Hello VR

Written by Scot Rubin

"What am I supposed to do with this?" she said as she handed my makeshift press kit back to me. "Oh, I'll take that." I said as I shoved it into the bag with the other 29 kits me friends and I had assembled a few nights earlier. She then offered me a demo of the i-glasses from Virtual io and I was floored. The future is here at E3!



The glasses were made with a heads-up see-through distortion free display. Each eye had a 30 degree field of view, and contained 2 full color 0.7" LCD's with 180,000 pixels per LCS panel. Not only could you hook this up to a video player via a single channel RCA input and stereo RCA input, but it was 3-D capable with true stereoscopic imaging. It was truly like watching a video on an 80" screen with personal audio. The PR rep explained that there would be support for connecting to a computer for games and that they were working on a head tracking unit that would really provide an immersive virtual reality experience. The year is 1996 and we were talking about Oculus Rift style VR! It was like a dream come true.

 A few months later I would receive a package in the mail from the President of Virtual I/O herself. Inside was the latest $499 model of the i-glasses and the option $199 head tracking unit along with a copy of Mechwarrior 2 featuring 3D and motion tracking support. I. WAS. FLOORED. My little interview "podcast" and website "blog" were responsible for bringing me in contact with the absolute cutting edge of computer gaming. Despite the fact that I looked like a complete and udder dorklord wearing these things, it wasn't hard to convince my girlfried that this was in fact COOL! 

Installing Mechwarrior 2 or any PC game at this time was no easy task. You like sound with your giant robot killing game? What are your IRQ (Interrupt Request) settings? Do you have the right drivers? With so many different computer components for sound, displays, and input devices, it became a challenge just to get a game installed and configured before you could actually play it.

Mechwarrior 2 in VR 3D with head tracking was a really immersive experience. The slow moving mech was the perfect speed for a cockpit type experience. The head tracking unit was attached to the back of the glasses and added a little weight to the whole contraption but it worked and made me realize just how amazing virtual experiences can be. The problem of course like all "platforms", is software. You can't sell units without great software. You can't get great software developers to make anything without a big installed base. It just wasn't cost effective to produce original content specifically for the IO. Game publishers had enough trouble getting the games to work as they envisioned, without have to worry about VR and 3D patches.

At some point I picked up a used copy of Zaxxon 3D with the glasses for the Sega Master System because...3 freakin' D. While it was a cool gimmick, it wasn't an evolution in gaming. Again there was not enough software as nobody was going to spend a ton of money making a game so few people would purchase. 

In 1996 I interviewed Lenny Lipton a well-known author, filmmaker and stereoscopic vision system inventor. He had a new company called StereoGraphics which invented CrystalEyes LCD shutter glasses. CrystalEyes were being used to perform virtual surgeries for training purposes. SimulEyes would be the $99 consumer version. The glasses could plug into your computer and allow you to play games in 3D after installing a software patch. The initial list of games included the platformer Whiplash, Descent II-Test Flight (demo version), Slipstream 5000, and Rise of the Triad. I was so excited about this technology that I convinced the company to become the first advertiser on All Games Network. We would promote the glasses on the website and in my daily show. The problem again became good software. Game developers simply weren't interested in devoting precious development time to a feature that so few people would actually use. The technology would eventually be sold to Real D Cinema in 2005. Lenny served as Chief Technology Officer of Real D through 2008 and has 31 patents in the field of stereoscopy and another 40 pending applications. The RealD 3D system now showing in theaters uses technology he invented. According to Wikipedia, he started a new venture Oculus3D that has developed a low-cost 3D theatrical format that works with the installed base of 35mm movie projectors. Interesting company name for sure.

Oh and Lenny Lipton also wrote the lyrics to the song "Puff The Magic Dragon" as a 19 year old at Cornell University.


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