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This is Project Morpheus, Sony's prototype VR headset
This is Project Morpheus, Sony's prototype VR headset
March 18, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

March 18, 2014 | By Alex Wawro
More: Console/PC, Design, GDC

Sony has given a name to its long-rumored VR headset -- Project Morpheus.

A prototype version of the hardware was revealed today during a Sony-sponsored GDC 2014 session, “Driving the Future of Innovation.” The session was led by Shuhei Yoshida, president of SCE Worldwide Studios, and featured Sony senior software engineer Anton Mikhailov and SCEA R&D director Richard Marks.

Marks’ involvement is unsurprising — his name was prominently attached to both the PlayStation EyeToy and the PlayStation Move motion control system, as well as the DualShock 4, and Project Morpheus utilizes the same motion tracking technology.

Yoshida opened the talk by lauding the value he finds in attending GDC, claiming that it was a useful way for him to get a “snapshot” of what’s coming next in the game industry. To hear him tell it, virtual reality is where the industry is headed.

He pointed out that Sony has prototyping VR headsets since 2010, and showed off photos of a few different prototypes, including one shot of a glowing PlayStation Move controller basically glued to a headset.

Yoshida proceded to unveil an actual Project Morpheus prototype unit, then ceded the stage so that Richard Marks and Anton Mikhailov could talk a bit more in-depth about the challenges of developing for Project Morpheus.

“It’s all about presence,” said Marks. “How we can best convey that sense of presence dictates how successful we’ll be with VR.”

Marks took time to run down the challenges Sony is facing on both the hardware and software side of VR development — sourcing high-quality specialized optical equipment, minimizing latency, generating an immersive soundscape, and the like.

He claims that his work building Project Morpheus was complemented by the multiple arms of Sony’s business — the company’s presence in the HDTV market helped inform the physical design of Project Morpheus, while the company’s work developing motion control systems like the Move helped inform the tracking technology.

Marks made it clear that Sony is still actively working to figure out how to “solve” the problems of VR, and that many of those problems remain unsolved. “I’m not worried about job security,” he joked.

He also confirmed that Sony is working with partners like Unity, Havok, Crytek, Epic Games, Wwise, Criware, and more as it builds out the software side of Project Morpheus.

Anton Mikhailov spent some time explaining the problems of VR development, and some of the non-intuitive solutions that Sony has discovered in its work on Project Morpheus. The problem of conveying a sense of “presence” in VR games was his chief concern, echoing similar sentiments from Marks, Valve’s Michael Abrash and other VR developers.

“Presence is the killer app,” said Mikhailov.

He went on to point out that the current Project Morpheus prototype is capable of both positional and rotational head tracking across 360 degrees, with a 1080p display and a 90 degree field of view. The prototype can be tracked by the same hardware that tracks the DualShock 4 and the Move controllers, though Project Morpheus must be connected to a PlayStation 4 via cable and Sony currently has no plans to build a wireless version.

The prototype actually has a breakout box between the headset and the PS4, which can split the signal out onto another display — like your TV. By default this allows people in the room to follow the headset wearer’s experiences, but Mikhailov suggests that it might also allow for interesting asymmetric game design — developers could build a local multiplayer game where one player, wearing the headset, plays the hero while her friends control the monsters by watching the screen.

The Project Morpheus is already capable of running multiple gameplay demos, including a simple castle exploration demo, a version of CCP’s EVE: Valkyrie space dogfighting game, and a limited version of Eidos’ first-person stealth game Thief.

As far as where the name comes from, or when the headset is coming out?

“We’re coming out as soon as possible for as low as possible,” joked Mikhailov.

“We decided on this name last week,” said Shuhei Yoshida.

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Lihim Sidhe
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I would have been much happier to see that Sony has made an official partnership with Occulus Rift.

It just seems like a squandered opportunity and wasted resources.

It's like announcing a new handheld with its own obtuse OS, proprietary storage formats, without celluar ability in a world flooded with smartphones.

Oh wait.

The takeaway here is that the Vita would have faired much better as an Android Gaming Cell vs its current incarnation.

In the same vein it would have been better if Sony leveraged the existing momentum and resources of Occulus Rift.

