V-Rtifacts

Where Are They Now?

A VR Who’s Who From 1994 – uniVRsum

1994 marks the peak of what many view as the first “Big Bubble” in VR popularity. There were literally hundreds of (mostly) entrepreneurial startups taking a wild fling and what seemed to be a game-changing technology. You could strike sparks anywhere! By 1997 most had either vanished or transformed themselves. If you stood in just the right place, with the right kind of eyes, you could almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back. (Thanks HST!)

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Thanks to Zenka – Zenka.org – for the totally cool Sega VR sculpture.

In the first half of 1994 a group of students, with the limited support of a few industry players, known as VRASP (Virtual Reality Alliance of Students and Professionals) embarked on the uniVRsum project to integrate the diverse and incompatible VR technologies flooding the market. This was to culminate in a presentation at Siggraph ’94, the premiere computer graphics conference and trade show.

One of uniVRsum’s first steps was to compile a database of the VR company/product universe. As one of the few industry supporters, I had access, thanks to Karin August at VRASP, to a copy of this fascinating compendium. Twenty-two years later, it resurfaced in an old file box.

Here’s a fairly comprehensive survey of 120 companies active in the VR marketplace in early 1994. A few remain, but most are lost, “like tears… in the rain.”

uniVRsum

Click for entire listing PDF

 

 

 

Bookshelf: Sex, Drugs and Tessellation

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Hot off the press is Ben Delaney’s authoritative new book, Sex, Drugs, and Tessellation which collects 6 years of wisdom from Ben’s CyberEdge Journal, the go-to virtual reality publication from 1991 through 1996. Ben has always been both a proponent of, and realist about VR, offering insightful market insights and lucid explanations of ofttimes opaque technology. Both students of VR and grizzled veterans will find Ben’s writing to be illuminating. You may remember his appearance on the PBS series Newton’s Apple where he explains the workings of the Virtual Research Flight Helmet.

An abbreviated “book jacket” summary:

Did you ever wonder who built the first head-mounted display? Who first detailed a coherent theory of Cyberspace? Who wrote about cybersex and the challenges it creates? Who worried about addiction to VR? Did anyone ever cure cyber-sickness?

From 1991 to 1996, CyberEdge Journal covered these stories and hundreds more … … Appreciated for its “No VR Hype” attitude, CyberEdge Journal was the publication of record for the VR industry in the 90’s….

Now that VR is enjoying a renaissance, it’s time to understand where it came from, and avoid making the same mistakes that were made in the first golden age of VR, the 1990’s. It’s also a good time to remember the excitement and sense of adventure that characterized those time.

Sex, Drugs, and Tessellation describes not just some of the hot topics of VR, but also the origins, issues, and solutions that were chronicled in the pages of CyberEdge Journal. Complemented by over 100 photos and drawings, there is a surprisingly contemporary feel to these old articles. In addition, more than a dozen VR pioneers have contributed new reminiscences of their work in VR.

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.

Sega VR – Mighty Barfin’ Power Rangers (we are the 40 percent)

Sega (all hail Sonic!): 1991 brought the announcement of Sega VR, a $200 headset for the Genesis console, a prototype finally shown at summer CES 1993, and consigned to the trash heap of VR in 1994, before any units shipped. Sega claimed that the helmet experience was just too realistic for young children to handle, but the real scoop from researchers showed that 40% of users suffered from cybersickness and headaches. It’s fair to say that Sega undoubtedly anticipated a sea of lawsuits; as one pundit in the industry put it: “It will be like the Pinto’s exploding gas tank.”

Perfectly capturing the annoying VR hype of the era is Alan Hunter’s (MTV) summer 1993 CES intro of Sega VR:

Money quote from a teen featured in the promo: “I thought I was going to have to wait till I was old… like 30, to get VR at home!” It’s now 2012, he’s closing in on 40, and still waiting.

Much more info can be found in Ken Horowitz’s 1994 review. Four games were produced especially for Sega VR, never to be released.

Here’s some sense of the much feared “realism” which provoked Sega to pull the plug on production:

Much to Sega’s credit, their VR fail was at least an original marketing effort, whereas later in the 1990’s, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and Atari’s (Virtuality designed) Jaguar VR crashed and burned in much the same mode (although at far greater expense.)

Beware the funny hair… its a tech cult giveaway

Matt Novak, in Smithsonian’s Paleofuture blog, draws some interesting contrasts between Jaron Lanier’s 1991 Omni Magazine interview and his current book: “You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto.

1990s virtual reality as seen in The Carousel of Progress (photo by Matt Novak)

While the Omni article portrays Lanier as

“…a man of vision, enthusiasm, and purpose, if a bit of an eccentric: “The Pied Piper of a growing technological cult, Lanier has many of the trappings of a young rock star: the nocturnal activity, attention-getting hair, incessant demands on his time.”

You Are Not A Gadget has the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction – techno-reactionary. As one reviewer puts it:

“Jaron Lanier is really, really bothered by a laundry list of standard arch-conservative nemeses (Marxism! today’s kids! filesharing! the breakdown of the social contract! foreigners stealing our jobs!) as well as a basket of useful-yet-imperfect modern technologies (Wikipedia! Blogs! MIDI! Linux!) He is aware of a sinister cabal of cybernetic totalists who are hard at work on a machine to xerox his brain and force him to use Facebook to meet girls.

He regularly starts a section with the assertion of a Great Digital Evil (the record industry is dying! bloggers don’t spell check!), then insinuates a link to his vague overarching thesis… his desire to save the world from the Great Digital Evil he has not quite described. Apparently people need to be more like squids – while remaining uniquely special humans, of course. Also, financial contracts should be written in LISP. And pop songs should live in coffee mugs so they can’t be downloaded. I kid you not.”

Head over to Matt’s take on the whole affair!

 

Platypus Headsets?

The Science Channel interviews Jaron Lanier who shows off some wide field of view headsets from the late 80’s. Jaron feels like a platypus when wearing one of these JumboTrons. The narrator’s conclusion (and Jaron’s as well): The state of the art in VR hasn’t progressed too much further.

 
(A tip of the hat to Aphradonis over at mtbs3d.com for finding this little gem!)

 

Is It VR Yet?

Harvey Newquist tires of waiting for the New York Post headline to scream: “Wife Dumps Husband For Cybersex Lover” or “Computer Casanova Seduces Virtual Valerie.”

Money quote:

Does the average person get to see or use any of this stuff? Can you go any place just experience the joys of VR? Is Ronald Reagan in full control of his senses? The answer to all these questions is an emphatic “no.” … Try asking your next-door neighbor about VR. Ask him or her about their most recent VR experience.

Has anything changed in the 15 years since this 1996 article was published in the Virtual Reality Special Report?

PDF Here

Psychedelics and the Creation of Virtual Reality

VR pioneer, Mark Pesce discusses the relationship between Virtual Reality and psychedelic substances.

MAPS: Do you ever use psychedelics for problem-solving tasks? Where you have a specific question in mind, and then you take psychedelics in search of an answer?

Mark: They’ve certainly been facilitators or catalysts for that. The most striking example is all the cyberspace protocols that came to me. I mean “wham,” it came to me like that, and I just saw them. I got the big picture, but the big picture said, “Okay, well you know roughly how to make it work. Now you have to go in and do the detail, right?” I spent three years doing that detail work, and out of that detail work came VMRL, and some stuff which you’ll probably still see in a couple of years. So in that case it was very direct… I’ve done a bunch of research work on the ethics and the effects of virtual environments. And that also was catalyzed specifically in a psychedelic experience. You know, it was like “snap.” It’s a moment of clarity.


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