The Story of Virtuality | Nostalgia Nerd

The Story of Virtuality | Nostalgia Nerd

[Funky electronic music eases us in] Things come in waves. Do you remember when 3D hit the cinemas in
the 80s, with those blue and red cardboard glasses? Only for it to die out and be re-invigorated
in the noughties, with much better technology? The same thing of course happened for Virtual
Reality. In the early 90s, it was pipped to be all
the rage. To offer us total immersion in our favourite
digital worlds, only for it to die off and come back with assurgence only this decade,
with devices like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear. In reality, neither of these trends actually
died off, they were there, in the background, out of the mainstream eye, being improved,
refined and used by those who hung onto and favoured this futuristic view of entertainment. But for me, whenever someone mutters the word
VR, my instant thought ins’t to these new wonderful devices, which have almost cracked
the formula, it’s to these massively bulky 90s headsets, that few of us got to experience
in the day, but so many of us wanted to. This is the world of Virtuality, the company
whose headsets are synonymous with 90s Virtual reality, and we’re going to explore it. Now this video will have 2 interwoven parts,
the first is looking at the history of Virtuality and the culture in which it existed. The 2nd is how these early days of Virtuality
have been preserved to this day. For this reason, you will see and hear footage
I recently recorded at the Retro Computer Museum in Leicester, woven into the narrative. Key yourself in and hold on tight. [Essence of music] [Building to something MORE] For centuries, people have been searching
for ways to escape their lives and experience another. Every story we become engrossed in has this
at it’s core, every image we stare into. It’s only natural then that since, the inception
of media, this has been taken to a new level of immersion, with pioneers seeking new ways
to disconnect us from reality and plug us into a virtual reality. In terms of visual media we can trace it’s
roots way back to the 19th century when Sir Charles Wheatstone used two photographs taken
from slightly different points, to create the stereoscope. Of course this was a static image, and although
monumental at the time, was limited in how connected it could make you feel to the depicted
scene. The first real concept of Virtual Reality
– as we know it today – would actually be virtual in itself. It was portrayed in a science fiction novel
written by Stanley Weinbaum, in which a pair of spectacles gives the reader the ability
to enter a movie and become one of the characters. In 1956, Cinematographer Morton Heilig dreamt
up the Sensorama, in an attept to evolve cinema to the next level. Really this was the first VR machine, combing
video, audio, vibrations and even smell to create a realistic experience. Only a few years later he created the first
head mounted display, known as the Telesphere Mask. Using small TV tubes, it combined film and
sound in a package that looks alarmingly close to what we still use today. It might come as a shock that, as early as
1968, computer scientist Ivan Sutherland would take this a step further with the incredibly
named, Sword of Damocles. Now here was a device that displayed wireframe
computer graphics, was able to track head movements and even allowed augmented reality
with it’s translucent displays. Here then was really, the first Virtual Reality
system as we’d know it today. Jump forward to the end of the 1970s and we
find NASA playing around with crash helmets with Eric Howlett developing the Large Expanse,
Extra Perspective optical system. This system created a stereoscopic image,
with a large field of view, allowing the user to feel a true sense of depth and immersion. Under the eye of Scott Fisher, this was redesigned
for the NASA Ames Research Centre as the VIEW headset Around the same time, we also have other key players such
as Jaron Lanier, the man who really coined the term “Virtual Reality”, and Thomas Zimmerman
who founded VPL Research, responsible for developing the first commercial Virtual Reality
goggles and gloves. The problem was, these devices were way too
expensive for typical consumers, with the technology limited to University and professional
uses. Of course, wannabe devices like Nintendo’s
Power Glove would appear on the scene, but these were marketing devices. Playing into the hands of hype, surrounding
the emerging world of Virtual Reality. We know from experience that, in practice,
these products are about as far from becoming unified with the machine as you can get. With VR starting to be cited as the future
of entertainment and the public rapidly wanting a slice of the action, something more accessible
was needed. More affordable. Atari had founded a research lab in to VR
earlier in the decade, but the video game crash of 1983 spelt the end of this endeavour. Now at the other end of this seminal decade,
and with the big names seemingly too caught up in their standard gaming devices, it was
a gentleman named Dr. Jonathan Waldern who would pick up the batton to try and deliver
a new perspective into our lives. [Electrical buzzing] [Nice music] It was at University in the early 80s when
Jon Waldern first heard about Virtual Reality. “I’d always been interested in computers,
in fact I built my very first computers at the age of 17, from the very first microchips. But it’s really when I read an article about
how computers could be in the future and the need to interact with computers in 3D space,
that’s what started me in Virtual Reality.. how are we going to do that?” Whilst still at university and with the support
of IBM’s labs in Hursley, Hampsire, Jon initially had to raise funds from family and friends
to begin work on developing the technology. Jon’s first prototype machine called “The
Roaming Caterpillar” was actually demonstrated on the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World in 1986… “and by looking through that window. You’re able to see into the world of the computer,
and by looking into the helmet, you’re able to see it in 3D” …featuring a wireframe world displayed on