Leon T
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Sony did make a gaming phone and that failed too. I think an OR partnership would be better to, but I can't blame Sony for not wanting to share.

Jarod Smiley
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It didn't really have games like PSP/Vita/PS2, just an odd handful of PSmobile stuff.

Vita wouldn't have been more successful as a phone either, perhaps as a small scale tablet though, which probably weren't as popular when Vita was being prototypes.

Vita TV is proof that the tech can be put into other devices. And PS now is basically trying to put PS3 games on everything from TV's to smartphones. I would like to see what a Vita Tablet would do sales wise.

Eric Michaels
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Competition between Sony and Oculus is a good thing, I'm not sure why you would want them to pair up.

Rune Andreas
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Awesome to see that Sony is on the ball. This could really be what they need to become a CE frontrunner again. What we've seen so far looks great.

There's only two more things I think they need to make PSVR really take off with the mass market.

(1) They could use a more optimized controller. The issue with Move is that it doesn't have the full DualShock functionality and doesn't support legacy 3D games. Like Kinect it's not really an enhancement of the mother platform so much as a separate motion control platform.

Instead of making people shift between the Move and the DualShock, neither of which is optimal, they should make a combination "MotionShock" which is basically a DualShock split in half and given Razer Hydra/Move style tracking. Just like a gamepad, except you also get your hands in the world. With all the old buttons and joysticks, people could use it just like a normal controller for non-VR games (and a superior one since you can keep your hands anywhere), as well as two high quality Moves for old style simple motion games.

(2) First Party Software. This is the most important of all. VR needs its "Wii Sports". The Witness, Gran Turismo, existing third party franchises will sell a bunch but - it's not going to expand the market very much beyond the people that are already interested in those games.

So to make this thing explode like the Wii, they need to pack-in a Blu-Ray filled with CASUAL SIMULATIONS of the type that we've seen non-gamers go nuts over.

Tourism sims (Tokyo, Bali, Grand Canyon, Italy etc.), Rollercoasters, Bungee jumps, skydiving, hang-gliding, diving in the barrier reef (where you can swim with the motion controller), simple arcade driving and piloting games. You can give them a good taste with the disc and a direct link to sell more content as DLC.

This pack-in Blu-Ray would be the key to turning PlayStation into an entertainment phenomenon again. Launching without that would be like launching the Wii without Wii Sports.

I just blogged about this actually:

Bryson Whiteman
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I might be misunderstanding you on your first point, but DualShock4 already supports camera tracking similar to the Move.

Ian Morrison
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Tough to say how far they are just from reading an article like this, but it sounds like they might still be a ways behind Oculus. I guess we'll have to wait until hand's on demos are involved to tell, though.

As much as I like to root for the Oculus guys, I do hope that Sony is able to create a compelling competitor. If there's widespread adoption and heavy competition, then the tech for VR is going to advance that much faster, and the sooner the infrastructure will be in place for things like the lower latency/higher resolution displays that currently aren't viable.

Mike Griffin
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It's still a ways off, thankfully. Gives everyone time to snag a unit/dev kit, gives the support group time to optimize API/drivers and tighten up the PSVR SDK.

More importantly, it gives Sony time to sort out one of the elephants in the room:
Abysmal availability of the PS4 Eye Camera.

Ramp up production on the *Camera, and start to propagate it to the masses (perhaps a 'Buy two first-party games, get a PS4 camera free' promotion -- retroactive too).

Because shit's gonna get rather expensive for the 'Full' PS4 VR experience if the key accessories haven't propagated to PS4 owners prior to the release of VR.

A complete VR bundle would entail the VR unit and its peripherals, a new gen Move controller, and the PS camera. That bundle doesn't sound particularly affordable.

Now consider the 'full PS4 VR entry cost' for a PS4 + complete VR package bundle.

*Let's see if they can drop the camera down to $49.99 for starters. And remind people they can use the camera for other tasks.

Obviously the wide view of this situation has the PS4 receiving 'custom' VR titles with more humble rendering demands, to allocate resources to VR while still hitting the 1080p/60fps required for VR.

