But I want one of them...
To start things off this is an all-new ongoing feature by myself (Olly023) that seeks to delve deep into the mind of a child when certain retro items were not retro, they were the hot new ticket in town!
Drawing mostly from personal thoughts, feelings and experiences of a much younger and less hairy Olly023, I seek to bounce back to you, the readers, a sense of need and want for select hardware and software titles. Some vaporware, a few I have since obtained and others that fall between the lines.
When I was a wee one, Virtual Reality was all the rage. The next big leap forward for...everything ever. In the 90's, it didn't really happen. Same in the 2000's, yet in the millennial decade it seemed even less a likelihood. Only now with the likes of the Oculus Rift tech does it seem the original imagination of what could finally be.
Tons of companies seemed to scramble over each other in a means to unleash their own versions of VR headsets. The 90's was packed with faux-VR or VR inspired items (what up R-Zone and Lock-On), along with the occasional if not odd attempt (Virtual Boy). As this was all tied in some form to gaming, it was only logical the cool new kid in town (that had been around longer than the Nintendo/home computer engulfed publics would accept) who forced their way into the homes and hearts with a beast called the MegaDrive/Genesis, would throw their proverbial hat in the ring and say: "aight yo', lets see what we can do here"!
Part 1: Sega VR
Roll on 1991. Sega was posting mad profits and Sonic was everyone’s new favourite mascot. Sega being Sega, as mentioned in many an intro and article here, felt that money was burning a hole. So it was time to spend a massive wad of cash on R&D. Cue up: the Sega VR headset.
The Sega VR was originally announced as being in development as an add-on for the MegaDrive in yet another wide-eyed, headstrong manoeuvre to boost sales and interest across the board, in typical 'look what. I can do' Sega fashion that we've either all come to love and/or hate them for in retrospect.
Being the age I was, I honestly cannot remember where I would have first heard of/seen this proposed piece of kit. Maybe a magazine article (where I likely just saw a picture of the unit and dreamt up amazing possibilities in my mind), maybe a TV feature (we had a good few gaming shows here in the UK at the time with GamesMaster, Bad Influence!, etc. - not to mention features on Newsround) or maybe just playground hear-say from the older kids (until I was in the latter part of my Primary School life I rarely 'hung' with kids my age, I was the random youngster that clung to kids double my age). Wherever it entered my brain, the idea of the Sega VR headset was stuck there and remains lodged til this very day. Hence the article! Yay!
The last known live demonstration and appearance of the Sega VR was over 20 years ago. After all the hard work, promise and money that was piled into the thing, this is the closest we got to actually seeing it in person. I say we, though I of course wasn't actually there per se. I have to watch the presentation on YouTube. Shut up. I was there in spirit! All times.
At the Summer Consumer Electronics Show back in 1993, MTV's Alan Hunter (yeah, MTV was relevant once as were their VJs, how time changes) proudly hit the stage and boasted that the future everyone was talking about, Sega was actually producing. A funky demo vid runs and Hunter runs to an audience member with the headset in hand just to reinforce the reality of the virtual reality concept. Sega got their massive set out and showed the world what they were about, right here.
Show & Tell
But by 1994? It'd all gone. Vanished. Kaput. No more Sega VR for you, Olly023. Sadface.
Not that I would have known at the time (what young child pays close attention to that kind of thing when they're busy pulling for Bret Hart to win the belt at WrestleMania X, huh?), but have come to discover in retrospect.
Sega apparently claimed various reasons as to why the project was scrapped and why the prototype was never heard from/seen again after this point (...or was it? Keep reading, kids!). One of the more amusing claims was that it was 'too realistic'. Yeesh! But more grounded counterpoints lay with other ideas contrary to that; much like other similarly designed headsets it would have been a cumbersome, top-heavy thing. This alone could easily cause neck strain and make it all rather impractical.
Other reasons for the cancellation of the Sega VR device can be easily listed and are unfortunately typically believable: it induced headaches, nausea, hurt the eyes and possibly even seizures. Where these are all common complaints of the Virtual Boy? Well, yeah. It has since been stated that the SRI Institute had also warned Sega of prolonged usage of the system, declaring it as hazardous! Yikes.
So, with all that scary stuff of its drawbacks that lead to the development of only a known prototype - if you don't know, you may be wondering - what the heck is a Sega VR anyways? A peripheral, a standalone system...how’s it work? What’s in that thing?