a CRT, but with an active shutter driven headset to present this world to the user in 3D. You could even navigate this world by moving
around the entire unit, which contained microphone listening for audible clicks emitted from
3 fixed speakers, to triangulate it’s position. It might seem a little crude today, but to
the viewing public in 1986, this was cutting edge technology, and thanks to Jon and the
Human Computer Interface Research Unit at Loughborough University, it was reality. However, in these early days investors were
still to scared and indeed, lacking in knowledge to pour cash into Jon’s vision. “It was a concept to us that was perfectly
clear, but to others we went to for financing, it was crazy. They just couldn’t understand the technology” By October 1987 Jon had teamed up with software
engineer, Al Humrich, ex-Rolls Royce employee Richard Holmes and ex-Marconi employee Terry
Rowley, to form W Industries and literally work from their garages to create a viable
commercial product. Using an Amiga 2000 as it’s base, various
prototypes were created, including a system tethered by the top and known as the “giraffe”. This unit featured mechanical 2D head tracking. By 1989, W Industries had a prototype that
was good enough to win the British Technology Group award for “best emerging technology”. It was from this point that Virtualty could
actually become a reality… “Probably for the most interesting for the
man in the street, would be the games environment, where you can simulate games. With our system you can see all the way around,
360 degrees” … The competition netted the team a prize
of £20,000 and opened the eyes of several investments firms, including a large – but
unknown – leisure company ***APAX Venture Capital****, which although scooping 75% of
their equity for three quarters of a million pounds, allowed Jon and his team to push forward
with a brand new decade just waiting for the future to be unleashed upon. [HIPPETY HOPPETY] With the radically uplifting and exciting
90s upon us, things weren’t so inspiring for the VR startup. The controlling share of W Industries was
sold to The Wembley Company, shortly after their original backer went into liquidation. Thankfully none of these dealings got in the
way of the Virtuality team, who had been engaged in vigorous development, testing and health
and safety checks up until this point…. “I needed an artificial horizon”
-“That’s right, we’re trying to figure it out, but it’s difficult to output”
-“Of course, what we’re not using is the ears for instructions at all” “We’re actually changing, there’s a new board
going in” “That’s getting all the faults eliminated
from it” …. and shortly after, in November 1990,
the first Stand-Up unit was launched at the Computer Graphics 90 exhibition at London’s
Alexandra Palace; the same place Sir Clive Sinclair had launched his ill-fated C5 electric
car 5 years prior. Seemingly, this when was the venue to launch products,
perhaps ahead of their time. These first units bore the model number 1000SU
(the SU meaning Stand Up), and paired with launch title Dactyl Nightmare, the public
was riveted. Now, unlike the machines that we would see
in arcades, these early models were simply a kind of bench, built into a shell holding
all the internal components. A plastic head protruded from the top for
placement of the visette when not in use, and an industrial style plastic matt sat nearby
for the player to stand on. This thing wouldn’t look out of place in the
Crystal Maze. Of course, an obvious problem with this original
kit, is the player isn’t restricted in their location. They can wander as far as they want, before
the attached head cords rudely yank them backwards. The first two VR systems were sold to British
Telecom Research Labs to experiment with networked telepresence applications. It wouldn’t be until March 1991, when the
1000CS (standing for Cyber Space) and 1000SD (Sit Down) units were launched at a grand
Wembley Conference Centre ceremony… “Today, ladies and gentlemen, Virtuality IS
a reality for the leisure industry” … The first ever production virtual reality
systems in the world, these were the machines that would soon filter through to arcades
and leisure centres across the world and the public were queuing up to have a go. *rock music baby* *EXPLOSION* *ROCKKKK* Behind the scenes, the team hadn’t actually
networked this many units up together for multiplay, and although nervous and literally
writing code on the spot to keep things together, the unveiling went perfectly, with crowds
being able to battle it out against each other until they were thrown off into the bitter
existence of reality… it was a revelation. “I’ve got the gun in my hand, I hate to do
this to you, but.. I missed”
-“It lobs down, we made gravity twice what it should be”
“You’re gone Jon, you’re history” …and he really was now history. This was revolutionary moment in video game
history and with machines quickly popping up in arcades players were quick to sing their
praises. “You’re in another world simply, yep”
“Oh it was brilliant, very good, graphics are excellent”
“Brilliant. Yeah, it was, you just feel like you’re in
another world” “It’s funny to shoot down the others! haha” Even if some looked like they were fighting
back severe motion sickness, the Virtuality brand was off to a phenomenal start. “It’s completely interactive. You’re actually in the middle of it” [Musics come and musics go] Inside the unit lies a computer donned the
“Expality”. This consisted of an Amiga 3000 motherboard,
coupled with 4MB of Fast RAM and fitted with all manner of expansion cards required to
drive the VR experience; 2 key cards were dual TMS 32 Bit graphics cards which provided
enough grunt to push out the 65k colour, 20 frames per second world into each of the 276×372
resolution Matsushita LCD screens, allowing 30k polygons per second. “There’s mirrors in the headset, so this was always reversed” “I’ve got a list of five games you can choose from to load from this machine” The input to these screens is simply RGB,
with the actual displays mounted in the sides of the visette and reflected with mirrors. The graininess of the resolution is reduced
by a custom convolver which smoothes out the pixels. Much like modern hardware, the headset use
