The Morpheus virtual reality headset made two Move controllers look like swords.
SAN FRANCISCO — Playing with Sony's new virtual-reality headset, Project Morpheus, doesn't actually feel like dreaming, but it's pretty close.
We tried out the over-the-head device at the Game Developers Conference here, and were blown away by the headset's elegant, comfortable design and the visceral gameplay experiences it delivers. Developer kits are shipping now, but Sony has given no word on when consumers can expect to see the Morpheus on store shelves, or what it will cost.
The Morpheus might be the most comfortable virtual-reality headset we've tried out. It balanced well, with most of the weight on the top of the head instead of the cheekbones or nose. The eyepiece looks oversized from the outside, but when wearing it, there was little to no sense of extra heaviness in front of our eyes. The visor fit comfortably over our glasses without any gaps or irritation.
The visor felt a little bit like a scuba mask, but it didn't apply any suction to our face. It got a little warm under there as we played, but other than that, we experienced no physical discomfort from the headset.
The games themselves were another matter. Although they were far from seamless, the two playable demos at Sony's booth both delighted and terrified us.
The first demo was called "Deep." We found ourselves in a diving cage slowly descending into the ocean. At first, schools of fish swam in and around the bars of the diving cage, and we used a flare gun to chase them away.
Looking down revealed our in-game avatar's body, and moving the PlayStation DualShock Controller moved the avatar's right hand, which held the flare gun. When we bent our knees, the avatar's knees bent as well.
The demo took a turn for the horrifying when a shark showed up, circled the cage, and then began ripping it apart with its teeth. We spun on the spot to keep the shark in sight, and instinctively recoiled in fear when it attacked.
Spinning caused a bit of tangling with the Morpheus's power cord, but Sony has said the device will be wireless when it ships to consumers, so tangling shouldn't be a problem in the final build. The other issue was that spinning messed up our in-game avatar, which could not actually move from a fixed position.
The second demo worked far better. It put us into a medieval courtyard and had us try out virtual swordplay against some practice dummies. We held two PlayStation Move controllers, one in each hand, which appeared in the game world as armored gauntlets. We could also move forward and backward in the game by stepping forward or backward in real life.
Pressing the Moves' trigger buttons caused the hands to close and grab nearby items, such as swords or even parts of the practice dummies. For example, we could seize a practice dummy's hand with one Move controller, pick up a sword with the other Move and swing it to cut the dummy's hand off, then throw the hand by making a swinging motion with the controller and releasing the trigger button.
In the next part of the demo, we had a crossbow in the virtual world, and could aim and fire by moving our right hand holding the Move controller. This was much harder and seemingly less intuitive than swinging and throwing, as the crossbow was hard to aim with.
When we closed one eye or the other, our perception in the Morpheus helmet changed significantly: To our right eye, it seemed as if we had your shot lined up, but to our left eye, it seemed we were a few inches wide. If we tried to focus on the crossbow itself, the target beyond it appeared doubled, just as distant objects appear doubled in real life when the unaided eye focuses on a closer object.
Neither demo involved moving across large virtual distances. It seems that, for now, at least, players will still need PlayStation Move or DualShock controllers in order to move through a game world with Morpheus.
Project Morpheus, named after the Greek god of dreams, is a serious wakeup call to skeptics of virtual-reality gaming. Morpheus won't replace regular-screen gaming — not for a while, at least — but the few minutes we had with some less-than-perfect tech demos were some of the most visceral gaming experiences we've ever had.