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.