lenses to both focus and expand the viewing area onto your retina. We’ve even got quadraphoic sound and a built
in microphone, so that in multi-player environments you can talk to your opponents or team members. This is cutting edge stuff. All in all, this equates to a headset weighing
about a kilogram. It’s no spring chicken….. and that doesn’t
even include the hardware belt you have to buckle onto yourself. “That’s fine”
-“I think that’s it for you” “Are you in a different reality, the different
realm? SO realistic”
-“Oh, yep, I’ve been transposed into another realm” So with the user firmed secured within the
ring – or pod as it’s known -, the Virtuality visette would be secured into position, and
your eyes would be treated to a 65+ degree field of view world of the surreal. Now 20 frames per second sounds terrible today,
but back then, this was an impressive feat. of engineering, especially running on relatively
humble hardware, and honestly, having tried it during the 90s and again recently, it’s
pretty convincing… -“Am I on the platform?” “Get, go to the pterodactyl, and get him to
carry you away, look get him” Motion tracking is provided by an Polhemus
‘Fast Track’ electromagnetic field created by this ring, with data fed back and forth
to the headset to keep everything in sync, and its actually pretty flawless. Dactyl Nightmare might be strange, but with
2 players, it’s also a LOT of fun. Still bothers me that they didn’t name it
TERROR Dactyl though… “Yes, oh NO I missed it. I’ve just fallen off the edge of space”
-“HAHAHAHAHAHA” -“Euggh, what are you doing?” “I’m going for a wander”
-“Oh there you are I’m going to get you” ***I’m going to break continuity here, because
there’s actually a version of this for the Oculus Rift, named Polygon Nightmare, and
it gives you the choice to alternate between the original Field of View and the Rift’s
110 degree display. Now, the Oculus is obviosuly a lot smoother,
but it’s fascinating how playable the Virtuality equipment actually is compared to modern day
equipment. If you use the original mode on the Rift there’s
really not much difference, well apart from the horrendous strain on your neck from the
considerably weighty Visette*** Even the lower LCD screen resolution isn’t
that perceivable. The pixels aren’t THAT apparent, especially
when you’re dealing with large blocky polygons. Jon Waldern would even note that the compelling
feature wasn’t the somehwat crude polyon graphics, but 50ms responsive motion tracking and how
immersive it made you feel… “The visual display is crude. There’s these crude cartoon like characters. That’s not the issue. The issue is that in Virtual Reality there’s
no limit to what we can do, we can be anywhere, any time and any place, and that’s the issue, it’s total escapism” [Electronica in your earera] The handheld ‘Space Joystick’ is also tracked
impressively well, and some software even made use of a touch glove, allowing you to
interact finger by finger with the digital world… “This glove is also connected to the virtual
world, and in the same way that my head is tracked, so is my hand. On each finger is two pressure pads, and there’s
also 2 on the palm of my hand, 12 in all. Now these are controlled by an air pump linked
to the computer processor. When I close my hand around a virtual object,
the pressure pads inflate very slightly, creating the sense of touch” Yes, that’s right, these gloves had haptic
feedback, allowing you to feel and even crush objects in the virtual world. I bet you didn’t expect that. All this is really quite impressive for a
company, who in 1991, still only had some 20 employees, and were crafting both hardware
and software in house. It was thanks to a deal with external developers
Spectrum Holobyte that a raft of other so called “Vritual Experiences” became available,
allowing the player to choose their choice of world before entering… “On target for 3 seconds. You’ll obtain missile lock and a missile will
be fired automatically” ..Now, let me tell you from experience, it’s
not that straight forward capturing footage from these machines, but after several hours
we managed to grab footage from all 9 games for these original machines, here are the
ones that you won’t see elsewhere in this video; Grid Warriors is a robotic shoot ’em up for
the stand up machine. Grid Busters is also a robotic shoot ’em up,
but it’s in an arena. A bit like Super Smash TV Battlesphere is a space shoot ’em up, and
it’s good, if a little disorientating. Exorex was originally penned to be called
Walker, but it’s a Mech Warrior game, which were incredibly popular at the time. Flying Aces is Bi-plane style shooter, and
the game I played in the 90s Total Destruction is essentially Destruction
Derby and VTOL is a fighter pilot game. You can get a modern version of Steam I believe. They’re all pretty playable games, although
the best are probably Dactyl Nightmare and Legend Quest which we’ll get to shortly. At around £40,000 or $60,000 for a fully
installed system with touch glove, these machines certainly weren’t cheap for venues to install,
but offered a tantalising draw for arcades, who were losing more and more customers by
the day, with people now starting to enjoy arcade like experiences at home on their new
16 bit consoles and home computers. In addition these units often required staff
on hand to help customers into the equipment, to attach the helmets and engage the “Ergo
Lock System”, to strap on the bulky hardware belts…. “Yep… it’s saying INSERT CREDIT” …..and ultimately keep it clean from use
to use. A slightly cheaper option was the 1000SD machine,
costing about £20,000 or $35,000 USD…. “This is, like that”
-“WOAHHH! Look at that!” “Now they marketed it for various reasons,
one you could have a steering wheel on there to play racing games, but also so lads didn’t
have that done to them when they’re playing a game and can’t see it coming” …Now thankfully I never got kicked in the
balls, but this was the machine which I encountered in the 90s, and it was certainly easier to
literally jump in and get going. Just like the 1000CS units, the SD offered
full head tracking, but with the experience of perhaps driving a racing car, tank, or
even an aeroplane. In most venues, £1 or $1 would get you a
