TET­SUYA MIZUGUCHI

Founder, En­hance Games

EDGE - - ALTERED STATES -

the man be­hind Sega Rally, Space Chan­nel 5 and Lu­mines, took a step back from game cre­ation in 2012 in or­der to fo­cus on aca­demic work and his band Genki Rock­ets. But the prospect of work­ing in VR has rein­vig­o­rated his pas­sion for mak­ing games, and Rez In­fi­nite is the first re­sult of his re-en­gage­ment with the medium in which he’s en­joyed a for­mi­da­ble run of suc­cesses.

We thought you were done with games – what’s the story be­hind your de­ci­sion to come back?

With ev­ery new tech­nol­ogy that be­came avail­able I would chal­lenge my­self to take the thoughts, vi­sions and con­cepts that were in my head and ex­e­cute them in game form. But once we shipped Child Of Eden, I felt like try­ing to squeeze all th­ese ideas into a screen, where the out­put is flat no mat­ter how great your TV is, was very lim­it­ing. I felt like I couldn’t go any fur­ther, so I took a break. And that time served to recharge my bat­ter­ies. So with the ar­rival of VR, that re­ally trig­gered me to… come back is not the right phrase. But it was the right time for me to con­tinue on that path I was al­ways on. And hon­estly, this is prob­a­bly the most ex­cit­ing time in my ca­reer – I’ve never felt so en­er­gised. I’m re­ally ex­cited by the pos­si­bil­i­ties I see in VR.

What was it like tak­ing those first steps with VR?

It’s the same with ev­ery new piece of hard­ware: you don’t re­ally have a lot of other ex­am­ples to go by. So I put on the head­set and it’s a blank white screen; I didn’t have any con­tent to look at, or re­fer to. But as I’ve been do­ing stud­ies and re­search in VR since I was a stu­dent, I think I was fa­mil­iar enough to have an idea of what an ex­pe­ri­ence in VR should be. So I was full of, I guess, nerves, but ex­pec­ta­tion and ex­cite­ment, and also lin­ger­ing con­cerns: ‘How am I go­ing to re­ally do this?’ But one thing’s for sure: be­cause Rez in my head, from the be­gin­ning, re­ally ex­isted in a VR-like world, I knew that when the time came, Rez was go­ing to be the first thing I would try to ac­com­plish in VR. So I was telling my­self that – it was a prom­ise to my­self, and I was com­mit­ted to ful­fill­ing that goal. And how did you do that, given Rez is a Sega game? Rez re­mains with Sega – it’s their IP. I started early dis­cus­sions with them maybe three years ago when I was teach­ing, and they’ve been very sup­port­ive. Ob­vi­ously there are very strong con­nec­tions be­tween my­self and Rez. And be­cause of the hard­ware it’s avail­able for – whether it was the orig­i­nal Rez on DC and PS2, or Rez HD on Xbox 360 – a lot of peo­ple have told us, ‘Well, it’s kind of a has­sle to hook up my Xbox 360 be­cause I have an Xbox One’, or what­ever. It meant a lot for me to go back and say, ‘OK, I want to put this on a new piece of hard­ware’. Fast for­ward to to­day, Sega are one of my great­est sup­port­ers and part­ners, and are re­ally cheer­lead­ing me. Rez In­fi­nite is go­ing to run in na­tive 4K on PlaySta­tion 4 Pro, so to re­ally call this the ul­ti­mate ver­sion of Rez and have ev­ery­one sup­port me in the en­deav­our is re­ally im­por­tant to me.

So it’s re­ally just a case of ‘Give me more power’?

Yeah. From what we know to­day, I can sense what the fu­ture might bring to what I do. That in turn gives me more in­spi­ra­tion and en­ergy about what I want to make in the next five or ten years. The only thing I want to do is start get­ting my hands dirty with th­ese ideas. It’s the hap­pi­est time, the most ex­cit­ing time. I re­ally have to thank tech­nol­ogy for al­low­ing me to do this.

