Over the last few months you may have heard a rising number of people talking about virtual reality in games. On the PC, if you’re looking into virtual reality, you are looking at the Oculus Rift – and before yesterday that was the only option. Announced by Sony, virtual reality will soon also come to the console in the form of the PlayStation project “Morpheus.” Without Microsoft bringing their own VR headset into the mix, all of the work toward virtual reality gaming could come to a screeching halt.
The appeal of modern virtual reality headsets is immediately obvious, as a high-definition three dimensional interface built specifically for the human eye to compute just as the human eye views. With a dual-screen standard LED/LCD screen setup, there is absolutely no chance that your eyes will be incompatible with the full viewing of 3D – a change from what the theater or at-home 3D currently brings. Additionally, the VR headset environment, paired with a good audio headset creates complete immersion into anything you watch or play. If you cannot see or hear distractions in the environment around you, how could you not be completely invested in your game or movie?
While the Oculus Rift is thriving as one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all-time, the dual-screen head-mounted virtual reality rig is working out the kinks and making major improvements while building its way toward a final consumer release. Having released the second iteration of the VR headset today for software developers, anyone can purchase a headset today with absolutely no software support to understand the workings of what virtual reality in the modern generation really means. Oculus’ new headset features two 960 by 1080 displays with amazingly low latency [lag] between your PC and the screens. Racking up to 75 frames per second, Oculus will allow a player to view 100 degrees of information. Putting these stats in perspective, the average human eye can see around 2,000 dots per inch at four inches from their face, with a 100 degree clear field of view in peripheral vision. If you bought a fully functional Oculus Rift today, software supported, the hardware would appear to meet today’s standards in high quality resolution and amaze you with its immersion, based on these stats. You could, for the first time ever, feel like you were actually in the game.
Sony has different thoughts in mind. Beyond what the Oculus is bringing to the table, Sony’s incoming virtual reality device is only in the infantile stages. Given all of the information readily available for Oculus, Sony’s “Project Morpheus” headset could bring more or less at launch than what the Oculus already provides – but it brings something very important that the Oculus’ couldn’t hope to do; Mass market. Where the Oculus’ specs are listed with two 960×1080 displays, Sony is showing a model at the Game Developer’s Conference with a “1080p screen.” This screen is actually the same technology – two 960×1080 displays equal one 1920×1080 field of view, but lacks the stronger field of vision by limiting natural human perception to only 90 degrees wide. Sony’s one true hope for consumer adoption will rely on their reputation with independent developers as the key to bringing VR to the world. Sony cannot change the world of gaming without the support of video game developers, and they have learned this lesson the hard way with an extreme lack of success in the PlayStation Move platform.
This is exactly why the virtual reality platform needs Microsoft’s support. With the launch of the Wii back in 2006, interactive gaming had an explosion on the grandest and also weakest of scales. Consoles for the Wii shot off like a rocket, raking in cash for Nintendo, however with a lack of developer support due to lesser graphics and a confusing interface, the system did not do well with major video game developers and producers. Without support for the hottest games on the market, Nintendo’s Wii spent it’s shelf life as a fantastic console that no one played. When Microsoft and Sony took a swing at the motion controlled environment, each platform was entertaining in its own way, but both once again saw moderate support due to fragmented types of hardware – you can’t build a game for the Wii, the Kinect and the PlayStation Move platform without fully rebuilding the game for each hardware set. If Microsoft chooses to support the VR environment in the same way as to what Sony and Oculus have chosen in two screens with 1080p total resolution, we’ll have a game on our hands because developers will actually care.
In an interview with GameSpot at the Game Developer’s Conference today an Ubisoft representative gave us evidence of just exactly what support VR hardware is going to need before Assassin’s Creed may make the leap. Executive Lionel Raynaud said in a round table interview attended by GameSpot and others,
“VR would need to sell at least 1 million units to be viable for development,”
While this is crushing news, there is also promise. The Oculus crew brought in over 9,000 backers for their kickstarter campaign with only a proof of concept. Independent developers see promise and are taking risks investing in the platform, and major developer name John Carmack actually left the legendary Id Softworks [creator of Doom] to work as Chief Technical Officer at Oculus. Sony saw something in the distance and reached out, dropping loads of money into their own headset built for the PlayStation 4 platform which has already penetrated into over 6 million homes worldwide. Sony’s reputation with independent developers as of late places them smack in the mix for producing immediate content in the virtual reality environment, but that doesn’t guarantee that the VR headset will break out and become embraced by the public forever.
Ubisoft surely isn’t the only major developer looking at virtual reality from the outside, but if Activision and others are looking on in wait, a move from Microsoft with similar hardware could be a breakout reason for prime time developers to go headlong into the world of VR. Development would become easy and hardware deployment would be rampant for what is essentially the same console, and the same display. Coding could become a breeze, and investment minimal if publishers know that a bullet point on their game helps them ship a million more copies.
Of course Microsoft could sit behind and miss the boat. They could wait and see if VR really takes off. They could do exactly what they did when the Wii came to market – come in second place. In the end, it’s entirely up to the consumer. If you buy into the virtual scene early, the market will then be driven by your own hype videos on YouTube and driven by the independent developers willing to bring outstanding immersion games like Outlast to the platform. I say bring it on.