few minutes play, although many places opted for $5 or £5 for a specific time period,
and so thanks to people caught up in the ensuing VR cultural frenzy, the initial outlay was
quickly recouped. I mean, you only had to switch on the TV to
find program after program dedicated to this new, immersive world. Some of them were better than others.. “Better than life, here it is”
-“Brilliant!” “Let’s play!” -“Key me in Holly” ….but regardless, it was all so incredibly
exciting and riveting. I was absolutely glued to these programs and
the hype surrounding them… “As you can see there’s a button at the base. You wouldn’t like to reconsider would you?” -“No”
“Ohhhh, alright, as you must” ….Virtuality couldn’t escape the hype, even
if it wanted to, and really, it had indeed itself, exacerbated it. “This is where the future is… Virtual Reality” “This is where I look my most attractive. If you want to take one of these home, it’ll
cost you 40,000 pounds!” “YESSSS!” …Of course, this was also the days of the
very early internet, and it felt like computers and technology were starting to take us to
new and fascinating realms…. “Now that we’ve come in for a landing. When Internaughts are online, what’s their
favourite activity?” -“Now I bet that’s a rhetorical question,
and you’re just gonna have to tell us, right?” “That’s what I’m here for!” (thank christ
it’s not the acting) ….It didn’t stop in magazines either with
Virtuality themselves issuing warnings not to do anything potentially hazardous after
using their VR, due to your mind possibly believing you’re still in their surreal dimension. I mean, how cool does that sound. This was the 90s version of the mind altering
substance wave of the 1960s. [Slightly psychotic music] It wouldn’t take long for entire businesses
to build themselves around the VR units, with multiplayer gaming centres, seen both in TV… AND real life. Check this out, this is called LEGEND QUEST,
and it was the first multi-player game from Virtual Reality Design & Leisure in collaboration
with W Industries… “Hello, I’ve come about a vacancy for a wizard”
-“Oh yes, I believe we’re looking for a wizard right now. I’ll just key you in” [Suitably 90s music] … Up to four players can enter this fantasy
realm, crawling through dungeons, whilst avoiding and deep, dark perils. It was a huge success on launch, and many
other similar installations popped up around the globe, either at theme parks or stand
alone setups…. “Looks like my first team mate arriving. This virtual world is a fantasy adventure
and we each role play a different character” “That’s me in the middle and there’s a suspicious
pile of bones there” “I need some help”
-“I’ll help, Elf’s are GREAT swordsmen!” … including this entire society featured
on Bad Influence…. “I’m in the headquarters of the National Geographic
League. It’s from this location that some of the very
first explorers in history, set out to explore cyber space”
“I’ve been trans-located to the desert planet Solaris 7. Now I’m in a 30 foot tall battle mech” W Industries had made £1 million pounds by
the end of 1991, but between 1991 and 1994 the company would continue to see compelling
global sales… *We’re all over the world. We’ve got systems in 33 different counties. We’ve got year on year growth of over 100%
and the basic problem we have in the company is keeping up with demand” …Expansion not only occurred within the
consumer gaming marketplace, but also the private commercial sector, with various brands
commissioning “custom experiences” and machines, including rehabilitation units devised for
children to use after hand surgery in Italy, and the creation of a hang-glider simulator
for an after shave company. Simple bespoke experiences were created using
C or Amiga assembler, costing some £10k on top of the hardware costs. *smashing inter-air sound* This is the Hero Glider experience, and it’s
actually pretty good. You can’t control the glider, but it does
give you that Hero feeling, y’know the one in that testosterone filled advert, where
one guy’s wearing chain mail and another is slapping after shave into his face so hard,
I’m surprised he doesn’t fracture his cheek bones. There was also the Hero Challenge which was
essentially a room searching game, but here’s the thing, here was an aftershave company
using VR to market their brand. W Industries had made Virtuality cool, they’d
made it accessible and impressively, they’d made it sexy. These early years saw W Industries and Virtuality
shoot to a net worth of over £90 million, becoming by far the top player in arcade virtual
reality. When they started out the UK made up only
5% of the industry sales, some 15% for America and Japan taking up the largest slice of 30%,
however with the company being Leicester based, these numbers had undoubtedly balanced out. This of course, was helped by, and most probably
the instigator of further cultural references around VR, including the Lawnmower Man and
a continued slew of TV programs… “Thesssp! Build me a Borg please”
“Borg, borg, borg, borg” -“Borg forming now”
“Borg, borg, borg, borg, borg, borg” [Gamesmaster music] [Sounds of kid struggling with VR helmet] *thunder* “Hello Gamesmaster”
-“Welcome to my Consoletation area…..” “But there is another type of VR that doesn’t
involve a bulky headset” “This is a desktop VR system” …Of course, this fast changing era, was
coupled with rapidly changing technology and expectations. Two points were continually touted by the
press and put to Virtuality in routine questioning. The first was the likelihood of home VR devices
entering the market, and second was whether the hardware would be improved to make use
of advanced 3D graphics and higher frame rates. 1994 seemed to be the year that, at least
one of these would come to fruition. *VIRTUALITY 2000 advert sounds* This is Dactyl Nightmare 2: The Race for the
eggs, running on the upgraded Virtuality 2000 systems. Just look at those textures! To power such ferocious graphical delights,
the Amiga 3000 was abandoned for a system cheaper, more versatile and ultimately more
powerful; A IBM PC Compatible, sporting 8MB of RAM, an Intel 486DX33 Processor and custom
Expality Pix 1000 graphics card (featuring Motorola 88110 processors), coupled with 16MB