So what does the fu­ture hold?

If I can be so bold as to say that synaes­the­sia is go­ing to be this com­mon theme, a com­mon thread that I want to lay the foun­da­tions for, and kind of own in games… [laughs] I think it could be pos­si­ble that this con­cept can be ei­ther ap­plied to, or blended with, a game in any genre. I wouldn’t cross out any­thing at this point, and that’s what ex­cites me about it. And it feels like that’s go­ing to be the next wave of game ideas.

Try­ing to pur­sue the real – mim­ick­ing real-life sce­nar­ios in vir­tual re­al­ity – is one thing. But even in non-VR gam­ing, I feel like we’re about to come to a very closed sit­u­a­tion, where you’ve seen sim­i­lar things enough times, and there’s a limit to how much of that you can con­sume. So try­ing to come up with a fresh, never-be­fore-seen ex­pe­ri­ence is in­evitable. It’s a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion, some­thing game cre­ators like us are go­ing to want to pur­sue. So that’s where I see my­self, and the ideas I al­ready have brew­ing in my head.

SWITCH­ING FROM RIFT OR VIVE TO PSVR FEELS LIKE KICK­ING OFF HEAVY BOOTS AND EAS­ING INTO A FAVOURITE PAIR OF TRAIN­ERS

“We wanted to make sure the whole thing was us­able op­er­a­tionally with­out the user do­ing any­thing on top of wear­ing it,” Araki tells us. “So that peo­ple with or with­out glasses could use it – that was our ob­jec­tive. And the user in­ter­face on the band was phys­i­cally min­imised – ev­ery­thing is done me­chan­i­cally in­side. The band is ex­tend­able like a rub­ber band, but once you turn and click the dial, it locks. The whole thing could have been de­signed so that the user would have to do that them­selves, but that would be a cum­ber­some step. The con­cept was to make it sim­ple and easy, so the wearer could just use VR [with­out has­sle].”

Once on, PSVR also feels con­sid­er­ably lighter than its pricier PC-pow­ered coun­ter­parts. Even the ca­ble run­ning from the head­set to PSVR’s sep­a­rate Pro­cess­ing Unit (a po­ten­tially con­fus­ing ti­tle for a box that sim­ply han­dles 3D au­dio, mir­rored or sep­a­rate so­cial screens, and the trans­for­ma­tion of PS4’s user in­ter­face into cin­e­matic mode) is no­tably skinny – a fact that Sony is par­tic­u­larly proud of and keen to note. The over­all re­duc­tion of weight and pres­sure makes switch­ing from Rift or Vive to PSVR feel like kick­ing off heavy boots and eas­ing into a favourite pair of train­ers.

“Ini­tially our fo­cus was on the front area, and how to op­ti­mise the weight of that sec­tion,” Araki ex­plains. “We worked on the thick­ness of each layer to come up with the op­ti­mal so­lu­tion, and the whole thing was very chal­leng­ing, de­sign-wise. It’s true that the lighter the frontal part, the bet­ter – but in ad­di­tion to that, where the cen­tre of grav­ity sits is also very im­por­tant. If that point is at the front, then while the whole thing may be lightweight, you’d still feel it. So we moved some of the weight­ier parts on the band, so that the cen­tre of grav­ity was in the mid­dle of your head. The over­all weight of the unit is greater as a re­sult, but when you wear it you still feel com­fort­able.”

“The unit we have now,” Kura notes, “just feels like you’re wear­ing a hat.”

THE PRO­TO­TYPE WAS“A BOX OF IRON AND STEEL”, WITH AN LCD SCREEN AT­TACHED IN­SIDE AND A MOVE CON­TROLLER STRAPPED ON TOP

An­other, less ob­vi­ous, as­pect of PSVR’s ap­proach to user com­fort is the ab­sence of any par­tic­u­lar odour. It may seem like a friv­o­lous ob­ser­va­tion, but the cheap-car-like aroma of Rift and Vive’s plas­tics and fabrics have ac­cel­er­ated the on­set of mo­tion sick­ness through as­so­ci­a­tion for at least one Edge staffer. When we talk to Araki about this point, he re­veals that the team spent a great deal of time test­ing com­po­nents to en­sure that none would leak any form of gas when they changed tem­per­a­ture.

