Game Systems

Virtual Boy – Another Perspective…

I don’t really agree with the Virtual Boy being VR’s “nail in the coffin”. I think it was just one of many crappy products. Maybe it could have saved the VR hype for a while if it was a big success, but as it is it’s just one of the many VR obscurities that simply didn’t sell.

Actually when you look back over a 15 year distance it is quite irritating that it was such a failure – after all Nintendo always had big successes with technically disappointing hardware – after the SNES, Nintendo constantly produced low tech consoles – not crap but low tech. With Super Nintendo they were technically “on par” (or at least close) with SEGA’s Genesis. With the original Game Boy they started the actual “wonder” – offering the console with the least attractive hardware at the best price and selling millions of them as the games are simply fun. This worked well with the game boy – although even for 1989 the tech was devastatingly poor, it sold like sliced bread. SEGA released the Game Gear one year later which had a much higher resolution full color screen, faster processor and better sound (If you can call the game boy’s beeping even sound) and sold worse. They pulled the same over and over with later consoles, I don’t even wanna go into detail.

Number 5 in PC World’s “Ugliest Products in Tech History” – VIRTUAL BOY

Nintendo’s 1995 Virtual Boy was a whole cartridge based game system inside a desktop-mounted-head stereoscopic immersive display. Designed by Gunpei Yokoi of Gameboy fame, and offered for $180 retail, the market was less than kind. It was withdrawn from the market in less than a year and now can still be found late in the day at weekend garage sales.

The actual displays were unique, a rapidly vibrating linear array of 224 red leds. The array was vibrated at 55 hz, sweeping out a dim red raster. The concept was borrowed from Reflection Technology which had introduced a monocular augmented reality head mounted display in 1990.

Needless to say, Nintendo dumped Yokoi despite his success with Gameboy, and he died in a car wreck a year later. In many ways the Virtual Boy also put the final nail into the 90’s VR craze.

Apropos of the Virtual Boy, the following G4 critique features dominant raster lines, but sadly not Olivia Munn.

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?

Warning Will Robinson, Warning!

Flashback to 1992. My Silicon Graphics rep, Len, walks in the door with a guy from Sportland,  a mega entertainment center down near the auto-malls north of Philadelphia. You know: pizza, birthday parties, arcade games, bumper cars, tokens, and more tokens. They’re both hyped on the potential of VR in the arcades (I thought that hype was supposed to be my job.) I was pitched on the idea of investing my sweat and money, as they were going to franchise something and make millions (billions??) The warning lights were blazing, so I settled for a cash-on-the-barrel development contract. Len arranged to lend this guy a tricked out SGI system and vouched for the helmet loaner from Virtual Research. Six weeks later the Voyager started raking in the millions at Sportland.

Fast-forward to 2 months later. Len’s been knocking on Sportland’s door for a month trying to get a purchase order for the loaner computer and Virtual Research calls me daily to see where the hell their loaner helmet was. Finally, Len and a couple of burly confederates charge into Sportland during operating hours and carry off the SGI, monitor, and VR helmet.

Read the Voyager Investors Information Kit. With cash flow like that, Len must have been crazy to shut ’em down.

Apologies for the monotone narration – That’s part of the pitch!

Aftershock and a Fashion Emergency

On it’s way to the Whistlestop, this VR system (1 of 10 on tour) makes a stop at Louisville’s channel 32 early, early morning show. Perfect makeup notwithstanding, I don’t think the host was thinking that anything below the belt would be on camera. She wore the wrong skirt, for sure. These VR systems were promoting an intoxicant dubbed Aftershock. Scott, who wrote the code for the VR game speculated that the stuff was intended for sterilizing combs. Nonetheless, the combo of VR and shooter girls at the thousands of bars this tour visited made moved cases and cases of the stuff. And… don’t forget to hit the Whistlestop tonight!