Recently released documentation has exposed some of the hassles around Sony’s much talked about entry into the VR market. If you are lucky enough to get one of the new units when they release this October you had better have a cache of existing peripherals at your disposal. Not only will you need the VR system itself in addition to a PS4 but a PlayStation camera is required and certain games will also need DUALSHOCK and/or PlayStation Move controllers to function correctly.
This is in stark contrast to the last major gaming novelty unleashed upon us, the XBOX Kinect. With the first generation Kinect all you needed was the unit itself hooked up to the console in order to jump right in. Sony’s “Great leap forward” is a lot more burdensome, especially for those like me who have little more than a console and a couple of controllers mildly damaged by being thrown across the room in fits of anger when the FIFA UI kicks you in the teeth.
To make matters worse, a key requirement for enjoying the PlayStation VR experience is clearing roughly 60 square feet of space. While those living in a Mac Mansion might be swimming in space, for those dwelling in urban shanties it becomes rather more difficult. Take your standard NYC railroad apartment where your knees touch the screen when you sit on the couch, yeah you are out of luck. Not to mention Sony’s home of Japan where extreme population density confines living areas to glorified closets. For the average user as we have learned for our past experience of Kinect, shifting the coffee table every time you want to play is a right pain in the ass.
Following the massive hype around Oculus Rift it’s no surprise such a major player in the gaming industry is desperate to get in on the action but in doing so Sony will have to carefully navigate a sea of bodies. The remains of countless past VR failures. Who can forget the ghastly Nintendo Virtual Boy or Sony’s own disaster the Glasstron. Certainly today’s technology is better suited to the revival of VR but there is always going to be a lot of skepticism around the return of what many people perceive to be gimmicks. Take 3D as a prime example.
As the film industry struggled to deal with falling attendance following the widespread introduction of television they turn to the 3D experience to draw people back to the theater. It worked for about 2 years 1952-1954 before the audience realized it was crap. Many times after that 3D reared it’s ugly head but mostly it offered a brief novelty especially as part of the IMAX experience. Then the mid 2000’s came and 3D cinema was back in a big way. Following the release and success of James Cameron’s Avatar many were convinced that the only way we would watch films in the years to come would be 3D. A decade later and while many new films are screened in 3D the format hasn’t nearly had the success many anticipated.
On the home front TV sales cooled off dramatically after a hectic period where people rushed to replace their old CRT’s with HD flat screens. Following the major upgrade there was little need to keep going, many people who had 720p screens really couldn’t see much of an advantage in replacing them with 1080p models since much of the content they were enjoying was only really broadcast in the lower resolution. Gradually in time many eventually upgraded when their existing TV’s died but it wasn’t quite the huge boom enjoyed by the manufacturers first time around. Many selling points were floated, LED, curved screens, ambient lights, 4K but while nice to have none really necessitated dropping hard earned cash. 3D was their big hope, the cinematic experience in the home, a new way to watch sports and next generation gaming. It fell very flat. These days while most new TV’s are 3D enabled as standard you have to dig very deep to find 3D content. The main reason for this failure was down to the peripheral. When we dreamed of pictures jumping off the screen as kids we assumed we would live in a future where the stupid glasses weren’t required. Technology hasn’t yet been able to overcome the necessity of glasses and as a result we couldn’t be particularly bothered to use them. Instead we plonk ourselves down on the couch and watch our films and shows in the old reliable 2D format while the box of 3D glasses that came with our pricey TV gather dust in a drawer somewhere. This brings me back to PlayStation VR.
As a kid dreaming of a VR future inspired by garbage like The Lawnmower Man, I pictured putting on a cool pair of glasses and getting utterly absorbed by the virtual world. The reality that Sony is rushing to market requires that I purchase and install an additional camera system clear a vast area of my living room and rely on clunky controllers for interaction. While the end result is probably awesome the sheer hassle of getting there will quickly become wearisome.
Perhaps I’m underestimating the desire for immersible environments, it just seems to me that while the technology has reached the point where proper VR is possible the application of that technology is still rooted in the past, reliant on clunky controls and interfaces that ultimately drag the user back into the real world. While blowing chunks across their uncluttered living area from motion sickness, probably.