“Noth­ing would’ve been haz­ardous to peo­ple’s health,” Araki clar­i­fies, “but if there was any smell, we dis­cussed it with the man­u­fac­tur­ing team to elim­i­nate all of those com­po­nents.”

This at­ten­tion to de­tail per­me­ates the de­sign, from large-scale us­abil­ity con­sid­er­a­tions such as elim­i­nat­ing Vel­cro straps and en­sur­ing users can wear glasses with­out them be­ing pushed into their face, down to the bespoke spac­ing of each unit’s screen.

“Ba­si­cally there’s an ideal dis­tance for the vir­tual im­age that has to be set,” Araki ex­plains. “It’s a func­tion of the lens and of the parts used in the body, but those parts come with in­con­sis­tency be­cause we do a con­sid­er­able vol­ume of man­u­fac­tur­ing and we have a lot of dies and moulds for each part. There­fore, in or­der to ad­just the dis­tance of the vir­tual im­age to the dis­tance we want to set, we take mea­sure­ments to iden­tify the ex­act po­si­tion that will bring about the op­ti­mal dis­tance on a par­tic­u­lar unit, and then we make ad­just­ments on each one, us­ing a dif­fer­ent num­ber of spac­ers from one unit to the next.”

All of this ef­fort could have been un­der­mined had Sony’s team fol­lowed through on its ini­tial plan to use LCD pan­els for the dis­play rather than the OLED pan­els favoured by Ocu­lus and HTC. At the be­gin­ning of its life, PSVR started out as a cob­bled­to­gether pro­to­type built by five R&D em­ploy­ees in the US and de­scribed by Ito as “a box of iron

“INI­TIALLY, PEO­PLE WERE LAUGH­ING AND ASK­ING WHAT THE HELL THEY WERE DO­ING! BUT ONCE YOU EX­PE­RI­ENCE IT, THERE’S AN AMAZE­MENT”

and steel” with an LCD screen at­tached in­side and a Move con­troller strapped to the top.

“Ini­tially, peo­ple were laugh­ing and ask­ing what the hell they were do­ing!” he laughs. “But once you ex­pe­ri­ence it, there’s an amaze­ment, a sur­prise. SIE World­wide Stu­dios was the first en­tity that wanted to cre­ate a game for this, so they joined, and then we also got in­ter­ested from the hard­ware side, and wanted to mass-pro­duce the thing. But there was a de­lay in the LCD dis­play that made peo­ple feel sea­sick, so we changed to OLED, which has min­i­mal la­tency. Chang­ing the panel was the big­gest dif­fi­culty we en­coun­tered along the way.”

The OLED’s 120Hz re­fresh rate is a ma­jor con­tribut­ing fac­tor to PSVR’s crisp, smooth vi­su­als, but it’s just one part of a larger con­certed ef­fort to solve a num­ber of prob­lems with cur­rent VR hard­ware. Im­ages on PSVR’s dis­play are ren­dered sharply, and the screen-door ef­fect is less pro­nounced than it is on its more ex­pen­sive com­peti­tors. Araki, Ito and Kuri are re­luc­tant to give away too much about how they’ve achieved this level of qual­ity, but tell us that it’s the com­bined re­sult of sev­eral in­no­va­tions, along with care­fully checked pri­ori­ti­sa­tion.

“There’s mag­ni­fi­ca­tion in­volved,” Ito ex­plains, “and some types of lens and mag­ni­fi­ca­tion will make the pix­els vis­i­ble. So we had to de­velop some­thing new in or­der to en­sure that the dis­tance be­tween them was min­i­mal, so that even when they were ex­panded un­der mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, [sep­a­ra­tion be­tween pix­els] would still not be­come vis­i­ble.”

