Sony’s Project Morpheus has raised a lot of interest after its unveiling two days ago, and also a lot of rumors. Today a Reddit user going by the name PS4VR posted a large bundle of information citing sources internal to Sony’s development teams that sounds very realistic, but of course should be taken with a rather sizable grain of salt.
While we don’t have any evidence of the legitimacy of the information provided, it’s definitely interesting, and it’d be hard to fathom why someone would decide to write such a gigantic wall of text if there wasn’t any truth to it. It also seems to match pretty well with most information we have about Morpheus.
The only part of the post that seems not to work with what we know is the mention of Driveclub, that according to SCE Worldwide Studio Shuhei Yoshida was tested with virtual reality, but it didn’t really work when he tried it. That said, Yoshida-san’s wording could be interpreted in different ways:
Right now, Evolution Studio is “not working on Morpheus at all,” and is instead putting “all the effort” into finishing the game.
It could easily mean that the VR option could be worked on after release, or by another studio. It’s also very possible that the source of this leak may have outdated information about Driveclub itself.
Below you can read the full post, and make your own mind on whether it’s legit of not. One thing is for sure: it definitely sounds very interesting, and the way it’s written and worded definitely seems to indicate a deep knowledge of the topics involved.
Bear with me, I have a lot to share. All I can tell you about my source is that he is the same person who initially leaked months ago that Sony was working on a VR headset and was planning to unveil it at Gamescom last August. He disclosed that information to me well before the PS4 launched.
Sony has very strict NDAs in place. At my sources request, this is a throwaway account. He is very enthusiastic about Morpheus but he is also quite worried that I will accidently share information that leads back to him. As a result, he is okay with me sharing the below information but nothing more. Because of the amount of information he is sharing, he asked to avoid sites which may recieve a legal notice from Sony to compel them to reveal a source prefering less regulated places such as reddit or pastebin. He asked me to not share any information about how I know him, what specifically he does at sony, the dept he works for, or the circumstances behind this leak of information. He also asked me to not share any information about who I am in case people start asking me for more information and I slip up. It’s unlikely that I will be posting from this account again after today unless he explicitly permits me to.
The Launch Window
• Sony hopes to release Morpheus before the end of fiscal year 2014 (which ends on March 31, 2015). However, they are much further along than people realize and were initially targeting a Fall 2014 release. The prototype Sony showed yesterday, as advanced as it is, was fairly close to the one they were planning to debut at Gamescom last august. There were some minor adjustments made to the LED positioning and there is a slightly improved screen in this prototype but the two prototypes were otherwise identical. They decided against showing the prototype last year because they wanted more time to nail down the software and because they didn’t want to take focus off the PS4’s launch.
The Device’s Name
• The final name won’t be Morpheus. The device doesn’t have a name yet but is likely to be named with an evocative action verb akin to Move, Play, Create and Share. According to my source, View (as in Playstation View and PSView ) are two that are often thrown around internally. But he also added that its way too early for them to settle on a name and it may very well might end up being named some other verb like Focus, See, Experience, Imagine, Live, Immerse or something entirely different like Vision all of which he has heard people suggest.
The Target Price
• Sony is internally targeting a price of $250-$299 with a camera bundled, and they are planning to subsidize the cost of the device in order to achieve this price tag. Later in the conversation, he noted some reservations he has about this target price. Sony invested a substantial amount in R&D for this device for the past several years.
The Games (Many Titles in Development)
• Sony’s first party studios are working on some absolutely fantastic VR experiences. The Last of Us, God of War and Drive Club are being built into brand new VR experiences from the ground up. I mentioned that Drive Club was supposed to be a PS+ free game and he told me that Drive Club will be a traditional game but will also have a dedicated VR component with pared back but nevertheless very impressive graphics. According to my source, Sony feels that while these known franchises are what will drive gamers to first make the leap over to VR, entirely unique and engaging experiences are what will demonstrate to gamers what VR offers over traditional gaming. Guerrilla Games is working on a unique first person Adventure RPG built from the ground up for VR and Sucker Punch once they wrapped up work on Infamous started work on something VR related.
• Sony wants to bring VR to the masses by offering up VR experiences that are both revolutionary and very accessible, plug and play and with a very simple to use interface that require absolutely no technical knowledge to set up or use. And they want to launch the device with VR software unlike anything people have ever experienced before. This is a major area of focus for Sony’s R&D and internal development studios.
• There is a lot of amazing software they are keeping under wraps. They even have an interface designed specifically for VR that they are keeping under wraps. Some of the VR software that Sony’s internal teams are working on, (examples he mentioned include virtual tourism through various places and to different eras in human history, space exploration, deep sea exploration and a VR oriented take on PlayStation Home) aren’t really games in the traditional sense and are designed to be immersive VR experiences that have more broad appeal beyond just traditional gamers.
