I can’t help but get the feeling Sony is asking for trouble naming its virtual reality headset Morpheus. I mean, could you set the bar any higher? Not only are you naming your product after a character from a film series centered completely and entirely around a convincing alternate world, but you’re also sharing a title with the Greek god of dreams himself. Morpheus is a shapeshifter who can take on any form and travel to any dream, long or short, day or night, and completely at will. The idea of a virtual reality headset possessing such attributes is undeniably awesome, but can we really expect such a transcending experience? Well, maybe. Just not right away.
The idea behind Morpheus is clearly sound, and the technology is all but ready — the progression of Oculus Rift proves it. Sony has demonstrated its ability to quickly adopt a technology and mass produce it dozens of times over before, and the tendency in recent years has been to maintain an impressive level of finesse and functionality in the process. Morpheus’ physical design already kicks the pants off that of Oculus, and merging looks with even an almost-as-good VR experience is certain to result in a winning formula.
Even so, it’s not yet clear if competing with Oculus will be a primary focus come Morpheus’ launch window, and the more I hear Mark Zuckerberg talk about virtual classrooms and baseball games, the more I question how long Oculus will even be considered a gaming company — at the very least, it will remain their focus for the foreseeable future. Regardless of what the competition does, though, Morpheus will need to strike a balance. Though keeping focused on innovations Morpheus can bring to gaming is a must, Sony will eventually need to offer a taste of what lies beyond as well. They don’t need to go full Zuckerberg on us anytime soon, but they will need to hint at what’s possible.
Perhaps for that reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about what Morpheus can be reasonably expected to do come its 2015 launch, and what it will arrive ready for under ideal circumstances. Aside from “OMG Killzone VR!” or “OMG Uncharted VR!,” just what will be achievable on a PS4 with Morpheus approximately one year from now? Well, there are an abundance of possibilities; let’s consider a few.
Home is where the heart is. Or at least it could be.
Integrating PlayStation Home with Morpheus is both obvious and groan-inducing depending on who you ask, and though Home hasn’t exactly been a smash hit with PS3’s enthusiast community (my term for “hardcore gamer”), it has been both profitable and a headline-snatcher for a number of years now. For that alone, there’s little reason for Sony to abandon it.
The great thing about a theoretical Home experience on PS4 is that a lot of its more mundane or seemingly trivial attributes — arguably a large part of why it’s been mocked — suddenly become much more interesting, just by virtue of adding VR as an option. I’m no proponent of rampant microtransactions, but if buying a stylish Hawaiian shirt for my avatar means actually looking down and seeing it draped over my body, because I’m my avatar and my avatar is me, suddenly the asking price doesn’t seem so terrible. I mean, c’mon — that’s about ten times cheaper than those shirts cost in real life, I’d reckon. Maybe more.
Playing dressup obviously isn’t going to cut it alone, and in addition to improving the rest of Home’s more menial activities (apartment decorating, various minigames, etc), Morpheus has potential to breath substantial new life into Home’s more MMO-heavy aspects. I’d certainly spend a lot more time checking out hubs for individual games, for example, if publishers supported them with VR content, and Sony’s in-house releases could lead the way in this regard, possibly setting precedent. It may not be clear when Ubisoft will release a VR Assassin’s Creed that isn’t the Morpheus equivalent of Move waggle, but if Ubisoft could instead populate a space in Home with Assassin’s Creed-themed VR content, piggybacking on Home’s own VR foundation as a test-bed, then it may be more inclined to take the plunge the following year. Sony would take a slice of any proceeds, of course, but as long as gamers see the value in what they’re buying, then that’s not a bad thing. Revenue for a company flirting with financial trouble is never a bad thing.
Beyond Home’s core elements, it’s difficult to predict how else Morpheus could lend a hand. I haven’t played much of the Sodium games, but even if I had, I don’t know that my apathy would dissolve any less slowly (there’s some sodium humor for you). Once aspects of Home start becoming too much like traditional games, the VR factor loses its zeal; what’s so cool about VR Sodium One if I can just play VR Triple-A Battlefield Tanks 2014 instead? It’s a bit of a slippery slope, but with the right implementation, Home could see a serious resurgence under Morpheus on PS4.
