GDC 2014 – We Took Project Morpheus Head-on

By: Louis Edwards

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With GDC clearly in our rear view mirror, we can look back on not only the reveal of Sony’s Virtual Reality headset, but since we were able to take the bad boy for a spin on the Expo Floor, we can share our first hand account as well.

Sitting in the audience and listening to PlayStation head Shuhei Yoshida slowly build up the the reveal of what is one slick looking piece of head gear, everyone knew what it was thanks to someone over at Forbes.com not paying attention to Daylight Savings Time and hitting the publish button a little early, but no one knew what it looked like.

Project Morpheus HMD_1395179004

This is a slick looking design in my opinion and, since I can’t afford a PC powerful enough for the Oculus Rift, this will be my future device for virtual reality gaming, once it’s ready for prime time that is. We have listed the specs for the prototype below and we will go into more detail about the device itself following that.

Specifications of “Project Morpheus” Prototype

  • Component
    Processor unit, head-mounted unit
  • Display Method
    LCD
  • Panel Size
    5 inches
  • Panel Resolution
    1920×RGB×1080 (960×RGB×1080 per eye)
  • Field of View
    90 degrees
  • Sensors
    Accelerometer, Gyroscope
  • Connection interface
    HDMI + USB
  • Function
    3D audio, Social Screen

*Specifications and designs are those of the prototype and are subject to change.

The first thing we noticed upon having the unit placed on our head was the size and weight, or lack there of, of the device. It is fairly light and when fit snugly to your face, feels similar to snorkeling goggles, only lighter and thinner. The part that meets your face is a very thin rubber that blocks out all light when fitted properly. The adjustment straps allowed the device to fit perfectly on my head, and I found the entire headset to be very comfortable. There is a built in headphone jack on the device and the rep that was assisting me plugged everything in and had me ready to go in a few seconds.

The Deep

Day one with Project Morpheus had us trying out two short demos. The first was called The Deep and was billed as a full immersion demo, complete with sight and 3D sound. You are a scuba diver (maybe that’s why I thought snorkeling goggles earlier) and you are in a shark cage. You can turn and look in a 360 degree circle (the headset is wired so you’ll have to go 180 degrees each way), you can look down towards the bottom of the ocean and you can look up towards the surface of the water. One thing to note here, your in-game body never moved so if you turned around and looked down, you saw your back and the top of your neck and that is a disconcerting feeling. There was a flashlight mounted to your head in-game to assist you in seeing things up close and you also held a flare gun in your hand (a Dualshock 4 in the real world) that you could use to illuminate things in the distance.

As an introductory demo to the world of Project Morpheus, The Deep did a good job. While it wasn’t totally mind blowing, it was an over all interesting experience and a great way to show off the sights and sounds that Project Morpheus is capable of. The graphics were OK but the sound was exceptional. At one point a large Great White shark shows up and decides to try to make you lunch. His attack on the cage sounded great (if you made sure the headphones were were seated on your head properly) but the lack of force feedback anywhere left us detached and not fully immersed. That was the one drawback to the entire process. If you are going for virtual reality, you really need something to vibrate in accordance to what’s going on in-game.

sony-project-morpheus

The Castle

The next demo we tried was called The Castle. You stepped into the virtual world as a knight in armor, complete with metal gloves. The set-up for the headset was the same but instead of a DS4, we held a move controller in each hand for more precise hand tracking. There in front of us was a knight dummy waiting for us to pummel and destroy him. Being sports fans the first thing we did was go at him like Mike Tyson. Again, there was no force feedback so we couldn’t feel the punches, but what we saw would make any fight trainer proud. Hand tracking was excellent for us as we pummeled the poor dummy and literally knocked his block off. One game that came to mind was Fight Night Round 3 and its first person view. It would have been great for that to be used for a VR demo.

Standing on the ground next to us were several swords. Using the trigger on the Move controller, we reached down and picked one up in each hand. For the average size gamer (5’8 or 5’9) this worked great, but when a taller person had to bend down (6′+) and grab one, they sort came out of synch with the system and their hand was a little discombobulated. The headset wasn’t synched for each person so maybe that’s why it did that, but if that’s the case, then they should have synched it for taller folks.

The sword did exceptional damage and was very accurate. You could easily chop off an arm, then a leg, maybe decapitate him, with the flick of a wrist accurately and easily. Eventually you are given a crossbow that, when the game was synched properly, was very accurate up close, but seeing where you hit targets in the distance wasn’t an easy task as things were blurry in the distance. Overall The Castle was an enjoyable experience and really showed what is possible from a first person stand point.

EVE: Valkyrie

Day two we sat down and tried out CCP’s EVE: Valkyrie. This is a fly by the seat of your pants, space based air combat system that has you pilot your craft and take on live enemies in a multiplayer deathmatch. You are given two weapons: your lasers and your guided rockets. Laser are mounted and stationary and shoot where your ship is pointed, and unless you are chasing your opponent, aren’t all that effective. The rockets, though, are guided weapons that are aimed with your head. Holding down the fire button, and looking at the object you want to destroy, will have your weapons lock-on with precision accuracy. You do have some counter measures like flares, and you can barrel roll out of harms way, but those rockets are very effective most of the time.

eve-valkyrie(1)

This was, by far, the most fun of the three demos we tried (Thief was shown on Day three but apparently we didn’t miss much). It was very easy to get completely immersed in this game even with the arcade like graphics. We could have stayed all day playing the game if they had let us, but sadly we only got one round of combat. The sights, sounds, and even the feel of the demo, left us very impressed. Blasting off and then doing a loop-d-loop just might make you fall out of your chair, literally, as the sense of movement was incredible.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, Project Morpheus is off to a good start. It’s still very early in the development process, and a final unit has yet to be designed, so there is clearly room for growth. The overall quality of the LCD screens leaves room for improvement, and we can always hope that a better alternative is found before the final launch. OLED might be a bit bright that close to the eyes and might add too much weight to the overall headset.

Maybe they aren’t quite ready for primetime, but the future looks bright for Project Morpheus.

  • DarthDiggler

    I had no idea they had Eve: Valkyrie playing on it.

  • Louis Edwards

    Best demo by far and if there’s an award for best of GDC, it should win it.

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