Home Augmented Reality The Virtual Arena – Blast from the Past: The VR-1

The Virtual Arena – Blast from the Past: The VR-1

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Observing the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment scene for VRFocus, in his latest Virtual Arena column, industry specialist Kevin Williams turns his gaze back to the influences that have shaped the modern adoption of VR. Charting a brief history of the first major theme park attraction from veteran developer SEGA, and how one of the first VR pioneers in that emerging technology shaped this overlooked, but ground-breaking experience.

The recognition of VR in this current generation may be mistaken by some as being its first innovation into the mainstream, but VR has had several false dawns in the entertainment arena. Just some twenty years ago a major theme park attraction was developed by a major amusement and game developer, using technology inspired through a license with a promoted start-up VR company. History has a habit of repeating itself. 

Jumping back to 1994 and at the time SEGA was the leading video amusement and digital game content developer. The Japanese powerhouse was investing in cutting edge technology, scaling down their phenomenal amusement releases and turning them into consumer gaming experiences, even scaling down the microcomputer technology to be converted into gaming consoles based on their expertise. 

The drive for the latest technology saw SEGA investigate the emerging technology of VR. At the time VR had migrated from the simulation industry for flight training and had been applied for video amusement utilization. The company Virtuality had grown from start-up to London stock exchange trade corporation and was the leader of a boom in VR deployment in the amusement industry. SEGA decided to jump their competition and license the Virtuality technology to create their own platform.

Virtuality SD 2000
The Virtuality SD 2000. Image Credit: Virtuality

Virtuality and SEGA would pen an extensive agreement that would see the UK specialist working closely with the much-vaunted SEGA GM R&D divisions in Japan, sharing patented technology and unique display and optics designs. Initial work based on the advance Visette head-mounted display. Continuous iterations would be developed from this partnership until SEGA perfected their design to create the ‘Mega Visor Display (MVD)’ – one of the most advanced VR headsets of that generation. Not surpassed in performance until only a few years ago.

Mega Visor Display
Mega Visor Display (MVD). Image credit: Sega
  • Mega Visor Display (MVD)
  • Resolution: 756 x 244 pixels
  • Field of View: 60°(H) x 46.87°(V)
  • Display Type: Liquid Crystal
  • Weight: 640 grams

SEGA had been feverishly working on their Amusement Theme Park (ATP) project in the 1990’s – taking the video arcade into a new age, incorporating the latest digital entertainment technology, and encapsulate it in what was described as a “Theme Park in a Box!” A venue that could be dropped into shopping malls, bringing a unique entertainment fixture to this kind of location. Inside were multiple “Zones” offering unique “Mid-Scale Attractions”. The concept evolving into the JOYPOLIS venues (also branded as SEGAWorld), with some nine sites opening in the ’90s, in locations such as Tokyo, London and Sydney, as well as other cities.

Segaworld

VR played its part, as one of the so-called “Mid-Scale Attractions” that populated these ATP was the innovative ‘VR-1’. Based on the concept of a motion simulator ride attraction – SEGA created an eight-seater ride vehicle, with guests using the new Mega Visor Display headset. In this space-themed experience – the players went on a galactic mission, shooting waves of alien vessels, looking where they wanted to shoot. The VR technology while rudimentary, compared to modern systems, still offered a ground-breaking and compelling experience, one of the higher-rated attractions deployed in the JOYPOLIS parks in 1994.

Eventually, the shine of the JOYPOLIS brand would tarnish, and the business foundation it was based on proved uneconomic. A mixture of poor management, instigating bad business decisions soon took their toll, and the collapse of the ATP business reflected a greater failing in the heart of the corporation. SEGA would contract as a global entertainment leader, eventually acquired and merging with Sammy. 

Tenaciously, the SEGA corporation has continued to be an amusement powerhouse, with JOYPOLIS still in operation in Japan and China (under the CA SEGA JOYPOLIS division). And still offering VR – though the VR-1 has long since been retired – the venue offers the latest LBE VR with VR Nerds’ ‘Tower Tag’ and the Zero Latency experiences. SEGA’s recent success with the motion picture based on their iconic mascot Sonic revitalizing the brand for a modern generation.

Joyopolis - Tokyo
Image credit: KWP

Many have mistaken the fictitious SEGA VR headset for the Genesis, as the only true virtual reality project from the corporation – forgetting this original successful foray in immersive entertainment that was the VR-1 and Mega Visor Display. The lessons that can be learned in design and development from this early first flush of excitement in VR from the 1990s are a history lesson that should not be forgotten; unless the industry wants to repeat its past mistakes again.

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