Some really interesting titles could emerge from these constraints.

Meanwhile, with time the Oculus becomes the ultra-high end for VR, riding atop the PC and its dominant, ever-advancing computational prowess.

The very fact that we now have two dedicated and high profile VR development camps rolling, with Sony and Oculus, is outstanding news for the progression of VR game design. There's a pretty serious movement starting here (plus, the tech has matured), and it's not likely to fizzle-out any time soon.

Steve Cawood
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Exciting time to be a Sony licensed developer. :)

James Coote
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There's a danger that long term, VR ends up narrowing the PS4's potential audience. The whole process of putting on a VR headset to play a game is quite involved, and requires spending another $100 or $200 odd to buy the thing on top of the cost of the base console and games. It works well for the sort of games the AAA side of the industry is already making: The military shooters and narrative heavy games, that also happen to be the banner titles used to sell the console.

If consumers perceive that they need to buy a VR headset to really get the most out of those core titles, it could start to erode interest in the PS4 as a proposition for non-hardcore consumers. Anyone not willing to go all in may feel they're just getting a poorer, secondary experience, so why bother?


"... but Mikhailov suggests that it might also allow for interesting asymmetric game design — developers could build a local multiplayer game where one player, wearing the headset, plays the hero while her friends control the monsters by watching the screen."

It's a nice idea, but very similar ideas were floated around second screen gaming, and they just haven't materialized. I think if you actually tried this out, you'd find problems with not being able to see the expression on the face of the player wearing the VR headset, as well as issues to do with immersion, when you can hear your friend's voices sat next to you on the sofa, over the top of or interfering with the sounds of the game world.

Jarod Smiley
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Isn't wearing a quality headset not much different from wearing VR though? I mean it impedes your eyes as well as ears now, but people already isolate themselves. I don't think visually isolating yourself will be that different than what people are already accustomed to, especially if the device is comfortable.

James Coote
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I wasn't thinking in terms of comfort

Jarod Smiley
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I was going off the isolation part. I've seen that line of reasoning across some forums where users think VR will be too much of a singular non-social experience and make users "Islands" isolating themselves in there own worlds. I'm like, "that's already what people do with cell phones/tablets/headphones etc.." Asymmetric gameplay is a neat idea, but I think VR will be mostly about the single person experience.

Also, people buy tablets for like $500 and $600, if VR is another compelling experience on PS4, all you need is good word-of-mouth and a bundled game with the headset. a PS4 is $400 likely a little cheaper by the time this debuts, a VR bundle maybe $300 with a camera, people will go get it who are intrigued, but it won't take away the value from users who just play the yearly Madden/COD on there PS4's and watch Netflix on it, gaming is a very individualized hobby, the consoles have various types of consumers. I seriously doubt many who aren't interested in VR would perceive some loss of value. Even if PS4 sky rockets to 20 million units by the time this comes out, all of those users won't be interested in VR no matter how good it is. It will just speak to a certain audience.

Karl E
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This is very exciting news. But it's only for PS4 so it might well be the new Betamax.

How many people would buy a television that only worked with Sony game consoles? Not many. Then, why expect them to buy a headset with the same restrictions?

Also, Sony's view on input devices seemed half-baked. They seem to have nothing on the horizon that is even as advanced as the Hydra, which IMHO is the baseline for VR control fidelity.

Their only advantage on Oculus could be a simpler set-up and ease of use. But the audience for VR will likely be pretty hardcore for a while so it might not matter to them.

Kevin Clough
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You are taking the PS4 exclusivity as a negative, but I am looking at it as a positive. Developers can focus on one hardware config and SDK. If the experience is compelling, then it will easier for consumers to justify a PS4 purchase to power their VR headset than a complicated/expensive PC.

Jeremy Alessi
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I can't believe it's not wireless.

Ian Morrison
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Can't remember if it was the Oculus guys or Michael Abrash, but...

"Wireless is the enemy of latency, and latency is the enemy of VR"

Peter Eisenmann
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The enemy of latency would be a good thing.

Ian Morrison
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Okay, so it's not the most ROBUST turn of phrase, but it has a nice symmetry... :P