Project Morpheus: Eyes-on PS4’s New VR Prototype

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Project Morpheus: Eyes-on PS4’s New VR Prototype
13 Author Replies

Project MorpheusProject Morpheus

Sid Shuman

I’ve decided that describing virtual reality to someone who’s never tried it is basically impossible. Like tasting or smelling or seeing, VR is a sensory experience that you have to try for yourself to truly understand. Words can’t do it justice.

Nonetheless, Justin and I will do our best. Fresh off our positive test drive of last year’s original prototype, we were curious how much Project Morpheus’s upgraded specs have enhanced the overall VR experience, most notably that illusion of “presence” — the fragile feeling that you’re actually inhabiting the game’s world.

Read on for Justin’s thoughts. But based on what I experienced, Project Morpheus has indeed come a long, long way since last March. For starters, the headset feels far lighter and much more comfortable. The screen can slide forward a few inches, which makes makes taking it on and off a much simpler affair.

“The new display makes a world of difference.”

Then there’s the display, which has seen a hefty upgrade from last year’s LCD to an OLED 1920 X RGB X 1080 specification that boasts richer colors and silky smoothness thanks to the new 120hz refresh rate. There’s no doubt about it: The new display makes a world of difference.

There are myriad other enhancements. Nine LEDs now adorn the front and sides of Project Morpheus, which will allow PS Camera to track in 360 degrees. And latency, that eternal enemy of VR engineers, has been reduced to less than 18 milliseconds — a key technical achievement that promises to make the player’s movements more responsive and the experience more immersive.

What none of these technical specs explain is how immersive Project Morpheus really is. It’s groundbreaking. I tried out two demos, “Magic Controller” and “Bedroom Robots,” both of which starred the cute little Asobi robots from PS4’s Playroom app.

“Magic Controller” was a great introduction to the basics of VR. As I peered down at my DualShock 4, I saw a 3D cartoon simulacrum accurately overlaid over the form of my actual DualShock 4, keeping up a perfect illusion as I rotated the controller in my (real) hands. This was fascinating enough, but then the “magic” DualShock 4 transformed into a music player, and then a working flashlight, before my eyes.

“It’s impossible to explain.”

This demo might sound like kid’s stuff, but I was totally engrossed. I clicked the touchpad to deploy a small army of Asobi robots, who began dancing frantically while I waved my DualShock 4 flashlight’s beam over them. Thanks to the headset’s realistic depth perception, I felt like I was there, inhabiting that smoky dance floor with them. It was an impressive start.

The second demo, “Bedroom Robots,” took a different approach. In this voyeuristic VR demo, I peered into a dollhouse populated with tiny robots. Leaning in closer to get a better look, I watched them ride exercise bikes, throw frisbees, and play ping-pong. Project Morpheus kept up perfectly with all of my real-life moments, letting me change my viewing angle as naturally as in real life.

As I studied the tiny figures, a shiver traveled up my spine. The animations were charming enough, but if I had viewed this scene on a TV screen I wouldn’t have given it a second glance. Seen through Project Morpheus, the scene took on a weight and a gravity I haven’t experienced outside of, well, real life. Again, it’s impossible to explain. You really do have to try it.

The technical stuff is way beyond me. But I’m hugely hopeful that Project Morpheus will empower completely new approaches to “game” design. Imagine a VR murder mystery that puts you at the center of a dinner party, or a stroll through an alien garden where you can stop to smell the (flesh-eating) roses. Played on a 2D TV screen, these experiences might look neat, but you’d be done in minutes. Experienced through Project Morpheus, they have the potential to be truly memorable and powerful.

My body is ready.

Project MorpheusProject Morpheus

Justin Massongill

My Project Morpheus experience involved a cage, some jellyfish, an agitated shark, an increased heart rate and a genuine sense of terror.

First things first: strapping the newest prototype onto my noggin was a trivial affair, requiring minimal adjustments to find a comfortable fit (which left space for my glasses without sacrificing precious immersion).

“It left space for my glasses without sacrificing immersion.”

A refresh of last year’s demo, “The Deep” showcases just how convincingly PS4’s prototype VR headset can persuade the human brain that you’re somewhere you’re not. Project Morpheus’ new enhancements coalesce to drastically elevate the demo’s immersiveness.

As the demo began, I found myself standing in a cage maybe 20 feet under water. When I looked straight up I could see the cable suspending me, leading back up to a small boat on the surface. Schools of fish swam by, and bubbles floated through the water, sometimes just in front of my face — an unexpected “wow” moment each time it happened.

I descended further down through different scenes, including a particularly gorgeous area lit only by passing jellyfish, leading to the meat of the demo: a tense standoff with a shark who had a hankerin’ for some tasty human flesh.

After circling my cage a few times, the creature lunged at me. Thankfully my steadfast vessel fended off my would-be killer. The shark latched on to one of the cage’s light fixtures, jerking and thrashing it loose and tossing it to the ocean floor. The cage shook with each pull, which — get this — my brain interpreted as actual movement. Embarrassingly, I involuntarily tried to compensate for this by moving my real-life legs. I had to make a concerted effort to remind myself that I wasn’t actually hundreds of feet underwater, being attacked by a highly evolved aquatic predator.

“One time, I caught myself actually taking a step back.”

After a couple more circles around my beaten and battered cage, the shark came at me again. Then again. Each time, he would barely miss and nudge the cage to the side, or he would tear into another part of the cage and rip it off. Eventually, the entire front panel of the cage was gone, leaving nothing but fear between me and my impending end. I stood, alone and vulnerable, inside three fourths of a cage, watching as the animal circled, eyeing me — toying with me. He made a run for me a couple more times, and one time I caught myself actually taking a step back. Again, involuntary.

