Oculus, Morpheus, and more: anticipating VR at E3 2015


Virtual reality. The term has been a curse for more than 50 years. A curse, because the name is almost inherently an over-promise. It's such a grandiose concept that since its inception, companies and ideas ranging from experiential theaters to video games who dared use the term would inevitably end up being mocked and ridiculed out of existence. Yet the dream and the hype have never fully faded away, and at next week's E3 2015 trade show, all the big names in the current VR landscape will once again make the pitch that virtual reality is now here to stay.

Of course, VR enthusiasts will be most interested in the presence of Oculus VR, whose Oculus Rift headset, in development since 2012, finally got an official release window last month. The impending headset, which has preemptively become the standard-bearer of virtual reality today, will be available to consumers in Q1 2016.

At E3, Oculus will be formidably situated at the entrance of the West Hall where, aside from the titans of Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft, it will be the largest booth on display, according to the official show floor map.

It will be the first time that the latest version of Oculus Rift's developer kit, known as Crescent Bay, will be at E3. And with such a large booth, it's very likely that new games or projects will be introduced. Perhaps the biggest expectation from Oculus is that it may finally introduce some kind of controller or input device, a subject about which the company has been notoriously dodgy whenever it's been discussed in the past.

Oculus also teamed up with Samsung to deliver the Gear VR headset late last year, which uses the power of Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 phone to deliver an untethered virtual reality experience. It's unclear how much of a presence the Gear VR will have at Oculus's booth, but it is sure to be on display in some form.

Also on display will be Project Morpheus from Sony, a VR headset peripheral for the PS4. Although announced at the 2014 Game Developers Conference, there was virtually no mention of it at Sony's official E3 press briefing a few months later, nor was it highly emphasized at the company's E3 2014 booth.

Sony has been ramping up the hype machine in the past few months, though, and Morpheus is expected to have a bigger presence, not only at Sony's booth but with third-party publishers as well. A total of 21 Morpheus-enabled games have been announced so far. Expect that number to go up by the end of next week. Like the Oculus Rift, Morpheus is slated for release in 2016.

Of course, having the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus at E3 2015 is expected. They were around last year; they're the big virtual reality stories right now. What's more interesting and more telling about the creep of VR into the video game industry are the other players that are popping up.

For example, Samsung has not had an official presence at E3 in the past and the fact that is is beginning to plant its roots this year means that the mobile giant is getting increasingly serious about becoming a defining name in the market of mobile VR. The company has a block of meeting rooms set up right next to the official mobile gaming space on the show floor, and its presence is almost surely focused on the Gear VR.

And speaking of mobile VR, a newcomer called MergeVR will also be exhibiting at the show, which claims to be a mobile VR headset that works with any smartphone and also has the first mobile VR-exclusive controller. Unlike Morpheus and the Oculus Rift, MergeVR is boldly predicting a launch this holiday season.

Moreover, third-party publishers touting their E3 lineups are eager to point to virtual reality titles as their headliners. For the first time, Morpheus games will be playable outside of the Sony booth, and there are more publishers than ever offering Oculus-ready demos.

Wild outlier rumors, such as Microsoft potentially unveiling its own VR headset, are also out there, but even if there is nothing completely unexpected or off-the-wall announced next week, it will be a good time for VR fans. Last year's E3 pretty much had the typical console fare with Oculus off in the corner and some behind-closed-doors Morpheus demos at Sony's booth. This year, the reach will be far, far greater.

Is 2015 going to be the year of virtual reality? Googling that question brings up plenty of people saying yes. Similar stories crept up everywhere about 2014, and plenty more are already giving the title to 2016. Heck, the Internet is full of predictions that every year up to 2020 and beyond will be "the year of virtual reality".

So without throwing around those meaningless and tired cliches, in all seriousness, E3 2015 is without a doubt going to the most VR-centric Electronic Entertainment Expo that there has ever been. As to how this bodes for the future of VR, it certainly looks promising.

What's truly interesting is to see virtual reality as the new concept that appears to be universal across all gaming markets. There has always been a kind of awkward division at E3 between console games, PC games, and within the last several years, mobile games. Virtual reality may be the only theme that truly spreads across all platforms, and very few high-concept trends in the world of video games have been able to say that.

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