of Video RAM. Interestingly, there were more powerful options
available for the machine, but cost and existing development seemed to be a factor in choosing
a relatively underpowered system for the time. The headset had also been shrunk and refined,
now weighing a measly 650g and incorporating features not found on even modern hardware,
including motorised interoccular adjustment and focus correction for each eye, meaning
glasses wearers need not suffer. Interestingly however, the field of view had
actually shrunk a little to 60 degrees horizontal and 47 degrees vertical. In line with this the resolution was also
slightly lower at 255×378 per eye. However, this was still a much upgraded piece
of kit, with the smaller footprint echoing down to the respective stand up and sit down
units. All in all, making these a tantalising purchase
for those who still lusted after the VR experience, but perhaps didn’t have the space or money
for the older units… “By delivering next generation low cost sub-systems
and modules. The Virtuality group enabled Universal Studios
to lead the way with user experience” …You might think that these refinements
would lead to higher cost, but technology was becoming cheaper, and thanks to previous
economies of scale, some £10,000 or approximately $20,000 dollars could secure you a unit. [Sustaining sounds of the 90s] A 3000 unit was also released, based on a
more powerful Pentium setup, and including gun, allowing you to shoot through Quickshot
Carnival, or hammer through Zero Hour, which essentially looks like Virtua Cop. To go with the new systems, a slew of new
games were made available, including the incredible Zone Hunter, Ghost Train “Get close, are you
ready for the white-knuckle ride of your life??”, Buggy Ball (way before Rocket League) and
the singular Pacman VR. These games all looked better, and played
better too, however graphics weren’t evolving at the same speed as home hardware and people
were moving away from arcades. Home technology was becoming increasingly
powerful. Sony’s Playstation wasn’t far from launch
and VR, although luring and still exciting, had by now lost some of that original spark. Just like the early days of 3D cinema, people
were choosing to go back to their easy, conventional roots, where perhaps the gameplay was as good
as the graphics… “These two here. Jerry is dedicated to providing high quality
stereo sound and Tom to moving graphics that can create images like this”
-“Good luck!” “This game is called Cybermorph!” …Maybe if Virtuality could break into the
home market, then that excitement could be flared up, once again. “Here’s Benjamin Hall on the Jaguar system
to play Cybermorph. Let’s see how those intricate graphics and
beastly gameplay that only come from 64 bits of MEGA POWER feel…. Ben?” Now at this point, that kid would normally
puke over the camera (the filthy wretch). I’ve saved us from that horror, but it is
perhaps a timely omen to the fate of the home VR market. [Funk time] The Atari Jaguar rolled out in 1993, offering
superlative 64 bit graphics and enough power to blow our tiny minds (or so we were told). It’s only fitting then, that a VR headset
would soon follow to make use of this phenomenal hardware, and it would be Virtuality Group
as they were now known, who would take the reigns of developing this piece of potentially
game changing (pun so very intentional) kit. Sega had already announced and failed to deliver
their Mega Drive VR kit, mainly due to excessive motion sickness issues, and it looked like
the time was ripe to do it again… “It’s everywhere you turn. The game completely surrounds you. You move and the game moves all around you. Incredible!” ….Handily, the Virtuality Group, had not
only been working with Sega to develop their arcade VR hardware, but also with IBM to create
project Elysium and a PC based VR system. Elysium was essentially an IBM PC, with integrated
VR hardware intended for architectural and construction applications. Included was a sleek white Visette, based
on the 2000 series, and a V-Flexor handheld control device, which I’m told, is exceptionally
intuitive to use, although I personally haven’t had a chance… [Soothing 90s music, perhaps Enya like] “A new powerful tool for virtual model interaction
is the V-Flexor. Proportional pressure inputs allow you to
create virtual hands or other input devices. Usable in both hands, the sleeveless strap
allows all the operation with all the flexibility you require” …Tasked by Atari to create a Jaguar headset,
Virtuality Group began work on creating a device that would work alongside the Jaguar’s
somewhat complex internal setup. Announced at the 1995 Winter Consumer Electronics
show, the original prototype was a relatively low resolution red and grey headset which
relied on infra-red tracking to orientate the player. This tracking caused several issues however,
especially when the infrared line of sight was lost, leading to motion sickness and unplayability. The Leicester Retro Museum has, what is alleged
to be the very first prototype, although without the tracking hardware, it’s impossible to
see how bad this actually was… “What was this. This was a prototype or production?” -“It was originally a prototype, but what
I’m told by Richard Holmes, is eight of these were taken over to Japan for a demo.. the demo
was brought forward and Atari were told, they’re not ready” …These initial units weren’t up to task,
and by Virtuality’s own admission, weren’t ready. Virtuality were tasked to made a higher resolution
version, which actually fulfilled most of it’s requirements, and can be seen working
to this day. However, soon after Atari Corp would pack
up their bags and the project would be dumped, meaning a lot of wasted cash for Virtuality,
at a time when it really wasn’t needed. [The funk goes on] Project Elysium, along with a few corporate
deals would keep Virtuality afloat until 1997, when it filed for bankruptcy on February 11th,
putting to an end, this exciting and seminal chapter in gaming and VR history. “The goal of Virtual Reality is simple. It’s total submersion. Complete detachment from reality” [Curiously tentative electronica] [nice] The remaining Virtuality kit, along with their