At this point, my palms were sweaty. My heart was beating just a bit faster than normal. I felt genuinely uncomfortable even though I knew none of this was real. As far as my brain was concerned, it was real. I was there. I was, in some small part of my mind, mildly scared for my life.

This is the most exciting proposition of Project Morpheus, and of virtual reality as a concept. If someone who’s closely followed and scrutinized this new technology can still be awed by it, imagine how inspiring and transformative it could be for others! One of our most impossible science fiction fantasies is here, it’s real, and it’s exactly as unbelievable as we had hoped it would be.

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13 Author Replies

  • KidGreengene

    The main thing I want to know is, after all the ohh’s and ahh’s die down, do you see yourself preferring strapping this on and going for a ride or do you think laying on the couch with a controller and a drink (or even good old fashion couch co-op) is the going to win out?
    Once Wii died down, Bowling was simply something to show a person that has never seen it. Other than that, I preferred couch and controller.
    Also.. something seems oddly “sad” about VR. It, by definition, removes you from reality… so removes you from the real world even more. Yes, a game is an escape of sorts, but I am still in that real world. I see my kids run by, I see people hustle and bustle on a train, I stand and watch as my son tries to defeat a boss.

    • Sid Shuman

      For sure. I don’t think anyone is arguing that VR is a replacement for traditional 2D.

  • Morpheus will be cool to try. And I might even say “wow”. But I will still prefer to sit back and relax on the couch with a beer and play on my big tv.
    Hopefully Sony can put more resources in to improving PS4. Too many eggs being put in to the VR basket.

  • I hope that Project Morpheus is plenty flexible for us with big heads. Also, great to hear that it works well even if you wear.\ glasses.

  • Victoryismine52

    Your grammar makes it hard to take you serious. It’s people like you that kind of upset me because you are seriously shoving your negative opinion down everyones throat and basing your hypotheses on them rather then any sort of actual analytics or statistics. For example most scientific data shows under 20ms to be the target range for no noticeable lag in VR (John Carmack wrote a nice blog post on this) But most Oculus Demo’s are hard pressed to get anywhere near that range. So 18ms does actual seem like a celebratory accomplishment.
    Oh and PS Vita get’s more support then any other console if you actually look at it so don’t even start with that. Just because Naughty Dog or someone isn’t making a Vita game doesn’t mean it’s not being supported I’d rather have them focus on a PS4 game any day and I’ll still enjoy Hotline Miami 2 for now on my vita.

    GREAT JOB Sony now just give me a price and let me preorder it!

  • It’s mostly already been mentioned, but I have to say that I would LOVE to be able to sit in the crowd of an NHL 17 game or something. Also, I think, if it’s possible (I know, one thing at a time) we need to have online experiences with VR.

  • graemeMARKflynn

    As soon as a price is shown ill think about getting one.

  • MakaiOokami

    I want Project Morpheus for a couple of reasons.

    1. I want to be able to game at night without disturbing my wife. I therefor want it to be able to replace my 2D experience.
    2. I want 3D, because… why not… It should be able to make me love Super Stardust HD like never before and I want that.
    3. I want to hook up my Vita T.V. to it. Why? Well why not. Let me play Sword Art Online Hallow Fragment with this setup!
    4. I want it to revitilize the Move Controlller. I want to see Deadmund’s Quest return, and some of the bowling or Pool games take advantage of this.
    5. I want it to be cheaper than my PS4. So.. $300 would be a sweetspot. Headplay was about $300-400 and had great reviews for the time, and everything competing with it seems to be like $600-$1000… This needs to be as affordable as a 3D monitor would be.

    Don’t feel like i’m being unreasonable. I think this is a fair list of wants.

  • I hope it’s as good, if not better than it sounds on paper!

  • Any chance Sony would put this in there stores for anyone that cant make it to the game shows to demo this?

  • jordan_rivera300

    I get that it is only for ps4 but this is nice i wish it was for ps3 too

  • I hope Sid or Justin get to read my question… is it only one OLED screen, or two screens, one for each eye?

  • I can’t wait to get my hands on this! I was really hoping for an appearance at PAX East this year, but no luck. This is definitely a day one purchase for me. I can’t wait to play a survival horror game with this! It’s what I’ve always needed to feel completely immersed and actually scared!

  • bloomorteUSA

    Seems awesome, but I wonder if PS4’s specs are going to be enough… I think games will have to be less realistic (graphically, I mean) to have a better performance and provide a good experience.

  • xX3xtreme64merXx

    Nice, Thre is occulus rift and there is coming one to Xbox But they dont work with Ps4 and now there is coming one to ps4. That is SOOO Awesome

  • I was really impressed when I had the chance to try Morpheus at the Playstation Experience in Vegas. It was one of the main reasons I went was to try out the VR headset for myself. As long as the price is right, I will definitely pick one up when it is released early next year. As impressed as I was by the demos, I can’t wait to see what a full fledged game in VR is like.

  • 1) Any fogging for your glasses? I had that happen to me when I tried a first gen oculus.
    2) think you could a word in to Rockstar about a Morpheus patch for GTA V’s FPS mode? Walking/driving around San Andreas would be all that more fun in VR!

  • I’d love to see every game be compatible with the Morpheus in the sense where even if it doesn’t take full advantage of the game you’re playing that you can at least use it as a screen to view the game. I’d lay down with my controller in my hands and play everything.

  • I can’t wait until it is out.

  • I would love to give this a try. haven’t had any experience with VR since sometime in the 90’s (old blocky VR stuff). Though the likelihood there will be a way/place to try it out in NB, Canada is next to zero.

  • xX3xtreme64merXx

    How much will it cost hopefully not too expensive

  • Vinicius2468BR

    Project Morpheus looks very good

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