Sony unveiled a new, much-enhanced prototype of its Project Morpheus virtual reality hardware for PlayStation 4 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, saying that it intended to release the peripheral in the first half of 2016.
The new Morpheus prototype features a number of improvements over the original version that Sony demonstrated at last year’s GDC. The screen has been upgraded to a 5.7 inch OLED display, which greatly reduced the amount of motion blur and latency that we experienced when we demoed the new version. Sony says that Morpheus will support graphics that output at 120 frames per second, and added that PlayStation 4 consoles will be able to natively support that output.
Sony Worldwide Studios chief Shuhei Yoshida said that the prototype represents the “near-final” version of Morpheus.
“What we are showing is a handmade prototype,” Yoshida told WIRED at the event, adding, “The guts are almost done.” Yoshida says Sony will begin to loan these prototypes to developers so they can begin creating Morpheus games in April, but they are not the “final final” kits.
In addition to showing the new Morpheus hardware iteration, Sony brought three of VR demos to San Francisco. The most intriguing, “London Heist,” was a cover-based first-person shooter in which you had to duck down behind a desk to protect yourself from bullets, then pop up to shoot enemies.
Reloading your gun meant rifling through the drawers of the desk, using two PlayStation Move motion controllers to move your “hands” around in virtual space, finding magazines full of bullets and physically inserting them into your gun by rotating them into place.
The realistic action—both the big movements up and down and the aiming and firing of the gun, and the tiny movements of opening drawers and fiddling with magazines—made for a remarkably engaging experience, easily the best thing Sony has ever shown using Morpheus.
The pop-and-shoot action of “London Heist” is in contrast to the official demonstrations that rival Oculus has shown for its Rift VR headset, since Oculus has said that it intends players to be seated at all times during its games.
“We are not as hardcore as the Oculus guys, saying that this is just a seated experience,” says Yoshida. “We like the standing-up experience, so we want to push it.”
“Not to the level that will make your cord choke you,” he added, pantomiming someone being strangled by a controller wire.
“The London Heist.” Sony
Although it hasn’t garnered nearly as much attention as the Oculus Rift, Sony would seem to have some innate advantages that could give it the best shot at making a huge mainstream splash in the virtual reality pool in 2016. It’s easy for consumers to understand everything they need to run Project Morpheus games; you just need a PlayStation 4 and the device. And PlayStation 4 has taken off like a rocket since its launch; Sony said Tuesday that PlayStation 4 has now sold 20 million units worldwide, giving the company a massive addressable user base by the time Morpheus makes it to stores.
Additionally, Sony has made massive strides in getting indie game developers to put their games on PlayStation 4 or even produce exclusive content for the platform. This is important since most if not all of the most compelling virtual reality experiences so far have come from small, innovative developers. Sony called out Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes , a game about bomb defusal created by a three-person team, as one of the best demos on Morpheus so far.
But as demos become games and crazy ideas become things you can buy on the PlayStation Store, Yoshida says that Sony may find itself having to take a bigger role in the development process.
“These days, we’re not doing much of the ‘you cannot do this’ kind of communication” with game developers, Yoshida said. “We used to do it a lot.” Sony was well-known during the PlayStation 3 era for having a heavy hand with game developers, rejecting games on concept alone, or requiring content to be added to them before they would allow them to be released.
Yoshida says that the process has been “much simplified” these days. “But,” he says, “you can make a VR game that makes everyone sick in 20 seconds. I think we need to reintroduce a bit more game design-side conversation with developers, if they bring in something we feel is dangerous.”
Players loved the demo taht Sega put together of Alien: Isolation on Oculus, for example, but Yoshida said that the game’s use of the right analog stick to move the camera is “very, very dangerous” in that way. He said that Sony may introduce a rating system on the PlayStation Store that informs customers of the “intensity” of the experience.
Sony did not give any clues as to what the price of Morpheus would be at launch. Yoshida said that while the company wants to make the unit low-priced, it also is aware that putting out a subpar VR product to scrimp on costs could badly impact the whole future of the technology.
“Trying VR for the first time is the worst time, because you are not familiar to the VR experience,” he said. “So we really really want to make good hardware before we bring it to the market in large scale.”
The current Morpheus prototype, which Sony will bring to this year’s E3 Expo in June for more players to try, meets that standard, he says.
“This is what we have to achieve before we can responsibly bring this to market.”