Argonaut Software founder Jez San has been speaking about a hardware project he worked on with Nintendo that could have given the games industry affordable and effective home VR decades before the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive came along.
San had previously spoken to Eurogamer about the 'Super Visor' in 2013, when he said:
We had built a Virtual Reality gaming system for them called Super Visor that would've been awesome, but instead they canned our project - which was full colour, had head tracking and 3D texture mapping - and released the ill-fated Virtual Boy in its place.
The UK gaming legend - who founded Argonaut in his teens and would later work with Nintendo on Star Fox and the Super FX chip - has now shed a little more light on the failed project in an interview with Metro:
I worked on a VR machine called the Super Visor for Nintendo, but unfortunately, we fell out. A guy called Mr Gunpei Yokoi cancelled our project in favour of the Virtual Boy, which we used to call the Virtual Dog because it was so bad. He made a bet in the wrong direction, cancelled our project and his one was awful. It was a bad decision.
We had full colour and head tracking at a time where no-one else did, but the Super Visor was cancelled in favour of a system with no head tracking and red graphics. It was like the Vive headset that’s on sale today but made 20 years earlier. Of course, it wasn’t quite as good because the Vive has better screens now, but our’s was made a long time ago. We almost finished the Super Visor and it was cancelled to do the Virtual Boy, which was a shame. VR gaming could have happened 20 years ago if they had kept us on.
San added that Nintendo - and Hasbro, which was later offered the tech when Nintendo had passed on it - were perhaps reluctant to release the unit because of the health issues it threw up:
To use VR you have to wear some dorky thing. You look like a fool wearing it. Also, it’s unsafe because your eyes are covered and you can’t see what’s happening in the real world, so you might slice your hand on a knife or fall down some stairs. Nintendo and Hasbro both shied away from doing VR systems because of product liability laws which meant they could get sued for gazillions if someone hurt themselves whilst wearing it.
They were very consumer-friendly companies that didn’t want to be sued for anything, so we had to wait 20 years for Facebook to have the guts to buy Oculus and say – perhaps thought naively – that it can do VR without getting sued.
Would San's Super Visor have given VR the exposure and success it so badly needed back in the '90s? After a brief period of fame - thanks to the work of UK firm Virtuality and movies like The Lawnmower Man - VR all but vanished from public view until very recently. We'll never know if San's concept would have been good enough back in the mid-'90s to have prevented this slump, but we imagine it would have been more impressive than the Virtual Boy Nintendo eventually released.