Sony made a big deal about virtual reality at its PlayStation Experience event last weekend, but its onstage demo didn’t work so well. Richard Marks, the head of the PlayStation Magic Lab at Sony, wanted to show two players dueling with each other in the same virtual space. But Marks’ PlayStation Move sticks — which control his hands in virtual reality — didn’t work. And so the demo was disappointing.
With VR, there is such a thing as pushing too hard and getting too excited. But as Sony’s main VR advocate, Marks is undeterred.
The virtual reality and augmented reality markets are expected to grow to $150 billion by 2020, with much of the initial revenues coming from games, according to tech adviser Digi-Capital. Sony wants to be the lead company in making that happen. And it has the advantage of having 30 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the market. The PlayStation VR headset, which ships in the first half of next year, will compete against rivals such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive on the PC, as well as the Samsung Gear VR on mobile.
We talked with Marks about the demo and the progress that Sony is making in getting developers to make VR games at the PSX event. Here’s our edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: The PlayStation VR demo onstage didn’t quite work. I guess it’s a learning experience. What were you trying to do with the demo?
Richard Marks: Our goal as a group is to always push the limits. VR hasn’t been demonstrated live very much because that’s very hard to do. We thought this was a unique opportunity, because it’s a fan event. A lot of fans here won’t get to try VR. We try to circulate as many units as we can, but we only have so many. We thought we could give them a bit of a taste. It’s an exciting crowd. It’s not like we have a business objective at that point.
Unfortunately the Move controllers just weren’t in a connected state. They wouldn’t light up. It’s not as if the tracking didn’t work. They weren’t even on, really.
GamesBeat: Is this basically a multiplayer demo? That hasn’t been done very much.
Marks: The demo has two players networked together. You can see the other character. Most people so far have just been rendering hands and head. We wanted to try pushing the limits of what you can render for a character. We have this full body system. It’s still a tech demo. We’re still looking at it. A real animator could use some of the ideas and make it look a lot prettier.
GamesBeat: It made people wonder if there was something else controlling or detecting the body, besides the Move.
Marks: We didn’t have enough time to go into that on stage. We’ll probably talk about it later at a tech conference. All we had was the head and the hands. But as long as you know a person is standing in place, which you’re supposed to do in our system, you can figure out a lot about what the body is doing. Even the twists and things. If it isn’t exactly what your body is doing, it can still look very rich for the other person. It gives them a good representation of your motion, even if it doesn’t match perfectly.
GamesBeat: Can you get both people doing that on the same PS4?
Marks: We can only track on PlayStation VR system per console. You can’t have two people playing in VR together on one console.
GamesBeat: So you can’t do it in a living room, but you could do it online?
Marks: Right. Rendering two people is no problem at all. It’s just the lights and everything, we have it set up for one person. Space is also a consideration. We don’t want to try to fit two people into one camera view.
GamesBeat: The processing power for VR and displaying it to a screen—if you tried to do something like a split screen, would that be possible?
Marks: Sure. There’s a lot of power available. Every graphical choice you make might impact that, of course. But already, the Playroom VR, they’re doing a completely different screen for the television than they’re doing for the person in VR. They’re rendering two different views on one PlayStation.
GamesBeat: The first titles we see, though, are going to be showing a single-player experience?
Marks: Well, we already have Rigs. We have EVE: Valkyrie. They’re showing some great multiplayer experiences. There are more multiplayer experiences in development. We were pushing the limits a bit with seeing the other character fully animated. Like I say, most of the demos we’ve seen have focused on the head and the hands. The Toybox demo from Oculus is an example of that.
GamesBeat: What would you expect from the first and second and third generations of VR, the successive waves of games?
Marks: The thing that’s great about what’s happening now—there will be a set of launch games, but it’s clear that the pipeline continues on. It’s not as if we’ll have the launch and then nothing for a while. There will be a nice progression of games. The very first games, like with any console, they’re doing their best to get a game ready. Then every developer after that gets the benefit of seeing what they’ve done and improving upon it. You’ll see a solid progression of just the software changing, without the hardware having to change.
We always count on that from a console point of view. Developers get better at using the hardware they have. That’ll be even more true for VR, because it’s so new for developers.
GamesBeat: With Ubisoft on board, it seems like bigger companies are experimenting.
Marks: Every company I know has some kind of internal development. It’s really more of a timing thing for those bigger studios, when it makes sense for them to get involved business-wise. But there’s no doubt that all of them are working on it. Really, it makes sense. There’s no product out hardware-wise. There’s no point in shipping software yet. They want to time it to match their product cycles.
GamesBeat: Did you observe anything from the launch of Gear VR and some of the titles that are out for that?
Marks: It’s great that it’s happening. It’s raising awareness of VR. Same with Google Cardboard and things like that. I hope, though, that people understand that there’s a pretty big quality difference between what you get out of those systems and what you’ll get from the higher-quality position-tracking VR systems. It’s good for overall awareness. Same with the Facebook acquisition. That raised awareness of VR quite a bit.
But I want people to know that there are different levels. Our product is great because it’s high quality, but it’s very accessible. If you own a PlayStation 4 you can plug it in and it works. There’s no risk of driver problems.