Ken Horowitz had written probably the most complete article pooling various sources on the Sega VR back in 2004 and its from there I have gained much of my knowledge, as he discussed: the Sega VR was an attempt to form fully functioning 3D worlds for gaming. Using dual LCD screens it attempted to replicate, although more powerful; the idea Sega had implemented with the 3D glasses on the Master System. It had a built in head tracking system that could, well, track your movement and built in stereo headphones for the sound. Very much similar, though outdated by now, to what the proposed Oculus Rift technology of today that I mentioned way back in this article seeks to replicate (and apparently is doing so, greatly no less).
All the clever stuff
The internal sensors of the Sega VR allowed tracking of up to 100 movements a second, which to me remains very impressive. The 3D itself was built to mimic the way the human eye actually works, which baffles me; and utilised many techniques still used in some 3D cinema. Even the head-strap was thought over here! Unlike the Virtual Boy which came later and was tabletop, the VR had a lengthways strap as a means to balance weight and make the device more comfortable for the user. Considering the IDEO basis of the headset, the total immersion into the video game universe seemed closer to real than mankind could ever dream plausible, if not possible.
Yet, as brilliant as all these ideas were however, whether it was just too soon to be technologically capable to what the dream was or what, it just didn't work. GameSpot reported that it was nothing but an uninteresting, inconceivable blur that you'd witness when attempting to play it. Sega's money was spent in vein, it seems. Awww...
The headset was also to be bundled with its own 16MB ROM carts, four of which are known to have existed for the planned release and sake of demonstration for the device. The games in question being the following: Iron Hammer, Nuclear Rush, Matrix Runner and Outlaw Racing. To my limited knowledge, fans can only now glimpse at the possibilities of these proposed titles through videos scarcely available across the interwebz. A real shame.
Little ol' Olly023 continued to hold out hope, of course! From the one-time I can remember playing a Virtual Boy from Nintendo (Mario Tennis, yeah!), to the love for my cousins' R-Zones from Tiger. The Sega VR remained in the back of my childish mind and would proudly state: yeah but Sega's going to bring one out and its going to be the best. How'd that work out for me, exactly? Years of gathering information culminating on a vaporware article on a retro gaming website. Well, shucks. Silly Olly023!
But young Olly023 was kind of right to keep dreaming. Remember when I said to read on? Yeah. Though the Sega VR in its official original format was to never be released, Sega did go back to the drawing board with similar concepts. This lead to the announcement for a similar device set for the Sega Saturn (seriously, extra good luck finding any hardcore info on that bit of tech), but more importantly the development of similar hardware that did see at least the dim lights and distinguishable ambience of the arcade.
Most notably at Sega World in London (now, there’s a future article in the making), where gamers had the chance to experience oh so similar headsets that would recreate 3D worlds. Ace, right? Heck yeah!
No matter those revisions, it never did reach home. The home market, that is. So just as Sega's coinage spent on the system for research and development only to be cancelled, appeared in vein, as did a young Olly023's dashed hopes and dreams. I didn't hold it against them. I would've believed whatever excuse was force-fed anyway. That’s nativity combined with brand loyalty for ya'. From the moment the MegaDrive entered our family home, I was hooked. To not be a Sega-nut from that point forward seemed near-impossible to me. If I heard of, saw or played a brand spankin' new peripheral or system? Y'darn sure I wanted it, frothing at the mouth with a lust that a child should never have to know, let alone feel.
If Sega randomly announced the Sega VR to be back in development, this guy would still hang on every word. It aint happening. Sega aren't the same (insane yet awesome) company anymore. I still love and support them with all my love, however. But the Sega VR in particular stands side-by-side with the SNES CD-ROM add-on as one of the most fabled pieces of vaporware of its generation. Many have since forgot, while others maintain an interest. Overall, its all rather fun.
But do I still want one? Hey, if someone offered me that prototype I'd be madder than a fictional hatter to not accept. Of course I still want one, possible injuries and all!
Olly's Final Thoughts...
As has been mentioned almost everywhere after the fact, the Sega VR sits in an odd place between the lines of wonderful idea and brilliant mistake. One of the cooler bits of vaporware to survive the many during the 16-Bit gaming boom.
It's an unreleased tech item that remains in this gamers consciousness. The fact that I can't have one makes me want it ever more, curses! However i know i'm not alone in this as you know you want one too, just admit it. You'd be the coolest collector around!