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Hands-on: All Four Project Morpheus Demos

Posted on Monday, March 24 @ 12:00:00 Eastern by blake_peterson


Last year the Oculus Rift sold me on the potential of VR with its brief Hawken demo. Since then I’ve seen a number of demos using the Rift, and I've have haunted YouTube channels devoted to Oculus Let’s Plays of popular first-person games. I don’t have a PC capable of working with the Rift, but I do have a PS4. So naturally, with Sony’s reveal of its own proprietary virtual-reality hardware for the console, Project Morpheus, I wanted to see all the demos to get an idea of how well the tech works. So here’s a rundown of the positives and negatives revealed by the tech demos.
 


The Deep

The Deep, produced by Sony’s London Studio was one of the first two demos available and the weakest of the four. In this demo, the player stands in a diving cage that descends next to a reef, full of colorful fish and one very aggressive shark. Less of a game and more of an interactive 3D movie, the demo explored the murky depths of the sea which allowed the fish to move in and out of view without having to worry about a long draw distance or other technical issues. The player has the ability to fire a flare, but this does basically nothing.

However, The Deep also made it clear just how important keeping the avatar in sync with the player is for VR. As excited as I was to see the environment, when I turned around to follow the shark through the murky water, I looked down and saw the top of the back of my torso, with the neck turning into a tiny little knot. Since I expected to see my chest when I looked down and instead saw my back and a totally creepy neck-nub, it completely took me out of the experience.

One of the Sony techs also told me that a huge part of The Deep was Sony’s proprietary 3D audio, with sound coming from atmospheric locations depending on how the head had turned in a much more complex way than traditional surround. However, the headphones that Sony was using at their booth weren’t noise-canceling, so this was almost impossible to hear.


The Castle

The second demo available is The Castle, produced by Sony’s R&D department. This demo uses two Move controllers in place of hands. The player is stationary in this game as well, but it dispenses with a body, just giving the player a pair of floating gauntleted forearms. The gauntleted fists can be used to grab or punch an armored floating dummy, then later be used as a pair of swords, and finally a crossbow to shoot at stationary targets. 

The Castle is the most immersive of the demos because of the combination of headtracking and one-to-one precision of the gauntlets to the Move controllers. I felt like I was completely in that environment. This is especially true with the swords; the game is designed with a person of average height in mind (I’m a little taller than average), so to pick up the swords that had been stuck point-down next to me, I had to turn and lean down in order to properly grasp it, which really made me feel like I was there. 

The swords sold me on the Move/Project Morpheus combination. Using one sword, I kept the floating dummy in place, while I chopped off limbs with the other. I heard that other players had used one hand to hold onto the dummy’s arm for the same purpose, chopped it off with the sword in the other hand, and then beat the dummy with the dismembered limb before tossing it onto the field in front. 

Visually, The Castle paradoxically had what felt like the least realistic-looking space, but also the most real-feeling. This is because the developers realized (only a couple weeks before the demo went up, as it sounds like these were put together very quickly) that normal textures and shaders don’t work correctly in VR (more on that when I discuss the Thief demo). So everything in the demo was built architecturally: the mottled stone in front of the player had to have that mottling modeled in—so that the light would reflect differently to each eye, giving it greater realism—even as it ismuch less detailed.  

The Castle also showcases other problems with the early tech. The Move control scheme had occasional glitches during the demo and had to be reset twice while I was playing. This resulted in the arms suddenly jerking forward into the center of the frame, their default start point. Though it didn’t need to be reset, I had to hold my arm incredibly low and out-of-sync with the in-VR-experience to aim the crossbow properly, and aim was very difficult. Other players and I shared the experience that the gauntlets also seemed to randomly drop the objects being held, every now and then.

At one point, having dropped a sword, I knelt down to try to pick it up. The experience was oddly disjointing. Since I was taller than the intended player, I sunk down both too shallowly in the body, but somehow too deeply towards the ground at the same time; it looked like my hand should have gone through the floor as I reached for the sword (they hadn’t programmed in the capability to pick it up, once dropped, though). In the end-cap, a dragon flew in and ate me, a nice cartoony addendum.
 
Related Games:   Thief (2014)


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