How does 1990s virtual reality hold up today?

At Play Expo Blackpool I met up with Simon Marston, who’s something of a Virtuality megafan. His garage is stuffed full of 199os VR kit, and he’s become an expert at keeping these fragile machines running.

He brought along his two Virtuality 1000 series VR pods to the show, and he reckons that these are the last two working examples of this model in existence, although one of them continued to play up throughout the day, and may well be on its last legs unless he can find a vital replacement part. The 1000 series is based on an Amiga 3000 and dates from the turn of the 1990s, whereas the later 2000 series was based on a 486 PC and was produced in greater numbers.

Here I am, entering the world of 1990s VR.
Here I am, entering the world of 1990s VR.

It was fascinating to experience 1990s VR after all this time. I remember playing on one of these machines many years ago, but as I was only young at the time, I remember that my fragile noodle neck struggled under the weight of the headset and I was quite confused about what was going on. Going back to the machines as an adult, I was pretty damned impressed at how good the tracking is – despite the low frame rate and chunky polygons, the experience was incredibly immersive. They were definitely onto something back then.

Is it me, or do I look like an Alien in this shot?
Is it me, or do I look like an Alien in this shot?

In the end though, it was the price that did these things in – each machine cost several tens of thousands of pounds, not to mention the cost of an attendant to help people into and out of the things, and arcade owners had to charge an accordingly high price to punters.

I wrote about my meeting with Simon for Kotaku UK:

The Man Who is Keeping 1990s Virtual Reality Machines Alive

He’s truly the font of all knowledge on 1990s VR – you can catch up with him on Facebook or visit his website here.

The VR genius that is Simon Marston.
The VR genius that is Simon Marston.

1 Comment

  1. (I thought I posted an earlier comment – turns out I didn’t so I’ll try again!)

    Strangely, while I couldn’t care less about the impending onslaught of VR, this ‘old’ tech fascinates me. It’s a fascinating insight into society of the time and in some ways captures the optimism and fears of people of the day. Also perfectly captures just how fleeting these trends can be at times.

    That cost per unit is absolutely astronomical, so a great little piece of information to dig up! It goes some way to explaining why entire businesses were built around these pieces of equipment – even Canberra had its own VR cafe with a population at the time of probably less than 300,000.

    Either way, I’m really glad that someone is preserving this stuff. A fascinating piece of history (both technically and socially). Great post, mate.

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