rights was sold off to CyberMind, a German firm who ran Internet Cafes, who as you can
expect, also died out, leaving the stock to be sold to Arcadiian Virtual Reality LLC in
2004, and then onto Virtuosity Systems, who currently hold the exclusive rights to the
SU2000 and SU3000 simulators, which are still listed as products on their website, although
they acknowledge they are unable to manufacture the systems due to the “moulds being lost”
and the technology being outdated. Although they still have two machines used
for rental purposes. Dr. Waldern himself, had actually stepped
down as CEO and moved to the company’s research division in Silicon Valley the year prior,
and so continued his extensive work in the field, founding Retinal Displays in 1997 and
thankfully continuing to be knee deep in the subject to this day after founding DigiLens
Incorporated. Focusing on VR in Aerospace, Transportation
and Consumer devices. He also partnered to produce the Philips Scuba
Visor and Takara Dynovisor which were based around the Jaguar VR headset. You can even plug it into a Jaguar – albeit
without the motion tracking – and at least get an idea of Missile Command 3D – the only
VR game developed for the console. At least it didn’t totally go to waste. A quick visit to will find
you among Jon’s earlier work and subsequent headsets, with the brand and IP still very
much owned by his trusty hands. [Noughties rhythmic beats] It’s just a shame that some of Virtuality’s
ideas like live action characters in a 3D world didn’t have a chance to be fully explored… “This is a presentation on how we’re able
for the first ime to create real computer 3D graphics with live video. The video can come from an mpeg source, or
a live video source, or a pre-recorded source on video tape. This for the first time, allows you to put
live action characters – like me – in this world” … or even the online virtual dinosaur experience,
which let’s face it, looks about as epic as you can get…. [sweet, sweet, dial up noises] [Jurassic Park style music] “Wow!! Mum!” …Don’t tell me that’s not a real dinosaur. Come on, for a dial-up dinosaur, it’s pretty
good. What Jon and Virtuality Group were trying
to create was really, ahead of it’s time, but amazingly, these ahead of their time products
actually worked, and what’s more, were pretty darn incredible. “Firstly they have goals and motivations. For example this could be to irritate or hinder
the participant. Perhaps it can be where the VR actors help
is inversely proportional to the goal of the participant. Alternatively the goals and motivations of
the V-actor may not be apparent to the participant” As for VR, well just like 3D, we know it came
back, and thanks to the ubiquity of smart phones and how easy it’s becoming to enter
new Virtual Worlds, combined with much more mature technology, I think this time, it might
actually be here to stay. But what about the original VR kit, who’s
taking care of that and ensuring it’s preserved for posterity at the very least. Well, you’ve seen some throughout this video
and that’s ultimately why I’m at the Leicester Retro Computer Museum, where I’ve been speaking
to Simon Maston, one of the last trustees of this miraculous kit…. “Welcome to the Retro Computer Museum at Leicester” “Please have much fun here” *chuckles* [Funky disco town] *snare* *snare* *snare* Yes, this is the Retro Computer Museum in
Leicester and there’s a lot to see, but I’m really here to talk to Simon Marston, the
man who can, with Virtuality. “I got my first machine early 2013”
-“Just from an old arcade?” “No, I found it on eBay”
-“Oh really?” “Yes, it was starting bid £100. Ten day bid, no one had bid on it. I emailed and said, I really really want that
machine, how much for buy it now? He said £250 plus delivery. I said, OK, sorted”
-“Woahahhhahh” “It was very dirty when I got it and it worked,
but the 2nd time I turned it on it failed, and so I had to replace the screens in the
headset, and from doing that, I learnt a LOT about the machines”
“This red one and green one, they were in Candada. We got them for free but had to pay for shipping. So we got these over from Canada, but they
both worked when we got them over which was outstanding”
-“That’s amazing” “That one and my second machine at home were
in Daventry, someone was doing a garage clearance. Someone asked if I wanted the computer, basically
that computer, and I said YES!” “But I knew they were built in Leicester anyway,
so I can… stalk, as it were, the people who used to work at the company, hunting them
down and asking them to come and visit me, as you can see from that board, the many people
I’ve met, with all given me a bit of information, and the amount of times I’ve had to fix these
machines. The amount of people from the original team
I’ve had to ask for different things, I now have all that written down somewhere and a
lot in here as well, and generally I do my best to keep these things going, but I still
need occasional help” Simon has a lot of these machines, and has
used many parts to create and maintain the working selection you see here, although with
a full garage of components, he might struggle to get more. “My wife says I’m not allowed any more”
-“HAHAHAHAHA” It’s really worth taking a trip to the Leicester
Retro Computer Museum to see Simon and the team, and get hands on with this hulking machines. After all, sending you guys there is the least
I can do, as without them, this video would not be possible. So massive thanks to Simon for all his help,
massive thanks to the Retro Computer Museum and if you want to see more about the games,
then keep an eye on Octav1us’ channel, as she’ll be doing a dedicated video about them. In the mean time, thanks for watching and
have a great evening. “Just a few years ago, people were pretty
impressed by a new type of electronic game. This involved hitting an electronic ball from
side to side… and side to side. Then from outer space came a new type of invader,
and for a while things started to perk up a bit, but that was back in the 70s, and things
haven’t changed a great deal since.” “Well we still use flat two dimensional screens
desperately trying to kid ourselves we’re somewhere else, that is, unless we’ve tried
VIRTUALITY” [Riff out]

