Can Sony Bring Back Virtual Reality?

Can Sony Bring Back Virtual Reality?

From a ’90s point of view, the year 2000 looked technologically exciting. We dreamed especially hard about what the future held for video games: With sleek, silver CDs spinning in our consoles, it seemed like we’d taken a major step upward from the “old” ways and were content to let game cartridges decompose into a grey powder.

But we wanted to know what lay beyond CDs, and with the high-tech fantasies that arcades were throwing around in the ’90s, we thought we had a good idea about the next chapter of home gaming: Virtual reality.

Granted, there was a small discrepancy between how books, movies, and television sold virtual reality, and what it actually was. To date, none of us can boast a VR experience that put us bodily into a game and let us grip a sword and shield that actually warmed under the heat of our hands. Many of us do have stories about close-fitting goggles that tattooed our eyeballs with visuals that equated to sitting too close to the television.

Finally, all of us think of one thing when we think of virtual reality: Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Whoops.

Needless to say, our dreams of a virtual world ended with a black-and-red headache. Either console engineers gave up on trying to evolve the VR experience, or the failure of the Virtual Boy irradiated the concept to the point that nobody wanted to go near it anymore. At any rate, it’s hard to look back at the words “virtual reality” without letting out a nostalgic snort for our wide-eyed naivety.

Sony, however, still dreams of a virtual world, and has ambitious to make the technology–well, a reality.

“We’re working with a couple of games at Sony that are experimenting with virtual reality-type experiences,” Sony London Studios boss Mick Hocking told Develop. “We’re working with a couple of games at Sony that are experimenting with virtual reality-type experiences. We’ve also got a new head mounted display that we showed at CES, that can produce really great quality 3D and a very immersive experience for games. The head-mounted display has twin-OLED screens; very high quality.”

Hocking admitted that Sony is merely tinkering with VR tech at the moment, though said experimentation is still drive by purpose. “At the moment it’s just a head-mounted display; the head isn’t being tracked – but that’s something we’re doing R&D on,” Hocking said. “I have to say, what we’ve done in the R&D projects has just been fantastic.”

Can Sony revive our childlike excitement for VR? Hard to say, but it’s nice to see the company trying. After all, console engineers have been bound and determined to take the home gaming experience way beyond sitting on the couch and pecking at a controller: For all we know, Sony may have the next big thing on its hands. Motion controls helped bring a wider audience to gaming, but core gamers aren’t necessarily impressed. Social gaming likewise appeals to a wide audience, but again, core gamers can take it or leave it.

3D gaming isn’t the runaway success that Nintendo and Sony had initially hoped it would be, but people are still impressed by it. Sony might be working on the assumption that VR is the next step. If the company is committed to the experience, maybe the PlayStation 4 will offer a dramatic step upwards from our pre-conceived notions of what VR actually is–not unlike how Nintendo and certain smartphone companies have given glasses-free 3D to a world that associated the visual trick with red-and-blue cardboard glasses.

Before getting too excited, though, we have to remember that Sony is doubtlessly measuring cost and risk versus potential reward. We also have to keep in mind that Sony’s version of VR is still probably going to involve “sitting really close to the TV,” though if the company can give us that without the accompanying headaches, that will be a pretty welcome advancement by itself.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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