“This isn’t lim­ited to just the OLED – it’s the to­tal­ity of the op­ti­cal de­sign,” Araki notes. “Be­cause OLED tech­nol­ogy keeps chang­ing and evolv­ing, it was

a mat­ter of tim­ing as to which level of OLED we were able to ac­tu­ally use. When we started de­sign­ing this hard­ware to make it a com­mer­cial prod­uct, we were able to get our hands on the best avail­able OLED at the time. But then the next ques­tion is: how do we pro­duce a beau­ti­ful pic­ture us­ing that OLED tech­nol­ogy? And it’s a mat­ter of bal­ance. Field of view is very im­por­tant be­cause it’s a head-mounted dis­play, but if we just try to ex­pand the field of view, it stretches the orig­i­nal im­age and de­grades its qual­ity. So we cre­ated sev­eral ver­sions that might sat­isfy the user, and we chose the one which gave an op­ti­mal bal­ance [be­tween FOV and im­age qual­ity].

“An­other bal­anc­ing ques­tion is whether you go for the qual­ity of im­age or the light­ness of the head­set. Weight is an im­por­tant as­pect of the whole thing, of course, and we thor­oughly re­searched what would be op­ti­mal. But in that process we’ve al­ways gone for qual­ity of im­age over re­duc­ing weight, and with that ap­proach we’ve been able to re­alise the qual­ity of the im­age we have now.

“And we knew that the screen-door ef­fect would be a chal­lenge when we started devel­op­ment work, so we took a unique ap­proach to re­solv­ing that prob­lem. I can’t give you the specifics, but it’s not just one piece of tech­nol­ogy: we worked on sig­nal pro­cess­ing, and also op­ti­cal tech­nol­ogy, and I think we’ve been suc­cess­ful in that re­spect.”

The re­sult­ing whole is a head­set that en­cour­ages you to spend more time us­ing it than we’re

THE “WE SCREEN-DOORKNEW THAT EF­FECT WOULD BE A CHAL­LENGE WHEN WE STARTED, SO WE TOOK A UNIQUE AP­PROACH TO RE­SOLV­ING IT”

ac­cus­tomed to with its com­peti­tors, sim­ply be­cause it’s more com­fort­able – a fact also noted by sev­eral of the de­vel­op­ers on th­ese pages, whose work has re­quired them to spend more time wear­ing PSVR hard­ware than any­one. But one area in which Sony can’t com­pete with Rift is in­te­grated au­dio. In­stead, PSVR is pack­aged with a pair of ear­buds that you plug into the head­set’s in-line re­mote con­trol. “Users have all kinds of head­phones them­selves, and prob­a­bly want to use their own,” Ito tells us when we ask him about the de­ci­sion. “That’s why we avoided head­phones this time.” It’s a small in­con­ve­nience given the ben­e­fits the setup of­fers else­where.

An­other ad­van­tage for PSVR users is

im­me­di­ate ac­cess to mo­tion con­trols with­out in­vest­ing in Move controllers, thanks to the DualShock hard­ware’s light bar. HTC’s Vive comes with packed-in controllers, but that’s part of a pack­age that costs nearly £700. And Ocu­lus is still to make its Touch controllers avail­able for Rift – a move that has un­der­mined games such as

The Climb, which have been forced to work with Xbox controllers. While PSVR games will play sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ently de­pend­ing on which type of con­troller you use, and both Sony and its devel­op­ment part­ners rec­om­mend us­ing Move controllers for the best pos­si­ble ex­pe­ri­ence, the abil­ity to reach into vir­tual worlds us­ing the stan­dard DualShock pad shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Nei­ther should the base PS4 hard­ware, it turns out. There has been some vo­cal con­cern re­gard­ing PSVR’s abil­ity to re­pro­ject 60fps im­agery at 120fps – a tech­nique not re­quired by pow­er­ful PCs ca­pa­ble of ren­der­ing na­tively at 120fps – but the ac­tual dif­fer­ence in graph­i­cal qual­ity be­tween PSVR and its more ex­pen­sive com­peti­tors feels min­i­mal, and in many cases not even no­tice­able. Time with DriveClub

