The 9 things Sony sees as the next step for virtual reality gaming
5. VR should let us embody ourselves in new worlds
VR is immersive, but in the early days of this new wave of headsets, Benson believes that there are more ways to teleport users into involving and believable worlds. While developers can create more immersive worlds through creative direction, there are some things that can only be done with improved hardware.
One way Benson suggests Sony could improve its VR offering is through facial mapping. By allowing players to use the PlayStation Camera to scan their face into the game, people could create avatars of themselves to play with online. Ultimately this means in the inevitable VR MMO games to come, you’ll be able to map your face to a character and be recognised by your friends online.
6. VR needs to play up to the strengths of headset hardware
Every headset out there isn’t being used to it’s fullest. Benson points out that even Sony isn’t utilising one of the most interesting aspects of its head-mounted display: headset removal detection.
Currently, Sony just uses this feature to reduce power consumption but it could be utilised to really change how players actually interact with a game or experience. For example, you could be playing a first-person VR experience but for some sections you may be required to enter a third-person view accessed by simply removing the headset and playing on a TV. It could even happen in reverse, playing a first-person or third-person title on your TV, only donning a headset when entering the cockpit of a car or plane.
It may sound simple, and somewhat gimmicky but it’s a great way to bring about another level of immersion in an incredibly simple way.
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7. VR sound has to be more than just 3D audio
Many developers are investing time and effort into building 3D audio into their games but for Benson, audio input is an even more important element that needs to be addressed to move VR forward.
Imagine a horror game where the threat stalking you can hear you breathing as you try to hide in a cupboard.
Every major VR headset on the market contains a built-in microphone, which could offer so much more than simple online chat capabilities, but currently, nobody is utilising it properly. While Benson stopped short of confirming if any PlayStation VR titles utilise such a feature, it’s clear that Sony has been experimenting with the technology.
Speaking on-stage at a little later in the day, Sony Worldwide Studios’ audio director Gary Taylor revealed that developers have been exploring how the microphone could be used to “manipulate the world around you”.
This manipulation could come in the form of actual conversations with non-player characters. Even if this was just reading out predefined responses, it’s far more immersive than simply tapping ‘X’ on a controller or pointing.
You could even use the microphone to gain the attention of other characters through clapping, whistling or generally making noise. Imagine a horror game where the threat stalking you can hear you breathing as you try to hide in a cupboard. Grim.
8. VR’s real future lies in social experiences
Just like Facebook, Sony believes that without social experiences, VR will never be adopted by the masses. While that bigger picture is to end up with completely online experiences, Sony is focusing on warming people to VR through same-sofa social interaction.
This comes in the form of the previously unveiled social screen, which allows people to see what VR players are doing via a TV, and an interesting Wii U-style multiplayer mode. For Sony, however, this is just the start of what it’s trying to do with social play.
In the future, Sony imagines friends getting hands-on with each other, physically manipulating VR players in accordance with on-screen instructions delivered via the TV. Essentially, the future of same-room social VR is poking or shaking players at certain times to correspond with what’s being experienced in VR. So, you could be playing a horror game, hear something behind you and then be touched on the shoulder in real life. No thanks.
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9. Social VR experiences ultimately lie online.
Once the nut of same-screen VR has been cracked, and the general public has warmed to the idea of strapping a screen onto their face for a couple of hours at a time, the next step is truly immersive online VR experiences.
Currently, there are already a few online VR experiences, namely Elite Dangerous, EVE: Valkyrie and Sony’s upcoming RIGS arena shooter. However, these aren’t much more than traditional games with integrated VR functionality. For online VR to really become a social experience, progress needs to be made.
While there’s no easy way to do this, Benson believes that over time, this problem will be solved thanks to general advances in VR tech. For instance, with improved 3D-audio and microphone integration, you’d be able to feel more rooted during a battle as you hear the chatter of comrades coming from their physical locations within your world.
There also has to be a case for creating a social online experience that doesn’t revolve around shooting another person in the face. It’s more than likely that – once the initial wave of VR enthusiasts has died down and its mass-market appeal sets in – people will want to meet up in “walking simulators” like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture as a means to socialise with their friends.