I’ve been quiet for a while around here, and had countless experiences since my last post. Uncharted 4 happened, and reaffirmed my belief that Naughty Dog understands how to milk – on an almost impossibly technical level – the most that a console can do at that current time. Plenty of games may supplant that bar they established, but almost certainly none of them will come from external developers, as is the way of first-party development. But Gears of War 4 also happened, and it seems as apt a comparison as any with The Coalition really flexing what the Unreal Engine 4 can do on (relatively) weaker hardware. Games like Forza Horizon 3 are showing that the hardware isn’t the issue; 1080p games are possible on all hardware, and specs mean nothing if something is coded to work the hardware – especially if the competition is boasting said specs. It’s been wonderful to watch this all play out. Yes, fine, I’m biased and I know that in like-for-like 3rd party comparisons, the Xbox one will fare poorly in resolution or textures (or some combination thereof), but when you have first-party developers knowing the specs inside and out, it makes for a game where “limitations” are pointless. It’s gorgeous, sounds like a ton of fun to play, and I will.
But this is a post about VR, a thing that this dumping ground of my thoughts is supposed to be about. I’ve been quiet. REALLY quiet. A lot of that comes down to just not having the time or impetus to actually post something there, but PlayStation VR was finally released this week, and without question I will be biased my impressions. I’ve seen the hardware evolve at work, I’ve seen the software get better, and most of all, I’ve seen how the UI would finalize. I’m not entirely sure that it’s complete at this point (you don’t actually get Trophy notifications, for instance, which I swear was in there before).
There’s no objectivity here, is what I’m getting at. I cannot possibly distance myself from seeing how the platform, the hardware and the games have matured over the course of the last two or so years when I was quietly snuck into a room to try out the hardware for the first time (as Project Morpheus in the parlance of that era). The actual engineering had clearly been done at that point. Visibly it was no different from what you can try today. The head strap, the whole sliding face mask, it was all there, and the research had been done.
What was different, however, as the hardware progressed, was the software, and the actual UI. For the longest time, there was no real UI. After spending ample time in the Vive and Rift headsets, I imagined a sort of “greeting room” approach that never happened. Nope, you’re using the PS4, you get the PS4 interface. That’s fine, and in truth the Playroom VR and Demo Disc constructs do approximate the vision I had of things, but you don’t get that when you unbox the headset for the first time. Instead, things are kept simple, logical, and for the amount of wires this generation requires, is insanely straightforward. Seriously, if you can’t get PSVR up and running in 15 minutes, then my compatriots have failed.
But it was seeing all these things I’d seen before, at multiple points, slowly growing more and more “right” that got me excited. I’ve NEVER been one to hide my excitement for VR. I’m trying to make stuff for VR – PlayStation included, but that’s way after I tackle the other guys first – and this is the first/last shot at taking it mainstream. It was happening. This low(er)-cost headset was performing like the others did. The end result is this: they nailed it. Seriously, the headset tracking is flawless for me, though I know there have been issues with the poor Giant Bomb guys, and I wish they’d actually get a new unit, but I’m guessing they want to review what was given to them because it could happen to someone who walks into a store to purchase things. I will not shill for PlayStation: if you experience the problems they have, that’s horrible, and you should return that thing to the place you got it, because it’s straight-up BROKEN.
Here’s where I also try to avoid the inevitable insinuations that I’m blinded by my approximation to PS VR (see, I separate them because I’ve been conditioned to; PSVR, if you prefer). Move was a poor idea for a motion controller – not at the time; it was WAY more responsive than the Wii remotes, and there are a slew of technical videos that show this was tech Sony didn’t steal or copycat, it was just a Deep Impact/Armageddon kind of thing – visible light optical tech is not at ALL acceptable if you want real, non-jittery motion control. Colored balls are amazing at positional tracking, which is what PS VR uses, but it’s shit at orientation and depth, and those, even with a normal camera that can’t see at an extremely high resolution. The sensors are fine, and will be tweaked to improve things, but the tech is forward-facing, jittery and imprecise because it’s tech from a generation ago.
The headset has its own problems too: the OLED shmutz is unavoidable at this point; if it’s dark, you’ll see a kind of spotting pattern that literally is only there in the dark areas. The panel and what you get per-eye is lower-res than the other headsets, though in practice this is less of an issue than you’d think due to the fact that all three RGB pixels are crammed into the the same block of the screen that would normally be laid top-to-bottom and kinda broken up on the other two headsets. The so-called “screen door effect” is present, but less than you’d get even on the higher-end headsets. The optics were made to squeeze all them pixels together in a way that would focus (quite literally) the available pixels right into the middle. As you look out with your eyes, you see more blur and chromatic aberration, so things aren’t so clean.
Here’s the hilarious part of it: after focusing for SO LONG on the advantages the other headsets had in specs, I honestly don’t give a shit. Yes, both have a wider field of view (meaning you take in more of the “picture” in your head before you see black), and some can feel crisper at their native resolution, neither is as easy to use, offers the same breadth of options, and stands as much of a chance at actual VR mainstream success. For all the specs that the others have (and again, I’m trying to make a game for them, not PS VR), their screens are as poor in the bad ways, aren’t as good in the good ways, and perform literally identically in terms of actual tech.
PlayStation VR genuinely IS the cheapest way to find true presence – the ephemeral quality that removes you from feeling you’re watching something and instead puts you INSIDE that thing you’re watching. It’s essentially the holy grail of first-gen VR, and PlayStation VR nails it despite apparently lower specs. It also has a TON of content. Dozens of hours, at least, in terms of random demo disc (yep, that’s a thing, and it comes in every system, though in truth it’s apparently just a portal to download demo updates at this point), plus stuff like VR Worlds, which is legit as fuck in delivering that presence. Playroom VR is also incredibly good at serving that sort of Wii Sports-style introduction of the ideas, but it’s handled with aplomb in terms of getting you inside a world. You’re literally missing out on the fun if you don’t try it, because it’s free and because you might actually hate fun.
There are so, SO many games I want to talk about, and I will. I’m going to try to commit myself to actually reviewing shit again, because if I don’t I will go insane, but for now, know that PlayStation VR is not the underpowered, second-rate version of VR that people tried to make it. It’s real. It’s incredible, and if you want to get in on VR, this is the cheapest, most straightforward and EASILY the simplest version of it. I hope it takes off, I don’t care if it doesn’t, but I do want VR to catch on, and I think it’s the best, cheapest way to do that and understand WHY VR is so huge.