The 9 things Sony sees as the next step for virtual reality gaming
Virtual reality is finally here. It may have taken Oculus four years to bring its dream into reality, but now the HTC Vive and Gear VR are also on the market, and Sony’s PlayStation VR is on the way, VR is going nowhere.
Just like it took more than 20 years for original VR technology such as Virtuality to become the devices we see today, we’re still in the early days of VR technology development. In fact, many manufacturers are already thinking about what’s coming next and, even though Sony hasn’t released its PlayStation VR headset to market yet, it isn’t ready to throw the towel in on what a VR headset should and shouldn’t do.
Simon Benson, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s director of immersive technology, took to the stage at VRX Europe to outline just where the Japanese manufacturer sees the future of VR going.
Here are the nine things that both Sony and Benson believe have to happen to VR if it ever wants to be commercially successful.
1. VR developers have to ditch traditional gaming tropes
In VR, people don’t want to read floating screens of text. They don’t want to see button prompts pop up as they look at objects, they don’t even need or want pause screens. VR is supposed to be a virtual representation of another world and, if you want non-game players to interact with these experiences, VR needs to deliver an experience that feels completely natural to be in.
Benson suggests the best way to overcome such problems is to integrate the information you have to present into a believable format. Just as The Assembly or Elite Dangerous does, you need to give players a reason to believe that information should be presented in such a manner. It’s a small touch, and almost unnoticeable to many players, but it definitely helps forge a deeper connection to the virtual world around them.
2. VR has to find a new way to interact with experiences
While Benson doesn’t believe that Sony’s method of DualShock 4 or PlayStation Move interactivity is at the forefront of VR controls, he does believe that there’s no better solution currently out there. It will certainly take some time to come up with the new de facto way to interact with VR worlds but some developers are already creating workarounds.
One interesting experiment that arose from Sony’s experimentation was “morphing” a virtual representation of the controller itself. Put simply, this meant that when you looked down in-game, the controller would look like a steering wheel. When raised up into your vision, however, it would morph into a DualShock 4 complete with all the controls mapped onto it.
Will we still be using these controllers in the future?
Not only does this method do away with the intimidation factor many non-games players experience when presented with a controller, it also retains a level of immersion you wouldn’t find using a standard Xbox One/Steam controller.
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3. VR should translate body movements into commands
“Imagine you’re trying to negotiate in a shop and the shopkeeper catches you looking at something you like.”
Every major headset on the market is capable of head tracking but Benson believes nobody is currently using the technology to its fullest. Instead of simply tracking head movements, the future of VR will rely upon translating these natural movements into commands to enhance player immersion.
“Imagine you’re trying to negotiate in a shop and the shopkeeper catches you looking at something you like,” explains Benson. “They may then set any price they like because they know you want the item.”
The same technology could also be used in conversations or negotiations: “If you’re not looking forward and making eye contact, the game knows and can react in different ways.”
4. VR shouldn’t be “one size fits all”
As a six foot eight man, my view of life is drastically different to that of someone who’s under five foot. In VR, however, everyone shares the same viewpoint unless a developer decides to force you into a different perspective.
While this approach may have worked in traditional “flat’ first-person game design, in VR having the wrong viewpoint can be incredibly jarring. As Benson explains, a taller player would naturally expect to have to duck when going through a doorway. In contrast, a shorter player would naturally expect to not need to duck under tree branches or low-hanging scenery.
There’s no easy fix for this problem, with the simplest option being user self-calibration at the start of a session. However, both Sony and Benson do believe that a solution is possible via depth-sensing cameras such as PlayStation Camera or even Microsoft’s Kinect – the trouble is it’s a little too rudimentary to be reliable right now.