• Sony is also worried about public perception that VR is an isolative antisocial experience. They are working on a collection of asymmetric multiplayer games, some of which are sports, and some of which are entirely new experiences (Note: Nintendo Land is what came to my mind when my source said asymmetric multiplayer, when I asked if this was anything like Nintendo Land, he said that two of the asymmetric games share some elements in common with Mario Chase and Metroid Blast but the others are very unique experiences and VR adds a whole new dimension to them).
• As if the above information didn’t make it clear, he specifically told me that Sony is a huge believer in the possibilities that immersive VR. They’ve long felt that once the technology becomes feasible, VR experiences (games, virtual tourism, edutainment) could be as big an industry as movies and traditional games are today. They want to be at the frontier of this new industry the same way they were with CDs, and with personal music players when they launched the Sony Walkman. They feel that if properly executed, VR will have more mass appeal than any game console in history and with much longer legs (presumably this was a reference to the Wii) because it offers something that simply hasn’t been possible before. Sony feels that without them entering the market with an easy to use, closed box, plug and play VR experience, it will take some time before VR ventures beyond PC enthusiasts and the technically adept. He said that Sony has been investing very heavily in VR in order to make immersive VR accessible to the masses at large.
• The PS4’s internal architecture, the Playstation Camera, and the Dualshock 4 (both the lightbar and touchpad) were designed from the outset with VR in mind. Like the PS1 with CDs, the PS2s with DVDs, the PS3 with Blurays, the PS4 was designed to make VR mainstream. Even the HMZ releases were designed to recoup some of their early R&D costs while improving upon the early headset designs. All VR games will be required to support both the Dualshock 4 controller and the Move Controller. The advantages of doing this include not needing to bundle Move controllers in with the headset and allowing gamers to transition to VR using a controller they are familiar with.
• The Morpheus will not be PC compatible in the near future. Sony needs to recoup the substantial investments they are making with PS4 VR game sales and get hardware costs down before they consider adding PC support. More importantly, Sony feel there are significant advantages to a walled garden (Apple-like) approach when you are introducing a brand new device to the masses. Thanks to the PS4, Sony controls every aspect of their VR experiences, both the software and hardware and their VR software can target one unified set of specifications. Sony plans to leverage this to deliver truly mind blowing and immersive VR experiences that perform smoothly and consistently.
• Sony is positioning the VR headset as sometime quite distinct from the PS4. They want the PS4 to be the place where gamers go for cutting edge mainstream games and the VR+PS4 combo to be the place to go for anyone interested in rich immersive VR experiences even if they don’t have the technical knowledge necessary to get something like the Oculus Rift up and running.
• Sony wants to avoid creating the impression among gamers that the PS4 needs a VR headset to be a worthwhile purchase. This is one reason why they decided against launching the VR headset this year. They want to give the PS4 lots of breathing room, release a rich lineup of dedicated games for it this holiday season and maintain the PS4’s momentum as the go to console for gamers even if they aren’t interested in VR. It sounded like Sony feared that focusing too strongly on VR this early in the PS4’s life could drive away some gamers and hurt their momentum going into the holiday season
• In essence, Sony plans to fully and significantly support two unique and distinct platforms, a dedicated cutting edge gaming console, and a brand new plug and play VR platform that offers unique tailored immersive experiences unlike anything anyone has experienced before. This is partly why Sony is working so hard to bring in more indie developers to their platform, because they feel these indie developers will help them successfully support and nurture both platforms
• Another reason why Sony decided against launching the device this year is (and the reason they chose to unveil the device at GDC) is because they wanted to get indie developers on board early. They know that a large lineup of captivating VR experiences at launch gives the device the best chance of success, and they are actually positioned to do just that. They have a substantial amount of internal software being developed to launch along the VR headset. But they want indies on board to fill in gaps, offer up unique experiences that didn’t even occur to them, and help ensure a steady stream of VR experiences following the launch.
The Reason for My Source’s Leak
• What seems to have prompted this leak is my sources (and several of his collegue’s) desire to significantly beefup the consumer device well beyond the specs shown in yesterday’s prototype. Sony’s executives are still weighing their options, whether to release something close to the prototype shown yesterday at a very low price, or to further beef up the specifications and launch at a higher price tag. My source worries that Sony might undermine their own initial vision by making compromises to the device’s specs in order to lower costs both to themselves and to the end user. If it turns out that they can deliver an even more immersive experience and the choice was between a $299 1080p 60fps headset vs. a $399 1440p 90fps low persistence headset that does a superior job of achieving presence/immersion, he hopes that Sony opts to take that later option and that VR enthusiasts likewise encourage Sony to favor immersion over cutting costs.