100 thoughts to “The Story of Virtuality | Nostalgia Nerd”

  1. I was 18 years old and worked in the Virtual Reality store in the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield from when it opened in Aug 92 til I was let go a year later cos I shagged the assistant manager's girlfriend. But I digress…. we had the big 'stand in' W Industries Virtuality machine so I've used them extensively. They quite literally looked like something from Star Trek inside. There was a lot more flashing lights and stuff in the one we had. First time I ever saw a recordable CD too – tho it only used it for audio – all the software came on about 10 floppys. We charged 3 quid for 5 minutes, tho u got a free ticket when u bought something in store. It was the bane of my life having to guide and instruct people for hours on end. Almost everyone made the same mistakes and failed to grasp instructions. Still….happy days…

  2. It's still not as widespread a technology as I would have hoped for, but at least VR is no longer associated with just prototype tech and videogames, it's actually a thing that anyone can buy and use it with several immersive content for VR and AR.
    We're still far off from the VR gaming, VR movies, VR TV, and VR live streaming I imagined…

  3. Now this is the kinda video i'm talking about πŸ˜›
    still love your other content but too short, I understand videos take more than 3X as long as they are to make. thanks for the work you do keep it up and keep well πŸ™‚
    You probably should've wore contact lenes that day. to make everything more confortable when wearing that headset.

  4. I was lucky enough to get to try one of the massive Virtuality Headsets back in the 90s. Made me feel severely nauseous within about 20 seconds. Of course the modern VR stuff has a lot more technology and is a far more seamless experience. It makes me feel extremely nauseous in about 15 seconds.

  5. It was a mistake to use the amiga hardware, the 3000's 68030 cpu had to do most of the rendering pipeline in software… Considering the high cost of these machines, they should have gone with SGI systems to have proper hardware accelerated, texture mapped and shaded/lit polygons with much higher polycount, and games written using the opengl toolkit instead of a custom engine, so developers could focus more of their time on design and gameplay…
    A higher framerate would also have made the incidence of motion sickness lower, which was a common issue for many users with these first gen VR sets…

  6. Nice video, as usual. I just wish you'd have gone further and cover end user products such as the Cybermaxx or VFX1. Maybe on a follow up vid ? πŸ˜‰

  7. Wow, I don't remember seeing or really hearing about this stuff where I'm from growing up.
    Sure there were plenty of articles to sell magazines, but normally there was no substantive talk about what was on the market – it was always more along the lines of "we'll all have flying cars" type articles.

    Cool to see that the feature set of current gen VR had actually already been achieved and put into production in the 90s… even if it wasnt at the consumer level.

  8. I use to service the CS 1000 and CS 2000 units in Phoenix Arizona, USA. My favorites were Dactyl Nightmare, Legend Quest, and Zone Hunter. Good Times. I think I still have a Dactyl Nightmare 2 beta Disc and Service Manuals somewhere. The CS1000 Ring was strictly to keep the player in the pod. The Polhemus Tracking system had a "Source" (Transmitter) mounted in the front of the Ring and two Receivers, one in the Headset and one in the SpaceStick. The Tracking system works similar to a three-Axis resolver. Interference from CRT displays showing the Demos and Player views and the Fluorescent lights wreaked havoc on the Tracking systems. The CS2000 Polhemus Trackers were far more reliable but also prone to drift and would have to be 'zeroed' about once a week. They were great machines but a lot of late nights keeping the hardware in good working order.

    Great Video! And – "Birdie's Hungry"…

  9. I worked for W Industries / Virtuality Entertainment back in the 90's, until they closed in 1997. If you're ever in Leicester in the UK, you can still see some working kit by contacting

  10. I played that game – at a Lake Tahoe ski resort casino when I was a kid.

    They sold it in SkyMall and Hammacher Schlemmer

  11. I'm sure i've seen that 1st demo somewhere, i do remember jumping into VR in some 1990s games expo. I also remember wolfienstien on floppy disks for sale, which might date it.

  12. "When VR was 20 FPS." That was back when gamers aren't whining wimps! LOL. I remember these days. Back then, I worked at the CRC (Canada Research Council), working on code for flight sims, whilst doing coop for computer science.

  13. i wonder what came of the technology used in the powerglove and why hasn't a new product similar to it been seen since 2002

  14. You forgot to mention how it can turn you from a sweet moron to a cyber god. Now that is a feature! I need to go cut the grass.

  15. I guess i was one of the lucky kids who saved their pennys and was able to visit a mini arcade with two virtuality machines the weight of the thing sucked my arm got tired fast holding the controller. I loved the idea and being able to use the machines but i was a tad underwhelmed by the limitations still I, never had enough time using the machines

  16. the sad part for me, is that vr probably wouldn't work for me because my eye's don't work together correctly πŸ™

  17. After watching this, for some reason, I feel the need to watch the old Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy TV series πŸ™‚

  18. Here in Washington State. We had a VR machine at the Seattle Science Center. They used a hang glider sim in their unit.

  19. My brother's classmate had the giant vr thing. Her father was never home, always in NYC on business, so he spoiled. Her. To. Death. She had a Saturn, virtual boy, SNES, PlayStation and neogeo and 3DO

  20. The one that I remember was called VFX 1, never heard about Virtuality (I'm not from UK). Did you cover that one in any of your videos? If not, please do!