A warehouse for your trophies. Actually, let’s make it a mansion.
I never understood the achievement craze until I got hooked on trophy collecting shortly after buying my PS3, and if “trophy culture” hopes to evolve in any meaningful way over the long haul, there are going to have to be some above-incremental changes. I believe Morpheus can help with this.
Hear me out — for many, the bragging rights that come with trophies are half the fun, no? Sure, as gamers we’re obsessive completionists, and the rush of satisfaction you get after nabbing certain objectives is often fulfilling on its own. Still, if I’m honest with myself, there was literally nothing fun about Shadow of the Colossus HD’s time attack mode on hard difficulty. Very-near nothing. I did it for the trophy, and because I was rewarded, the endeavor became worthwhile. Looking back, it was a trying challenge that was indeed worth doing, but without the initial incentive I never would have bothered.
The point is, I want to be able to flaunt my collection in a more dramatic fashion than is currently possible, and Morpheus could offer any number of fun solutions to this. In a VR environment, you could have a literal trophy room — the more trophies, the bigger and more extravagant a storage space you’d be entitled to. It would almost be like upgrading your house in Animal Crossing, except with trophies as currency, not Bells. Rather than just scrolling through a list on your PSN profile, folks on your friends list would instead be able to assess your stature with just a quick glance through the Morpheus headset. If you’ve paid your dues, they’ll end up marveling at it instead.
Taking the idea a bit further, trophies could differ in appearance as well. Yes, they’d still be divvied into the standard categories of bronze, silver, gold, and platinum, but why shouldn’t a particularly grueling gold trophy in Dark Souls II look more badass than the rest? It could bear the horns of a difficult monster, for example, or emanate a dark aura — anything really. Your friends would walk through your virtual trophy room and immediately scan your collection for what they do and don’t recognize, and soon their eyes would stop on the large, brooding dark trophy in the back. Unlike trophies in their current form, VR trophies could serve as both a badge of honor and a physical object you want to possess for yourself. I suspect such a visual would go a long way motivating gamers who aren’t already trophy-obsessed to get with the program (most of my non-gamer pals could care less about the blinky messages that appear periodically as they play), and with tangible incentives in a VR world, it could actually bring gold and platinum trophy-hunting mainstream.
Would Sony do something like this? It’s possible. Though my idea is admittedly a bit off-the-wall, anything to spice up the experience and amplify the collection/satisfaction ratios experienced by players, via Morpheus or otherwise, is something I can get behind. If my idea did come to fruition, it could even function under Home and double as a way to get players trying that platform. I think I’ll pass on speculating about that for now, though.
Zuker-Borg’s Brave New World
Does Zuckerberg actually care about gaming? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Regardless of whether he does or not, Oculus is working on the most advanced VR technology available, and for that reason they were targeted by Facebook over whatever else may be out there.
The interesting thing is that, perhaps through no desire of their own, Sony may be dragged into the non-gaming VR realm against its will. It all depends on what Oculus does. If Oculus remains committed to gaming while eventually offering the ability to “hang out” with Facebook friends in a small, simulated meeting place, won’t I want a similar option for my friends on PSN? Oculus, with their gaming focus retained, would still be considered a competitor to Sony and PlayStation. As such, not attempting to match them feature-for-feature would be seen as an unwise business decision. Predicting the future is an untidy business, and quickly approaches futility the more it’s practiced. Even so, these are things Sony will eventually need to think about.
Ultimately, nobody truly knows what’s going to happen, which is why focusing on the near future is all that gamers can really do in the interim. My main hope is that Morpheus transcends gloomy forecasts painting it as nothing more than this generation’s Move controller, and instead helps lay the groundwork for a future where virtual worlds are commonplace.
If that future requires that I buy my Home avatar six pastel Hawaiian shirts while enduring the latest batch of mind-numbing Midway mini-games, then so be it — it’s an investment I’m more than willing to make. Nobody said this was going to be easy.
Outside of blockbuster games, what do you hope to see out of Morpheus on PS4? What’s doable, and what will likely remain just out of reach? Will Sony walk the path Zuckerberg describes once VR technology reaches an advanced stage? Let us know in the comments below.