Category: Virtual Reality History

VR History as a Gaming Device

1991 – Arcade Machines. More specifically, they were group arcade machines. A range of virtual arcade games and machines were released during this time, as household products were pretty far out of reach at the time. Players would get these VR goggles and big round chairs to sit in. Players were fully immersed in a stereoscopic 3D environment, with some game units even being connected with neighboring units, encouraging multiplayer. 

VR Arcade Game Unit

VR Arcade Game Unit

1993 – SEGA annoucnes VR Glasses… and never releases them. The device was an LCD headset goggle device that even had stereo sound. For whatever reason, however, SEGA never released the product; it never left prototype stage so they dropped it altogether. The implication that technology had advanced far enough to even consider and partially develop a household VR gaming accessory for a home console is astounding, especially by 1993's standards. Technology was evolving, and it was doing so quickly. Though this was a huge flop for SEGA, it was a big step forward for VR. 

SEGA's VR head monitor. Looks pretty sleek for a 1993 product

SEGA's VR head monitor. Looks pretty sleek for a 1993 product

1995 – Nintendo's Virtual Boy. Again, this was a huge flop. The Virtual Boy did not sell well, for a great number of reasons. It was hyped up to be the first portable gaming device that rendered fully 3D games; so you can travel and VR anytime you want. However, there were a few problems. Given how big the headset was, it wasn't too practical to carry around. It was also uncomfortable; not just for the head, but for the eyes. The device only had two colors: red and black. A very scary and annoying thing to look at while playing games, especially if they're flashing or exploding and whatnot. Because of this commercial failure, games were not made for it, so it even had a low number of software to be used. The following year, production was stopped, and Nintendo moved on.

Virtual Boy's headset. I'm personally not even really sure how to put this on correctly

Virtual Boy's headset. I'm personally not even really sure how to put this on correctly

The controller for the Virtual Boy

The controller for the Virtual Boy

And thus, the reign of Virutal Reality ended, for a long time. The technology just wasn't cooperating. Companies were not able to create what they had envisioned… not yet. So, for a time, virtual reality became (unofficially) immersing oneself into a world. It wasn't until 2012, when a company called Occulus VR started a "Kickstarter" campaign to get their technology up and running. For the first time in a long time, a legitimate VR device was being developed for home usage. And this time, it works. 

VR – 1987

This was the year when "Virtual Reality" was officially named. Before this time, the term "Virtual Reality" did not really exist. There was no term for the field of research. Jaron Lainer, founder of the VPL (visual programming lab) had sort of officially coined the term himself. It was from this point that the field had a name, and he himself, with his company VPL, was actually the first company to sell VR gear; a HMD, a device called the "Dataglove," among others. 

Dataglove. A device used in conjunction with VR devices (at least in the past; nowadays, there are hand-wands with buttons) that allowed the user to manipulate things within the virtual environment

Dataglove. A device used in conjunction with VR devices (at least in the past; nowadays, there are hand-wands with buttons) that allowed the user to manipulate things within the virtual environment

VR History – Ivan Sutherland and the Sword of Damocles

Ivan Sutherland was a computer scientist and internet enthusiast, to say the least. He is renowned as the "father of computer graphics," his works and teachings as a professor at the University of Utah, was pioneering the field. 

In 1968, Sutherland developed the "Sword of Damocles," with the help of his student Bob Sproull. The Sword of Damocles was the world's first VR head mounted display that was connected to a computer. Before the SoD, HMDs were connected to cameras. Ivan called it the "Sword of Damocles" because the contraption was huge, and kind of scary, being suspended in the air by ceiling arm-things. The device was extremely uncomfortable to wear and was very impractical. But, it got its job done. Albeit, they were very primitive, being wireframe rooms and objects, but at the time, it was revolutionary.

The Sword of Damocles VR device. Very uncomfortable, and very impractical in terms of size and use. However, I do not believe this was being developed with the intention of commercializing it, merely to experiment.

The Sword of Damocles VR device. Very uncomfortable, and very impractical in terms of size and use. However, I do not believe this was being developed with the intention of commercializing it, merely to experiment.

 

Virtual Reality History: Pre-Gaming

Virtual Reality isn't just about interacting with a digital world near-physically. Virtual Reality technically was first invented when painters painted panoramic paintings, basically creating the illusion of presence. Paintings like this surfaced as early as the nineteenth century. 

Battle of Borodino, Franz Roubaud (vrs.org)

Battle of Borodino, Franz Roubaud (vrs.org)

Although this is technically not the official birth of VR, it is the birth of the idea of added depth and immersion. Although VR is, technically, an illusion, paintings are quite real, as they of course did not have the necessary technology back then to create the VR we have now. VR, for the most part, is virtual, or computer made or machine based, in some sort of way. In 1838, Stereoscopic Photos were invented. Charles Wheatstone figured out that the brain different two-dimensional objects from each eye, and converts it into three dimensions. If you view two side-by-side stereoscopic images, it gives it depth and creates immersion. 

Stereoscopic Images. Usually, there's some sort of device you look into that holds both of these images. When looked at in this way, the image becomes 3D, with an added depth and perspective, giving the illusion of being there (vrs.org)

Stereoscopic Images. Usually, there's some sort of device you look into that holds both of these images. When looked at in this way, the image becomes 3D, with an added depth and perspective, giving the illusion of being there (vrs.org)

Over the years following this, there were several other technological advances that, if they did not emulate the feel of what is now VR, helped advance the technology toward it. It wasn't until the 1960s that VR took a bunch of strides forward. The first headmounted display hit, landing in 1960. The first motion-tracking HMD (Head Mounted Display) was invented a year later. Ivan Sutherland presented the concept of the "Ultimate Display." He explained it as: 

"-A virtual world viewed through a HMD and appeared realistic through agumented 3D sound and tactile feedback.

-Computer hardware to create the virtual world and maintain it in real time.

-The ability for users to interact with objects in a virtual world in a realistic way." 

“The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked.” – Ivan Sutherland

Ivan Sutherland, for all intents and purposes, predicted the future; he literally described the basic groundwork of how VR works today. With this basis, the technology continued to evolve and grow, and eventually, it being comptuer based technology now, gave rise to using it as a gaming device.