  21. It was around '93 when I played the sit-down version, and some Harrier simulator, here in FL. Not fun. Helmet felt like I had a bowling ball on my head, with tiny, hot, flickering TVs two inches from my eyes. No immersion whatsoever. Just sucked.

  22. an allrighty video, i do like myself look back at technological marvels of yesteryear.
    Much more importantly i am glad to see magnificent lady Oktav1us out on field trip to museum of her kind of things.
    makes me hop she had a blast and looking forth to that promised video.

  23. 10:55 I played this with my uncle!! We spent the entire time trying to find each other. My brother played the sit down version doing the tank game.

  24. Seriously, this episode is really REALLY good. I dream of playing VR since the mid 90s, i only could saw it on magazines and movies. Once i got a glimpse of a person playing the Virtuality 1000CS in a Sega World amusement center but i haven't got enough money to play it, i was 9 years old at the time. Now i have the PSVR, bought it in 2018–quite affordable for a common bloke like me, and i indulge almost all VR games i could get to satisfy that old-time wish. Better late than never, right (^.^)

  25. It's interesting right off the bat that you mention how "3D hit the cinemas in the '80s" when 3D movies have existed for almost as long as 2D movies (even polarized 3D is almost 130 years old)… and the first big wave of anaglyph 3D was in the '50s.

    "Things come in waves" indeed.

  26. I was a West End theatre electrician at the time and me and my colleagues used to go and play the VIrtuality at (was it the Trocadero, think so) on Leicester Square. Liked the one with the mechs, Exorex, but our favourite was Total Destruction, the car racing game. Loved that. It was primitive by modern standards but amazing at the time. I also remember playing both the Flight Sims.

  27. That VR machine reminds me of an episode of Batman Beyond/Batman of the Future dealing with VR addiction X_x

  28. Well not its still more entusiast fan thing, even with fine selling cheap ps4 set. I doubt it goin grow hard in 10 years.

  29. I live in Leicester, and have been meaning to get over to the retro museum for a while (but then who visits the stuff on their own doorstep, right?) Wish I'd chosen to go the day you were filming: would have been great to meet you and Octav1us!

  30. Millennials have a stupid understanding of FPS anyway. Most of them probably don't know film is 24 FPS, and PAL is 25. "I'm not getting 60 FPS….. I need to upgrade!!!!!". Morons.

  31. Peter, thanks so much for the time and effort on the videos you do. VR is a real area of interest for me ever since seeing in on BA. I eventually got to play VTOL in Lakeside, Thurrock, and later, what I think would have been Grid Warriors (that footage rings more bells than the others and is was a stand up robot shooter I played.) Being very keen on flight sims back then, I assumed I'd ace VTOL….I lasted about 20 seconds. Grid warriors saw more play time but the staff member manning the game was cleary fresh from Health and Safety training camp, and kept telling me off for "turning around", blissfully unaware that the player would be trying to shoot things coming from behind. Fast forward to present day, and PSVR is my poison of choice. Just seems like the most cost effective solution for those on a budget, and can still be used on PC titles with some tweaking. Thanks again mate. Your videos are worth the wait. Quality content every time.

  32. "Do you remember when 3d hit the cinemas in the 80s?"
    The first 3d movie is from 1922 according to Wikipedia πŸ™„

  33. Lawnmower man blew my teenage mind. Then I tried one at a Lazar tag spot and said this is bullshit. It was way over sold. Nothing like the movie.

  34. At the Retro Computer Museum in Leicester having not played on one since the 90s it was great to have a go again. Pixels the size of golf balls and a headset so heavy that feels like it holds a full pc tower inside. Anazone how much the vive has lept since, but aso impressive how much a hybrid amiga could do in those days.

  35. +Nostalgia Nerd; it looks alarmingly close (3:47) is probably because the human mammal had not had any upgrades to any of its lair you for appx 5 MILLION years (SAME thing goes for the brain, and I mention this because way to many people don't get it, using technology today – and tomorrow – is like using hats that's very is with current software – it wasn't meant to go like this).

  36. I always love to watch your videos.
    But this one is from a other universe.
    This is a real top docu.

  37. Great video, Glad simon and the Museum are getting better exposure. I went to legend quest back in the days as it was based in nottingham, It was not as cool as it looked, Cheap fiber glass everywhere and my mate had a seizure using the machine. Excellent video loved the craig charles stuff. Keep it up man πŸ™‚

  38. For any of you wondering, that is a teslapod designed to simulate a Battletech specific Battletech cockpit. And it was glorious

  39. Man why do people sound like a pyramid scheme when they talk VR experiences. Shit gives me motion sickness.

  40. Been looking forward to this one! I love how how weird and bulky the headsets if the 90’s are! I love the PSVR and Vive so it’s fascinating to see where that tech came from! Brilliant video! πŸ˜€

  41. I played one back in the day, it was one where you walked down a corridor holding a handgun shooting at creatures, you ended up in a tunnel with creatures jumping from the ceiling towards your face ( if anyone knows the name of the game from that terrible description please let me know). When I first put on the headset I was disappointed by the field of view, it felt like a screen hovering in front of your face, I think I was expecting too much, but once I started moving and looking around in game, it got much more immersive. Been a huge VR fan ever since, always checking online to see if I could ever get my hands on a VR headset, then Oculus arrived.

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