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Jordan Saleh plays a video game with Sony's Project Morpheus virtual reality headset at the Electronic Entertainment Expo on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
Jordan Saleh plays a video game with Sony's Project Morpheus virtual reality headset at the Electronic Entertainment Expo on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

E3 2014

VR rivals Sony and Facebook trade notes on Morpheus, Oculus Add to ...

I’m reclining in a bean bag chair while virtually shooting down a mountain road on a wheeled luge and I’m not thinking about vomiting. The biggest issue on my mind while trying out Sony’s Morpheus virtual reality headset is whether or not it will mess up my hair when I take it off. That’s actually a ringing endorsement.

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My memories of earlier VR experiments – as well as Sony’s previous TV visor of a few years ago – are highlighted by incidents of vertigo. There’s just something about having a monitor strapped to your face that also responds to your movements that really gets the stomach churning.

I don’t know the technological details of how the dizziness issue has been overcome but Morpheus – unveiled by the PlayStation maker at the Games Developer Conference in March and on display this week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles – is promisning because it somehow magically avoids scrambling your balance.

The prototype device is currently an unattractive mess of wires and headphones. My first reaction after strapping it on was that I’d just squeezed my head into a tight-fitting glove.

That soon gave way to the curiosity of the blurry screen that filled my field of vision. The road before me looked out of focus and far away, sort of like that anti-drinking and driving TV commercial, where a disembodied hand places glass after glass in front of one another.

“Is it supposed to be this blurry or am I drunk?” I asked the attendant. “Yes, it’s very early in the development, but it’ll get better soon,” he replied.

Sure, who really needs to see properly while barrelling down the side of a mountain on a luge into oncoming traffic anyway? And so off I went.

It turns out the VR luge demo is pretty simple: you tilt your head in one direction or the other to steer the sled around turns and cars. Lying in the bean bag chair helps, with the whole experience by actually simulating a luge run quite well (I’m foolish enough to have tried the real thing).

Just as with any game, I tested the controls gingerly at first but eventually got the hang of them. Within no time, I was zooming down the hill and weaving in between cars and guard rails. I did smash into a few vehicles, but the only penalty was a red X flashing on screen and some interrupted momentum. This is the great upside of virtual reality: you can try such idiotic things as luging down a busy road with no real penalty.

My test ride completed, I sat down with Scott Rohde, software product development head for Sony Worldwide Studios America. As the man charged with guiding people who will be making games for Morpheus, he’s the right executive to ask about what the company’s plans for the headset.

“Who knows where VR is going to take us? It could be a massive thing, it could be more of a nichey gamer thing,” he says. “But we have to be in on the ground floor and see where this goes.”

What Rohde knows is the headset market has been, well, turning heads: VR recently got a big vote of confidence from Facebook, which spent $2-billion in March to acquire Morpheus competitor Oculus Rift.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg tried out Sony’s gear at GDC in San Francisco shortly before pulling the trigger on that deal, Rohde says. Both companies want to see VR take off, to the point where Sony and Facebook are now routinely swapping ideas – stopping short of trading specifications.

“There’s an interesting back and forth, it’s not completely behind closed doors,” he says. “There’s a healthy dialogue between the two groups”

Follow on Twitter: @peternowak

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