VR, Robin­son: The Jour­ney or EVE: Valkyrie is enough to quash doubts about PSVR’s cre­den­tials. It’s a cru­cial con­sid­er­a­tion given that Sony’s VR so­lu­tion

TIME WITH DRIVECLUB VR, ROBIN­SON: THE JOUR­NEY OR EVE: VALKYRIE IS ENOUGH TO QUASH DOUBTS ABOUT PSVR’S CRE­DEN­TIALS

costs £200 less than an Ocu­lus Rift, while base PS4 hard­ware has re­cently been on sale at £150.

With as­pi­ra­tions of mak­ing a Walk­man-sized im­pact, Sony’s PSVR de­sign­ers aren’t afraid to think big. And with good rea­son: their hard­ware stands to give VR a jolt­ing shot in the arm, pulling it out of the en­thu­si­ast niche and into the realm of the com­mer­cial main­stream. Here is the most com­fort­able and at­trac­tively de­signed VR head­set to date, at a price point that feels palat­able com­pared to the of­fer­ings of Ocu­lus and HTC, with a mar­ket­ing cam­paign that aims to reach out be­yond early adopters. Cru­cially, it is pow­ered by the world’s lead­ing con­sole.

“PSVR is an en­hance­ment to PS4, but it isn’t a pe­riph­eral,” Ito muses. “It is its own plat­form. Hon­estly speak­ing, I’ve no idea what’s go­ing to hap­pen in ten or 20 years’ time, but I have the evo­lu­tion of PS4 games in mind. I don’t know whether we’ve been suc­cess­ful yet – it’s for oth­ers to make that judge­ment. But we’re one step to­wards chang­ing that world.”

Araki tells us that his team was care­ful to con­cen­trate the mov­ing parts of the PSVR head­band in one area at the back, along with a coun­ter­weight, to bet­ter dis­trib­ute its mass

“Look at the re­sults we’ve achieved,” Ito of­fers in re­sponse to doubts over PS4’s VR cre­den­tials. “You don’t get sick. You have to ex­pe­ri­ence it. I don’t think there’s a prob­lem”

The base PSVR pack­age: 01 The bun­dled ear­buds have a short lead for plug­ging into the re­mote. 02 The core head­set. 03 An in-line re­mote han­dles vol­ume, mute and power. 04 USB lead to con­nect PS4 and Pro­cess­ing Unit. 05 HDMI lead for daisy­chain­ing the PU. 06 The PU han­dles 3D au­dio and the so­cial screen. 07 An ex­ten­sion to the VR head­set con­nec­tion ca­ble. 08 AC power leads

01 The PSVR-ded­i­cated Aim gun 01 may look 06 un­usual, but it per­forms well in-game. It uses the same light-track­ing tech­nol­ogy that is in­cor­po­rated in the DualShock 02 and Move 03 controllers to com­mu­ni­cate with the revamped PlaySta­tion 4 Cam­era

06 (the orig­i­nal model is also com­pat­i­ble). With the new-look PS4 04 on sale now and PS4 Pro 06 due soon, Sony’s fam­ily of con­sole hard­ware is grow­ing quickly 03 02 04 05

Kuri on PSVR’s colour scheme: “We want our VR to be used by as broad a cus­tomer base as pos­si­ble. It should be ap­proach­able, and white is a bet­ter colour for that”

The com­plex­ity of the hard­ware be­comes clear as Araki dis­as­sem­bles a re­tail-ready PSVR unit. The jour­ney from hacked-to­gether pro­to­type to care­fully bal­anced con­sumer prod­uct has in­volved years of re­fine­ment

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