Yesterday Sony’s long-awaited virtual reality headset for the PS4, Project Morpheus, was revealed to the world. This was a somewhat epic moment in gaming, as it finally brought a technology that has been in the works for decades into the mainstream.
VR has a long history for a technology that has yet to truly take off. The first headset was developed way back in 1968, and examples of the technology have regularly appeared in popular culture since the eighties.
Previous iterations of VR have shared two problems that have been a barrier to mainstream success. The first is price: previous units have simply been too expensive to attract buyers outside of the gaming hardcore.
The second is what Valve, the company behind Steam, Portal and the Half Life series, are calling ‘presence’ – the feeling of being transported to another place that is maintained by adequate resolution, low latency and overall high technical quality. At this level, any motion sickness issues are also resolved.
Valve has been working with Project Morpheus’ main rival, Oculus Rift, which at present is only available as a developer version, but which has wowed reviewers with its Crystal Cove edition that is expected to be released within a year or so.
Although the current version does not quite achieve true presence, Valve expects Crystal Cove to achieve this VR holy grail. It remains to be seen whether Project Morpheus, which is still a prototype with no confirmed release date, will also manage this feat.
However, once both devices do hit the shelves, there could be a whole array of impacts on gaming.
Speaking yesterday at London’s Wearable Technology Conference, Alan Maxwell, founder and CEO of String, said: “I think there’s going to be a question of ‘can we make these things too real?’”
Maxwell suggested that there could be unexpected consequences from such immersive gaming, and that this type of technology has never previously been at the level where it could involve gamers so completely.
There may well also be an impact on the way developers create games. “There’s definitely going to be a learning curve for developers,” said Maxwell.
With VR bringing gamers into the action, scenery details in games may become far more important to ensure immersion. In multiplayer situations, gamers may also start to demand a much higher quality of, and perhaps more customisable, avatar.
Another potential change is the type of environment games are played in. Computer games have of course always been tied to external screens, with consoles making TVs the gaming hubs of most households.
But with VR headsets, TVs could end up becoming utterly superfluous, potentially opening up a whole array of spaces as potential gaming environments.
For some developers, there is a serious crossover here with augmented reality, with headsets creating the potential for highly detailed, real world-based games. “Are we going to see new genres of games emerging?” asked Maxwell.
“Seeing Mr Stay Puft from Ghostbusters as you’re walking down the street – that’s the kind of visceral thing you don’t see from other media,” he added.
Maxwell also believes AR could change indoor gaming for the better. “Imagine seeing old board games coming back to life,” he said. “Think of AR Star Wars chess!”