VR vs. Post-E3 2014

VRFocus‘ last ‘VR vs.’ piece was written before E3 2014, and looked towards what we could expect from the biggest event in the videogame industry. We talked about how hardware likely wouldn’t be the focus of the show, given the relatively close proximity to all of the announcements made at the 2014 Game Developers Conference in March. This paved the way for both Oculus VR and Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) to make some exciting software announcements for their respective Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus virtual reality (VR) headsets. So, did the technology and the companies championing it live up to our expectations?

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While this year’s show was strong overall for the industry, its VR focus was something of a mixed bag. Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus both had a presence at the show, but it felt like both companies had made a conscious decision not to make too much noise when competing against mainstream blockbusters for headline space.

Oculus VR undoubtedly had the stronger showing of two, with a carefully planned set of announcements that maintained the company’s strong momentum building up to the release of its second development kit (DK2) next month, if not really boosting it all that much. The first and perhaps most significant headline was that Naughty Dog founder Jason Rubin had joined the Oculus VR team. It wasn’t so much Rubin’s appointment that caused a stir, rather the announcement of his role as the new head of worldwide studios. For comparisons sake, Rubin is effectively the company’s very own Shuhei Yoshida, meaning we can expect exciting things from Oculus VR on the software side in the future. But that future is still far off, and at E3 we want experiences here and now.

That leads us on to the second announcement; The Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation was at the show and playable with the Oculus Rift. This was the kind of surprise that we’d really been hoping for at E3 this year, a sign that bigger developers were working with the headset and we could look forward to a future in which some of the industry’s biggest names would develop titles for the platform. Even more promising was our hands-on with that VR version of the title, which suggested that the survival horror experience became even more immersive and terrifying when played with the headset.

Still, that impact of this announcement was squandered somewhat by the news that full VR support for the actual title releasing in October 2014 is yet to be confirmed. It’s more than possible that The Creative Assembly will adapt Alien: Isolation for the Oculus Rift and, hopefully, Project Morpheus, but this was a disappointing reminder that developers aren’t ready to go ‘all-in’ with the technology just yet.

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That said, Lucky’s Tale, a third-person platform videogame from Playful Corp. gave us a tantalising first look into its colourful world, and Oculus VR’s line-up was bolstered by the enormously promising SUPERHOT and the solid as ever EVE: Valkyrie. The company definitely fell short of what we had hoped for though. True, DK2 isn’t out yet, but it’s likely getting near the time that both the company and SCE start to talk about the consumer versions of their kits a little more openly. In fact, it’s possible that both are even out before the next E3 rolls around, meaning both will have missed the chance to announce their line-ups on the biggest stage in the industry.

While the Oculus Rift could have had a stronger showing, it ran circles around SCE’s presence with Project Morpheus. As we wrote last week, we weren’t expecting SCE to reveal any hardware updates or release plans for the device at this year’s show; it’s simply too early. We did however expect at the very least a handful of confirmations that some of 2015’s titles would be integrating support for the device. Instead, all the company mustered for its press briefing was simply that the headset was there and news of two new tech demos which were hardly mentioned at all in the show floor days that followed.

Again, it’s early for Project Morpheus. For comparison, SCE revealed its PlayStation Move motion controller on its E3 stage one year and didn’t mention it again until the following GDC nine months later, where it had a huge blowout of information. It’s only been three months since the device’s reveal and the company has confirmed that it won’t be coming this year.

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It would be easy to understand if other developers weren’t confirming support for the device surrounding the conference. Bossa Studios’ Surgeon Simulator is set to feature support for Project Morpheus, as is nDreams’ The Assembly. Both of these announcements could have been great teases for what’s to come with the device if they’d been made in the press conference, but instead weren’t revealed until a few days after. Leading up to the event, Among the Sleep, Project CARS and The Golf Club all confirmed that they were working with Project Morpheus. Developers are ready to announce their support for the device, why isn’t SCE?

Arguably the best thing SCE did for Project Morpheus over the last two weeks was show the headset on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where the host started screaming with his amazement at the Castle tech demo. Given its appearance the weekend before the show, we had hoped that the company would capitalise on its excitement.

If anything, E3 was a reminder that it’s still early for VR no matter how quickly the space is growing. The event’s timing is more to blame than Oculus VR or SCE; it’s placed too far away from (admittedly vague) the launch windows of both headsets but could well be too late in 2015 for these companies to make launch plans at the show next year. So the question is, when?

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Oculus VR can likely do things on its own terms as it has for the past few years, but SCE hardware details are traditionally revealed at these press conferences. PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and PlayStation Move all had their release dates revealed at either E3, Gamescom or TGS. Of those shows, Gamescom feels like the more likely candidate for VR  videogame reveals and hardware details but, again, it’s only two months away, taking place in August. Is there really enough of a gap between E3 and that show to finally lift the lid on these details?

The next two months will tell all. We can expect to get a sense of just how big a presence VR will have at the industry’s most-attended show in the build up to it. For now, post-E3, we’re left in much the same position we were before, waiting for more.

‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions. 

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