A Long Way from Virtual Boy: From Oculus Rift to Project Morpheus, the Road Ahead

Written by Demetrius Mandzych

Remember Nintendo’s Virtual Boy? That VR tech could make you see red. Are new entrants like Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus the future? Analysis.

aNewDomain.net — Virtual reality. To immerse yourself in an unreal experience that simulates the world you walk through?

Sort of.

Some describe VR as today’s high definition. Or as what 3D was when it hit TVs. Rather than define it as such, take a look at VR’s history. By looking back at such failures as Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, it’s easier to see how products like Oculus Rift and Sony’s upcoming Project Morpheus will take shape.

Meet the boy — Virtual Boy

Virtual Boy, Virtual Reality

Virtual Boy image credit: Nintendo

Many video game players remember a time in the early 1990s when Nintendo was trying its best to stave off increasing competition. It was pushing a delayed 64-bit machine in a field of 32-bit consoles, and it wanted to make a statement. Virtual Boy was its answer.

Nintendo Virtual Boy, a system that would live on in infamy and as a curiosity for collectors, consisted of a pair of stationary goggles that fit around your head. Everything was connected to a single controller.

The Virtual Boy produced only black and red graphics, which temporarily caused an inability to see the color red after prolonged playtime.

This nasty bit of gaming was due to overloading the cones of the player’s retinas.

The Virtual Boy even had a warning for parents, which prevented young children from using the device because medical doctors said it could impact eye health and still-developing visual acuity. The Virtual Boy, an attempt at up-to-date virtual reality, was ultimately a failure. Eye health aside, the high price and lack of software support indicated a fundamentally flawed device.

Modern virtual reality

Has the technology improved? After reading numerous reports from first-hand users of modern devices such as Oculus Rift and Sony’s upcoming Project Morpheus, it would seem that we are entering a new age of visual fidelity.

While Project Morpheus is still fairly under wraps, it appears that the VR device will interact with the company’s PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Move motion controllers. Unlike the color-limited Virtual Boy, both of these devices are packing serious internals capable of creating immersive and unique worlds unlike anything that has been released on the consumer market.

To make the VR present and future more interesting, Facebook recently purchased the company behind Oculus Rift for $2 billion. The purpose of the purchase has left the Internet guessing and has already sent ripples throughout the gaming community. The largest concern about Facebook’s purchase is that the gaming focus of Oculus Rift will greatly diminish, or be outright removed, under Facebook’s control.

Project Morpheus Virtual Reality

Project Morpheus image credit: Sony


The creator of the exceedingly-popular game Minecraft, Markus “Notch” Persson, said that his game has stopped all development for the platform after the purchase by Facebook. This mostly seems like a philosophical disagreement, but it is telling how other passionate developers may react if  Facebook chooses to pursue a gaming future for the Oculus technology.

The biggest challenge with virtual reality is one that faced 3D in televisions: the presentation. How do you communicate value of a device that has to be worn or requires additional equipment to be understood and realized? Nintendo posed that very question, almost two decades ago, in a Nintendo Power interview that I read as a boy. Their solution was to have tons of kiosk stations set up with participating partner retailers.

In the age of always-on-information, I hope that the virtual experience can be simulated. Any way you look at it, we’re in for a wild ride.

With any luck, it won’t impair our vision, either.

Let me know what you think in the comments section below. And check out the Project Morpheus video below the fold.

For aNewDomain.net, I’m Demetrius Mandzych.

Based in New Jersey, Demetrius Mandzych is passionate about tech and has worked in game development, programming, graphic design, 3D modeling and photography. Read all Demetrius’ consumer tech articles here on aNewDomain.net. Follow Demetrius on Twitter at @Redestium. On Google+ he’s +Demetrius Mandzych.