjusted to move an inch or so away from your face independent of the rest of the headset.

The first demo

The first demo I played had me holding a DualShock 4 controller in my hands while its position was mimicked in virtual space. So as I moved the controller up and down or rotated it, those actions were mirrored on screen. The most impressive part of the demo had me shining a light on a dozen or so little robots who winced and shied away as I shone the spotlight on them.

The second demo: Or the reason I'm now a bit excited about VR

That was cute, but the highlight of my experience was the second demo. I played a character who's sitting in a chair being interrogated by a huge imposing man in a tank top. And I have to say, the few times he made a threatening gesture at me, I did flinch. Embarrassing? Yes, but also really immersive.
Next was a flashback sequence that had me using two Move controllers to look through the drawers of a desk in order to find a gun and ammo. Once I did, I could load a clip into the gun and then fire on the enemies that burst into the room in front of me.
Aiming was difficult as there was no cross-hair to help line up my shots. I instead had to resort to paying attention to my tracer fire and adjust accordingly to hit my target. I felt a palpable sense of tension during this demo; something I hadn't felt in any VR demo on any device so far. I also appreciated that I didn't really have to move around much and risk tripping over anything in the real world. The action was contained while still holding my interest.

This was really the first time I could finally see how VR games could be exciting and most importantly, fun. I had fun playing this demo, attempting to load my gun while crouched behind a desk, taking cover from enemy fire. It was by far the most convincing argument in favor of VR I've yet experienced. That said, I have not played around with the Valve-powered HTC Vive -- something I hope to remedy soon.

Still no full games

As much as my experience excited me, it was just a demo. And Sony will need much more immersive, fun experiences that last for longer than a couple of minutes to convince me that this is something I'd want to pay for.