V-Rtifacts

Tag Archive: Virtuality

W-Industries Unscripted

W-Industries (Virtuality) always seemed to have a PR person riding herd on any video material that was released about the company or products. Everything the public saw was tightly scripted and edited.  But… here’s a 1992 video from inside the factory that’s more of a home movie cum operations tutorial. We are guided through some of the guts of the Series 1000, the pre-play systems, and the assembly area.

Don’t forget to turn on the YouTube subtitles, the audio track is in Swedish.

Virtual Reality (1991) – “Many Believe It Will Revolutionize The Way We Live”

ABC Primetime covers the VR scene in Sept. 1991. Although this news report conflates computer animation footage with Virtual Reality, it also features interviews with Jon Waldern, Fred Brooks, Howard Rheingold, Mike McGreevey, and C L Dodgson (virtually, of course.) With the advantage of hindsight, it’s interesting to see which predictions from 23 years ago have panned out and which are way out in left field.

… and from the where-are-they-now club, we get a brief glimpse of video footage from Symbolics Inc. (remember LISP?), a hot up-and-comer in computer graphics back in the day.

The Great Bubble

2013 has brought much excitement to the VR world, especially the perception of great breakthroughs in Head Mounted Display products. Can we take a deep breath, then hold up a distant mirror to the cautionary history of VR from 1993-1998. Back then there also was a fever pitch of excitement as companies pitched great breakthroughs, attracted outsize investments from private and public markets, and yet, the best of them crashed and burned, taking their investors, customers, and vendors down with them.

I invite you to review this chronological collection of VR news reports beginning with the fire sale of VPL’s much vaunted patent portfolio. The reports follow the rise and fall of three VR industry giants: Virtuality, IO Systems, and Superscape. I present these as examples, but they’re not alone. Very few VR firms escaped the 90’s. Sadly the VR bubble burst long before the late 90’s tech bubble burst. It wasn’t the economy – stupid!

Does history repeat itself?

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W Industries – In the Beginning…

Chris Hand from Leicester Polytechnic offers a delightful history of W Industries, the company who brought us the various Virtuality VR game systems. His history begins in the early 80’s and takes us only to early October of 1991, not long after the commercial introduction of Virtuality’s Series 1000 Amiga based systems.

The excerpts below offer a taste of the VR buzz in 1991, but take the time to read the entire history!

A video clip from an early 80’s episode of the BBC TV programme “Tomorrow’s World” showed some of the early work of Dr Waldern.  The “Roaming Caterpillar” (as it was known) was shown being used by presenter Maggie Philbin to examine a virtual room.  The display was a large B/W monitor with handles on each side, supported by a flexible arm on castors covered by a concertina of rubber (the “caterpillar”). The image displayed was a wire-frame view of the “contents” of the (actually empty) room. The location of the monitor was sensed by 3 fixed speakers emitting audible clicks in a fixed sequence, with the time taken to reach microphones being used to calculate the distance.  It was also possible to detect the position of the user’s fingers by wearing tubes on them, with microphones and wires attached to a control unit. By pinching her fingers together in the right place, the presenter picked up the receiver of a virtual telephone and left it suspended in space.

Their second HMD, another tethered system, was known as the “giraffe”. This featured mechanical 2D head-tracking.

The fourth device to be built was much slimmer, featuring a magnetic head-tracker and twin LCD screens. It is of interest to note that the head-mounted part of the device allowed for adjustment of inter-occular spacing. At the time it was thought that the correct adjustment of this distance to suit each viewer would be vital to the stereoscopic effect. Mr Rowley pointed out that it was later found not to be so important, as long as the exit pupil of the optics was made large enough.

In November 1990 the “Stand-Up” unit was launched at the Computer Graphics 90 exhibition staged at London’s Alexandra Palace. At the same time the parent company went into liquidation, but fortunately W Industries had been sold just prior to this to another company, which also owns the Wembley Stadium in London.

The Games That Would Be King

From 1991 to 1996 W Industries Virtuality systems defined the image of VR in the location based entertainment arena. Here in the US, Horizon Entertainment was their sole distributor. W Industries was remarkably innovative with their use of technology, but their “innovations” in finances were not so successful. Arcade operators had a difficult time breaking even; motivated by their IPO, W extended credit to these operators to bolster their sales figures; and by 1996 W was in receivership leaving stockholders and vendors less than whole.

However… Virtuality, first using an Amiga platform and later a 486 PC, achieved a remarkable quality of game play for those early years. This collection of videos will give you a flavor. Thanks go out to Fronzel who generously compiled many of these. Watch! (more…)

Yet Another Fashion Emergency – J D Roth Talks Virtuality on GamePro TV

The ill fated GamePro TV did a 1991 “Cutting Edge” feature on the original Virtuality arcade systems, including footage from their premier multi-player Dactyl Nightmare title. Be careful not to fry your eyeballs on host J.D. Roth’s outfit; did anyone actually dress like this? Roth incorrectly attributes the system to Spectrum Holobyte, who was for a short time, one of four US distributors for Virtuality systems. Did the revolutionary (for 1991) Virtuality system really need this infomercial?

Urinated in His Pants?

Proving that VR doesn’t automatically lead to hurling the intrepid subject of this 1995 video wolfs down a cornucopia of fast food and hops on some VR games at Toronto’s CN Tower. The manager of the arcade facility prevaricates a bit, telling us that while he’s never seen chunks, peeing one’s pants is an actual reality. We hope that’s not in the sit-down version of the Virtuality system show…

All Brawn – Virtuality 1000CS HMD

VR hit the arcades (at least in England) with the 1991 debut of the Virtuality 1000CS and Dactyl Nightmare. The helmet was rugged, but simply massive, with two Romex style cables to power it up. If you’ve ever wondered why the HMD was such a bruiser, have a peek inside. Notice the thick walled plastic shell and the gobs of putty used to fill out the interior shape. Back in the day, tiny LCD displays were not the norm. Virtuality used a pair of fairly large Panasonic LCD monitors … too large, in fact, to be positioned side-by-side in front of any gamer’s eyes. Let’s dissect and see:

Virtuality-1000-CS-HMD Fully assembled – Here’s where you stick your head

Virtuality-1000-CS-HMD-OpticsHere’s what’s in front of your eyes
Notice the fairly large LCD (also another facing upwards just out of sight on the bottom of this photo
And… a pair of 45 deg. front surface mirrors to bounce the images into your eyes
Notice the cutouts for your nose


Virtuality at the Trocadero, London, 1991