• My source worries that if the number one concern that gamers seem to have regarding this headset is the cost, this will make it more likely for sony to opt for a lower specced and cheaper headset over a more immersive and advanced headset. Sony’s consumer research browses sites like facebook, twitter, reddit and neogaf to get a pulse on how gamers and tech enthusiastic feel and preemptively address areas of concern (it’s not just sony, all major corporations do this per my source). He is worried that comments on these sites will dissuade Sony from opting for the superior and more immersive but more expensive specifications in order to hit some arbitrary price point. If this what most gamers want, then that’s fine, but he feels that most gamers and tech enthusiastics would prefer a more advanced and more immersive headset even if it costs a bit more initially and if he is correct, he wants gamers to communicate this. He also feels it doesn’t make sense in the long term to favor a cheaper less capable screen over a pricier one since the component costs will fall drastically in an year or two anyways and only the enthusiasts will be adopting it early on, even with lots of support like Sony is planning.
• He specifically said he is not especially technical but that he and everyone at sony that he works with wants the device to be as immersive and create as much a sense of presence as is technically feasible. He said that he doesn’t know if their engineers ultimately feel they would need a 1440p, 90 fps, OLED screen with a much wider FOV in order to create an even greater sense of presence or immersion, but he hopes that if that’s what they conclude, this is the route that Sony opts to take, even if it brings the initial cost of entry to $399 rather than $299. In an year or two, they can substantially reduce that cost. He predicted that Sony’s higher ups will underestimate the demand for this device and there would be shortages for this device at launch akin to the kinds of shortages Wii experienced, so even if Sony launches it for $299, many people will be up paying $499 or more for it on ebay to get their hands on it. He doesn’t think it makes sense to target a lower price in favor of higher quality at launch as the enthusiasts and early adopters would gladly pay a higher price for a superior product and the cost of the components will fall quickly allowing a price cut within the year allowing for a more mass market price.
The PS4’s Technical Capabilities for VR
• He also said that there is a stark difference between what he has seen from internal developers privately vs what gamers think the PS4 is capable of achieving. Software developers tell him that PC hardware is used inefficiently, and is designed to target a wide swath of different possible specs rather than one consistent hardware environment like consoles offer. As a result, there are lots of excellent tricks they can use to maximize the hardware performance and with time, you end up with games like The Last of Us running on such ancient hardware. He says that from what developers tell him, PC software has not come close to being built around high end gpus, it’s instead focused on running on even low-mid range gpus. He tells me that a game built from the ground up to maximally utilize a single high or even mid end cpus and gpu and maximally tweaked to employ ever trick the hardware allows would look vastly superior to anything out today, especially once the developers really get familiar with the hardware, and this is what consoles allow. This is why he says he has seen PS4 exclusives that far surpass any game out today, because they were actually centered to maximally employ the tricks the hardware allows. I asked him about Killzone’s resolution and 30fps limit and he responded that Killzone had to make launch giving little time to tweak it to take advantage of the PS4 hardware but that he has already seen atleast two exclusive PS4 games running at 1080p and a rock solid 60fps that graphically significantly surpass The Dark Sorceror in engine demo that Sony wowed people with last year.
• From what he tells me, based on what he was shown privately, the PS4 is more than capable of producing beautiful, clean, immersive 1440p 90fps games split into two circles for VR. When I asked him to list some existing games that are comparable to the environments he saw running privately running at a 2560×1440 resolution split across two screens (which I will henceforth refer to as 2x1440p) running at 90fps, he listed that they were equal in quality to The Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto 5, Super Mario Galaxy, Wipeout HD Fury, Pikmin 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD but added that these environments were rendered at much higher resolutions and with higher resolution textures leading the environments to actually look much crisper and more beautiful than they do in any of those aforementioned games, and they would blow people’s minds if demoed publically running at 2x1440p at 90fps off the PS4 because they truly achieve presence. He further added that obviously, dedicated nonVR games like the ones he has seen privately feature much higher quality graphics, but that from his experiences with VR, that isn’t as important. As long as the environment is clean and crisp at a high resolution and a with a high frame rate, its an incredibly engaging and immersive experience. He also added that just because they use 1440p capable screen doesn’t mean that a developer can’t render their game at 1080p and/or run the game at 60fps instead of 90fps if they wish to crank up graphical details and feel they can do so without breaking immersion, since even a 1080p resolution image rendered on a 1440p capable screen will produce significantly less of a screen door effect than a 1080p resolution image displayed on a 1080p screen.