Q&A

EDGE - - KNOWLEDGE MORPHEUS - An­ton Mikhailov Se­nior soft­ware en­gi­neer, SCEA R&D

You kept re­turn­ing to the word ‘pres­ence’ dur­ing the Project Mor­pheus re­veal event – why are you sell­ing that term so hard?

Even when you show [Mor­pheus] to de­vel­op­ers, they ask, “OK, what’s the killer app?” And it’s a very dif­fi­cult ques­tion, kind of like ask­ing “What’s the killer app for TV?” or “What’s the killer app for con­soles?” I think the rea­son we fo­cus on pres­ence is that it’s a run­ning theme through­out the demos and the con­tent [that] we be­lieve is go­ing to be very good in VR. What the killer app is go­ing to be is trans­port­ing you to an­other en­vi­ron­ment. And that en­vi­ron­ment might be pas­sive, it might be like a Zen gar­den where you just sit and med­i­tate, or it might be bar­rel rolling a space­ship, which would be su­per-in­tense and a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. But in each case, it’s im­por­tant that you feel like you’re ac­tu­ally in that en­vi­ron­ment. That’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween VR and games – what is it that’s go­ing to make people put on a VR head­set and get the hard­ware? It’s go­ing to be pres­ence, be­cause that’s unique to VR. You can get an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence from games, movies and books, but you can’t get pres­ence from those me­dia and it’s only re­ally pos­si­ble from VR.

Is there a dan­ger of the ef­fects of wear­ing the head­set be­ing too in­tense? What can you do about that?

It’s dif­fi­cult to say, be­cause most people are new to it. It’s like if you take some­one who’s never played videogames and put them in front of Skyrim, then how long do you think they’ll last? It takes a long time and a kind of gam­ing ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion – in the same way we’re look­ing at VR and say­ing, “Phew, that was re­ally in­tense.” But who knows? Five years down the line, people might be just used to it – you wake up and you’re into VR and go to work. I’m not a fu­tur­ol­o­gist. I don’t like to sow those kind of pre­dic­tions, but I do know that hu­mans have a funny way of ac­cli­ma­tis­ing to tech­nol­ogy. So that makes it very hard to pre­dict what’s go­ing to stick and what’s not. I think it’s too early to tell.

What kind of a re­sponse have you had from other de­vel­op­ers so far?

All the third-par­ties we’ve de­moed to have been re­ally ex­cited, and it’s some­thing that, when you talk to en­gi­neers, it’s all they want to do. When busi­ness people get in­volved, it’s a ques­tion of what’s the re­turn, in­stalled base, so on and so forth.

Yes, while there is some risk in de­vel­op­ing for new tech­nol­ogy, there’s also a huge op­por­tu­nity, be­cause like Michael Abrash has said in his Valve talks, who­ever makes the first huge app for VR is go­ing to hit it re­ally big. I think the ex­cite­ment of be­ing the pioneer in the field is go­ing to draw a lot of people in. Maybe [fewer] of the big­ger pub­lish­ers, at least at first, but I think the indies will be ex­cited. And we’ve been very in­die-friendly at PlayS­ta­tion lately. It’s not by ac­ci­dent. There are many dif­fer­ent ways to ap­proach this, so of course there’s the first­party stu­dios – you’ve seen the con­tent from Lon­don Stu­dio, and all of the first­party stu­dios have dev kits. There are def­i­nitely in­ter­nal de­vel­op­ments go­ing on.

What con­ver­sa­tions have you had with Ocu­lus and Valve?

We think that they’re all do­ing fan­tas­tic work and we’re all in this space to ba­si­cally bring VR to re­al­ity – we’ve been promised VR for so long that it’s kind of over­due. I think we’re all on the same page and work­ing to­wards the same goal. I don’t have any part­ner­ships to an­nounce at this time, [but] we’re all on very friendly terms.

You’ve sug­gested that Move was de­signed as a VR con­troller from the be­gin­ning – what’s the story there?

Ef­fec­tively Move is a VR wand in dis­guise as a mo­tion con­troller. So we specced it and built it to be a VR con­troller, even though VR wasn’t a com­mod­ity. As en­gi­neers, we just said it was the right thing to do. If you look on­line, a lot of uni­ver­si­ties use it as a VR de­vice us­ing move.me for PS3 – an ap­pli­ca­tion for sci­en­tists who use the Move track­ing hard­ware. At the time, we didn’t have a con­sumer-grade project that we could work on, but it was def­i­nitely de­signed with that vi­sion in mind.

What can you tell us about Mor­pheus’s even­tual price and re­lease date?

We wouldn’t be do­ing this if we didn’t know that we could make this for an af­ford­able price. Ob­vi­ously, there’s a wide range of what people con­sider af­ford­able, but this is go­ing to be a con­sumer-grade de­vice. The rea­son we’re an­nounc­ing this now is be­cause be­fore we couldn’t see a path to prod­uct and now we can see some way to ac­com­plish a prod­uct that’s valu­able for the con­sole mar­ket.

How does the Mor­pheus tech com­pare to the HMZ head­sets Sony pro­duces to­day?

The dif­fer­ence be­tween this and the HMZ line is that our fo­cus has al­ways been on gam­ing. So our dis­play de­sign is dif­fer­ent from the per­sonal viewer dis­play the HMZ has. Their goal is to sim­u­late a theatre ex­pe­ri­ence in your liv­ing room – to make a large screen or large TV ex­pe­ri­ence that might not fit in your apart­ment. Their fo­cus is less im­mer­sive and more repli­cat­ing that theatre ex­pe­ri­ence. VR for games has a dif­fer­ent pur­pose com­pared to VR for TV and movies, so they’re dif­fer­ent prod­uct lines, al­though they both sit on your head and have dis­plays in them.

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