Gadgets

VR, Part Deux: Does History Repeat Itself?

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Valve

Virtual reality, and the concept of “cyberspace”, for that matter, has been around for longer you can imagine. It has appeared in works of fiction as early as the mid-1980s, most norably in William Gibson’s “Sprawl” trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive), depicting console cowboys hacking their way through a totally immersive version of the internet (the matrix, as it is called in the trilogy). Total immersion seems to have been attractive enough for many to try to build it in real life, too. As you might expect, scientists and the military were the first to benefit of the emerging new technology, but it broke into the consumer world, too, in the early 1990s.

That VR was a bit different from today’s commercial product – especially because of the limitations of technology. If today’s VR headsets are considered bulky, think of those back in the day, with much thicker displays, bigger chips, and thicker wires, too. This didn’t stop VR from spreading, though. Much like Sony did today, SEGA – as one of the leading console makers of the time – has released Sega VR, a headset to go with its MegaDrive console, with an LCD screen, sensors to track the movement of the head, and stereo headphones. Just like today, VR arcades have spread across the world, VR headsets emerged everywhere, and Forte launched its VFX1, a PC-powered virtual reality headset supported by games like Star Wars: Dark Forces, Quake, and Descent.

The enthusiasm of the press was amazing. Praise to the emerging technology was to be found everywhere, a lot like today. Computer Gaming World, for example, has gone as far as to predict “affordable VR” to become available by 1994. Products like Nintendo’s “Virtual Boy” were released – unfortunately, many of them (like the VB) failed to meet their targets (much like today) and ceased production over time. By 2000, the VR fever winded down, leaving us without total immersion for years to come.

In the meantime, technology never stopped developing. One of the most important products of the last decade was the smartphone. It directly caused the spread of simple, casual, minimum deposit games, but its indirect effects on technology were far more important. Thanks to the smartphone, screens have become higher-resolution and thinner, sensors have become smaller and more precise, and a lot of components necessary to create a good VR headset were created.

VR didn’t disappear completely, of course, but was out of the spotlight for a decade – until Palmer Luckey presented the first prototype of Oculus Rift. VR has returned to the spotlight, prompting many companies to start working on related products, excitement was once again high (and it still is today), and VR seems here to stay.

The only question that remains is whether history will repeat itself once again…


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