Virtual Reality may be back in favour these days, but back in the mid-'90s the initial burst of interest in the technology was starting to wane, and for many players the straw that broke the camel's back was the much-hyped Nintendo Virtual Boy.
Released in 1995 to almost complete consumer apathy, the console lacked motion-tracking, could only display images in black and red and featured software which did little to push the boundaries of immersive tech. Within a year it was being discounted heavily by retailers and remains Nintendo's most notable hardware failure.
The fact that the Virtual Boy lacked head-tracking has recently led Oculus founder Palmer Luckey to comment that the machine "hurt" the public's perception of Virtual Reality. In an interview with EDGE magazine from March 1995, creator Gunpei Yokoi explains why Nintendo decided to make the unit this way:
We didn't think that a head-mounted display would be necessary for a virtual reality system that doesn't use any kind of motion tracking facility. We are worried about the possible dangers of HMD technology, but we also considered the fact that if a woman wearing make-up was to use the head-mounted design, the next person might be hesitant in wearing it! So, we changed the design so that you can just look into the viewing apparatus and still appreciate the 3D experience. The standard format was shown at the Shoshinkai show, but we have plans for a shoulder-mount adaptor so you won't need a table or desktop to use the system.
While he never stated it officially, it was reported in David Sheff's excellent book Game Over that Yokoi was dissatisfied with the Virtual Boy design that eventually made it to market. He was forced to personally demonstrate the system at trade shows even after it was clear it was going to be a commercial disaster - some assumed this was Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi's way of punishing the veteran designer for releasing such a failure.
Yokoi left Nintendo in 1996 to form his own company called Koto, and would work with Bandai to create the WonderSwan, a handheld rival to the successful Game Boy which he created during his time at Nintendo. Yokoi would sadly be killed in a road traffic incident in 1997.
Gunpei Yokoi was an amazing inventor and game maker. A legend of the industry and it's never, ever been overstated
I still think Virtual Boy is a cool system that had some interesting games... I'd love to try it out.
The headline had me questioning the logic, however, after reading the quote it's certainly a reasonable train of thought
The shoulder accessory not being ready and packed-in with the Virtual Boy seems like quite an oversight. It could've really changed people's perspectives on the system.
Can you imagine the horror of wearing a VB unit with some kind of Heath-Robinson esque head/shoulder mount set up? It's fine as it is and I still play it. There are some cool games and the 3D effect is great. Feels a lot like playing the old Battlezone arcade cab.
@Gauchorino lol no. The resolution and screen quality probably would have made it look worse if you moved your head around
@Wil Red Alarm and Vertical Force are pretty cool.
@Damo Yep, got both of those. Jack Bros. is pretty cool, too.
Good history lesson on Gumpei Yokoi.
I believe the Virtual Boy was also gimped (a full color screen was possible back then) for economic reasons, and it was rushed. If it were a regular successor to the Game Boy, with a full color screen, the button/dual d-pad layout still intact, and making the hand grip controller and 3D visor into optional addons, I think the Virtual Boy could have done much better.
Nothing had proper head tracking technology back then. Did the Philips Scuba also "hurt" the current VR visor efforts?
...Then again, there is one way the Virtual Boy "hurt" current VR visor efforts: because you would get major neck injuries if you used it for too long! I remember trying it at a demo kiosk when it first came out back in 1995, and after 15 minutes of using it, I felt like I was going to need a neck brace if I didn't stop!
I suspect the ergonomic factors of more recent devices haven't much improved... That shoulder/head mount idea in particular is atrociously unergonomic.
Been after Jack Bros for years!
Red Alarm my favourite, Wario Land and Vertical Force tied for 2nd. Then 3D Tetris.
@PlywoodStick I tend to get a neck/back ache before a headache. Used in moderation, though, it's good fun.
Only gamers really knew about VB. So even to suggest it hurt VR is ludicrous. That is a poor excuse for lack of consumer interest due to the excessive cost and investment required to use it in the current climate.
Once the novelty wears off...
@wariowarewolf Are you saying it's possible to keep your head perfectly still while gazing into the lenses of a standing Virtual Boy?
I always thought this looked like that eye makeup blaster that Amy Wong used on Futurama a couple times.
I absolutely loved this system.
I own one of these things and they are physically painful to use. The combination of the headache inducing red lights that bore into your eyes and the neck cramps from leaning forward makes kills the experience. It's got some cool games but you won't want to play them for any extended length of time.
what a wonderful man. Kind of makes me wish I could have played with a VB.
His death was so friggin sad...
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