Virtual Reality - The Arcade Come-Back?

Virtual Reality (VR) has been discussed pretty much from the dawn of technology and the popularisation of using it in our daily lives. More and more in today’s culture we are seeing VR influence our lives and invade the video game market, finally being widely available to the public only in the past year or so.

The first example of VR that we can see in history, is the ‘Sensorama’. Now, the Sensorama was ultimately an arcade cabinet that played five different films which also brought in a further level of immersion through the additions of smell and touch at various point. The prototype was built in 1962, although it had been in development from the 1950s.

This was an early attempt at achieving a fully immersive VR system, though it is often discredited as virtual reality itself. In a nutshell, the modern day equivalent would be 4DX in the cinema.

Often cited as the first virtual reality system, the HMD (Head Mounted Display) is said to also have featured augmented reality. This system was designed to be worn, although this proved difficult due to the sheer weight of the system. Therefore, to go on the system one would have to sit where it was suspended from the ceiling. It boasted simplistic graphics that was limited to wire-frame, model rooms.

Because of the development of the HMD, during the 1980s and 90s there was a sudden boom of interest into the research and development of VR, and how it would be possible to use this concept in different industries, such as the gaming industry (in which has started to flourish in today).

The first big name in gaming to jump at this idea was Sega, in 1991 claiming that they were going to develop a VR headset to play both arcade and mega drive games. The plan for this headset would be to use an LED screen within a visor, stereo headphones and even head-tracking technology. By 1994, this idea had developed into the Sega VR-1 motion simulator arcade attraction. Placed in Sega-World amusement parks, visitors could play a variety of games on this headset, which also featured fully-3D graphics and could track head movement.

Arguably the most developed of its time, Virtuality’s VR systems became the more popular option amongst VR fans. In 1991, costing a small fortune of up to $73,000 per multi-pod system, the revolutionary featured both a headset and exoskeleton gloves. Due to the pricey nature of the product, specialised arcades opened to house these, with one located in San Francisco. It is thought to be the first mass produced VR system, which also had the ability to host multiplayer games.

The most popular attempt at producing VR is perhaps Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. The console is infamous for its failure, technologically and commercially. This is said to be down to the company’s lack of attention towards the system, often pushing it aside to develop other home consoles such as the N64, which they were also working on at the time. Furthermore, Nintendo had the ability to upgrade the system to have a full colour display as well as head-tracking capabilities, though this was sacrificed to keep the cost of the machine low and affordable. Ultimately, the system was a failure, and after four years of research, the console sold for under a year in the market before being discontinued.

More modern additions to the VR field include: the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, which all dominate today’s market. Others including the Gloveone and Google Cardboard. Although these are all considerably prominent within the gaming market, all come with a hefty price-tag, ranging from £400 – £800, and that is not including the £1000+ computers that are powerful enough to run the headsets.

Due to the high prices demanded by the systems, there has been talk about whether arcades will become as popular as they were in society once before, to house this new technology. BBC News go into detail about whether we could be entering the second age of arcade popularity, all thanks to VR. Another idea that has been put forward on this subject is that the space limitations are not practical for a modern home. Therefore, through having designated areas in arcades it could solve this problem.

Another aspect that is impossible not to mention when talking about the potential of VR arcades, is New Retro Arcade: Neon, which is playable via steam. This application could mark the return of the retro arcade through new technologies, as players are able to walk round and actively play classic arcade games. There are many ways to customise your own personal arcade’s library! With some users emulating hit games and even retro gaming consoles into their VR experience, creating the arcade we all dreamed of as a child.

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