Dave Ranyard SCE London Studio director Speak About Project Morpheus - Games Weekly

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dave Ranyard SCE London Studio director Speak About Project Morpheus

SCE London Studio director Dave Ranyard has overseen the development of SingStar and Wonderbook but with half of his staff working on Project Morpheus, he is currently eyeing greater potential.

When did your studio become involved with Project Morpheus ?

If you look at our history, we’ve done a lot of augmented reality going right back to EyeToy: Play, which came out 11 years ago, so we’ve actually been looking at camera tech for around 12 years. But I’d say we’ve probably known about Sony’s plan for virtual reality and been interested in it for a couple of years. There was an internal memo about Sony’s push and strategy around VR and we naturally wanted to get involved.

Was Sony working on Morpheus before Oculus started its Kickstarter project ?

Honestly, I can't remember. From my perspective, I think the stars were aligned in terms of availability of technology for this kind of product or prototype. I suspect there are other people who have yet to show their hand.

How many people do you have working on VR ?

The studio as a whole employs around 110 people and about half are working on the Morpheus prototype. Part of that is an art team that fluctuates if we want to make something to take to a videogame show, then we ramp up the art team accordingly. But it’s around half.

Why is Project Morpheus important to you ?

I believe it will be a disruptive technology and its effect will eventually be similar to the arrival of sound in film. The ingredients are there.

So far, we’ve seen two different kinds of games from SCE London Studios: The Deep and Street Luge. Is there a lot of experimentation going on ?

VR is a new world to explore and we’re finding that we’re coming up with some ideas that don’t work and then devising others that do; that kind of experience is quite unique for me. Over the past 18 months we’ve also seen interest within the studio grow and people are questioning the kind of concepts we can do with it.

Are there any concepts that have worked really well ?

Well, people looked at Street Lugeon paper and they were unsure it would work, but actually, it’s had a really good response. The fact it has pure Morpheus control is so engaging. But we’re experimenting. Early doors, we thought it would be cool if you rode on animals; riding a horse or whatever. We tried it but the motion thing didn't really work.

VR is not a new tech as such and there have been many failures. Why could it succeed now ?

It’s always hard to predict the future, but the ingredients are there now. We have advanced smartphone screen technology and there’s great optic and head-tracking technology. The speed of the processes is quick enough to fool the human brain. The sum of the parts make a great VR experience.

Does it make a difference that graphics are so much better now ?

Graphics are important but I personally believe there will be a lot of scope for nonrealistic looking experiences as well. It’s an interesting thing, but you might be watching a sci-fi movie that successfully suspends disbelief and then watch a real-world movie that doesn't. Some of my favourite movies are by Tim Burton and they suck you into them but they don’t look real. I personally believe it will be the same for virtual-reality experiences. It doesn't have to look real to be a great virtual-reality experience.

But what about experiences that are real could they prove too much for gamers ?

I think there are some great experiences to be had and I think it will be more visceral for people. The German ratings body rated our demo of The Deepas 15 for the headset but only 12 on screen, so they believed gamers would have a greater emotional reaction to what they were seeing in the headset. But I go to theme parks and I like the thrill rides. We kind of want to know there is a safety net but we also want to take that step into make believe and enjoy the experience of it.

How far could those experiences go ?

We have done some prototyping of scary stuff. We have allowed players to control and orchestrate what is happening to somebody else using a tablet or smartphone and I think that is a lot of fun. It will allow for repeatable experiences because that sort of thing will be fun every time.

One of the problems that we’ve found with VR has been the resolution of the screens you can feel as if you are looking at a television much too close at times…

I am sure there is a great technical answer for the resolution but I’m not the person to give it. The headsets are still prototypes and I believe we will get to a point where you can really fool the brain that you are in a different place. Right now we are continuing with the team we have got on it, trying out new experiences, trying to solve some of the challenges and, you know, enjoy working on it, really. It has been great for the studio to be able to work on such a leading-edge technology and also having the opportunity to create some things and put them out for people to try and get feedback and learn about them.

When exactly will the VR revolution begin?
Although third-party developers are already able to get involved in creating games for Project Morpheus, an announcement date for its release has yet to be confirmed. “I can’t say how long off it is but I do know it is great fun working on this prototype”, says SCE London Studio’s studio director Dave Ranyard.

However, by the time it is released, Ranyard expects Morpheus’ game line-up to be very strong. Although there is no news on whether The Deepor Street Lugewould be released, Ranyard says improvements are being made every day.

“Even now, compared to what we were doing six or nine months ago, I think we have made huge leaps and bounds in what we know. For us it’s about understanding cool ways to interact in virtual reality and getting mechanics that work. We’ve always been interested in creating new experiences.”

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