Virtual reality (VR) gaming has always seemed like a great idea.
The notion of being able to fully immerse yourself in games is one that appeals to most gamers. But it’s always just been a great idea. Never has there been a VR experience which has caused the masses to ditch the more traditional gaming setup. In fact, whenever systems try to integrate VR tech; all it does is highlight the shortcomings of the hardware and make the alternatives look comparatively better.
In 1991 for example; a series of virtual reality gaming machines were released to arcades by the Virtuality Group. These systems, which made use of stereoscopic 3D headsets, just weren’t fun. Other arcade games released in 1991, such as Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, encouraged social interaction though multiplayer, whilst the VR systems greatly limited such capabilities and actually isolated players. Generally, you go to an arcade to have fun with friends, not to play alone. Additionally in 1991, Nintendo launched the SNES. Living in the shadow of this 16–bit powerhouse, the Virtuality Group really didn’t stand a chance.
Technically, the Virtual Boy was the first portable gaming system capable of full 3D.
However, to actually enjoy playing this thing, you would have to simultaneously balance it and maintain a comfortable position yourself, all the while trying to cope with the literally headache-inducing graphics. In contrast to the PlayStation that also launched in 1995, VR wasn’t winning any awards anytime soon.
But the Virtual Boy did leave an impact on the industry. The system performed so poorly, that a 17 year virtual reality drought occurred. It was not until August 2012, a surge in support for the Oculus Rift, that interest in VR once again skyrocketed. Even Sony has jumped on the VR bandwagon it would seem with PlayStation VR set to launch in 2016 at the price of a “new gaming platform” according to Sony Computer Entertainment CEO, Andrew House. The Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR then may well be the dream come true; full immersion in HD game worlds at the touch of a button. Also, as more and more social interaction in gaming is taking place through online voice chat, VR headsets may no longer be the social handicap to the extent they once were.
On the other hand, looking at PlayStation VR, one can’t help but get a sense of déjà vu. A console priced system which looks to have a limited game library in comparison to its competitors seems very ‘Virtual Boy-esque’.
Also, in effectively being hardware add-ons, VR headsets may be repeating mistakes made much more recently. The last big console add-on which was supposed to revolutionise the way in which we play, the Xbox Kinect, didn’t exactly do great and now, Microsoft has been forced to ship a copy of the Kinect with every Xbox One. In fact I’m hard pressed to think of a single console hardware add-on that was actually successful.
In fact I’m hard pressed to think of a single console hardware add-on that was actually successful.
VR has always been a great idea, the question is how will Oculus and Sony implement the idea next year? Only time will tell. One thing I will say, VR headsets may well no longer be the social handicap to the extent they once were, but personally I would still chose Mario Party over LAN party any day.