Sega VR

From Sega Retro

Segavr physical01.jpg
Sega VR
Manufacturer: Sega of America

Sega VR is an unreleased Sega Mega Drive virtual reality peripheral developed by Sega of America. Announced in 1991, it languished in development for years, and was quietly cancelled around late 1994.[1]

The hardware is unrelated to the similarly-named VR-1.

Hardware

Sega VR is a Sega Mega Drive virtual reality peripheral with dual LCD screens in the visor, and interial head-tracking sensors - one of the first headsets to do so. It was also designed to be lightweight and comfortable for prolonged wear, more so than its contemporaries.

The inertial sensors monitors head movements at a rate of 100 Hz (100 times per second). This ensures that visuals update rapidly and in sync with the player's head movements. It also uses stereoscopic 3D technology to add three-dimensional depth to the visuals, and built-in stereo headphones to further enhance the virtual-reality experience.[2]

Development

Background

After a decade of rapid growth and development, the early 1990s saw computer graphics reach a stage in which large numbers of 3D polygons could be displayed in real-time. As these virtual worlds expanded, so did the desire to engage with them firsthand. Virtual reality was seen as the next step forward following the move to 3D graphics and gameplay, but numerous factors slowed the process. Chief among these was the prohibitively-high cost of the hardware required to render a believable virtual scene, and the difficulties involved with developing the controllers and interfaces for interacting with the virtual world. As research and development costs rose, the virtual reality bubble burst, and the companies which invested were forced to cut their losses. Virtual reality in the home would be considered unfeasible for nearly two decades before another meaningful push in this area was made.

Beginnings

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Flush with funds from the success of the Sega Genesis, Sega of America began development of a low-cost virtual reality peripheral for the system. The project was led by Stewart Kosoy, an industry veteran with considerable experience in planning hardware and peripheral development.

Initial headset designs were produced by famed design firm IDEO and featured a sleek headset sporting a futuristic silver finish. This design was further developed into the black and red headset seen in promotional material.[3]

After dealing with many early head-tracking sensor companies, Sega of America partnered with Ono-Sendai, a Silicon Valley startup specializing in virtual reality development. Ono-Sendai was able to provide reliable sensors at a low unit price of just $1, and further assisted in development by helping Sega of America refine the headset’s tracking functions before its upcoming trade show appearance.

Summer CES 1993

Sega VR was revealed to the public at Summer CES 1993 with a proposed price tag of $200[4]. It was originally scheduled to launch in December 1993, followed by a United Kingdom launch in 1994.[5] Four games were in development for the system, each using 16Mb cartridges: Nuclear Rush (the pack-in game), Iron Hammer, Matrix Runner and Outlaw Racing. Reports also suggest a port of the hit arcade racer Virtua Racing was once planned for the system.[6]

The Summer CES showing was very understated, with screenings of a "ropey" prototype only occuring behind closed doors.[7] United Kingdom journalists were turned away as the system was not set for release in that region until at least the fourth quarter of 1994.[7] Reportedly Sega had issues converting the device to work on PAL Mega Drives.[8]

Health concerns

Like with many virtual reality headsets, there were reports of occasional testers developing headaches or motion sickness from prolonged use. Mark Pesce, founder of the company that supplied Sega VR’s head-tracking sensors, stated the Stanford Research Institute warned Sega of the 'hazards' of prolonged use.[9]

British newspaper The Independent on Sunday reported in 1993 that Sega's virtual reality project could cause eye damage, which caught the attention of Sega's lawyers. The newspaper was forced to issue an apology on October 3, stating the headset was still in a prototype stage and not available on the market. Despite the apology, the struggling peripheral had already been associated with negative press.[10]

Although these concerns are commonly associated with modern virtual reality development, they seemed even more concerning back in the mid 1990s. For a Sega of America who was preparing for the upcoming 1993 video games congressional hearings, these concerns made Sega VR more than just a financial risk. If experienced testers were feeling motion sickness, then surely children would too, and the last thing Sega needed was more bad press.

Cancellation

The United States release would miss its Christmas 1993 launch window and be delayed until August of 1994.[11] Promotional coverage slowed, and after its initial buzz died off, Sega VR was removed from its release schedule in late 1994.

Sega has claimed the project was cancelled because Sega VR was so realistic it might cause users to injure themselves from excessive movement. However, developers for the hardware have stated that health concerns over motion sickness in children was the actual culprit.[12]

Legacy

At around the same time, Sega of Japan collaborated with United Kingdom-based Virtuality on the critically acclaimed Mega Visor Display, used in the advanced VR-1 attraction at Sega's indoor theme park venues during the mid 1990s.[13]

In an October 1994 interview with Tom Kalinske, it was claimed some form of virtual reality headset was still in the works, but that the implimentation shown at Summer CES 1993 "didn't deliver the VR experience".[14] Sega of America was confident it would be able to produce a Sega 32X-based or Sega Saturn-based headset for less than $225 USD.[14] However, neither materialised (though by late 1996 the company was still suggesting a VR headset was in development, just that "it may be a long way off".)[15] A similar virtual reality perhipheral for the Sega Saturn was reported on and mentioned, but never seen physically.

Sega VR was featured in the 1995 movie Clockers (with a fictional game called Gangsta). As filming began before the headset was cancelled,[16] scenes featuring a prop decorated to appear as a Sega VR headset remained in the final movie.

Patents

Videos

Photo gallery

1993 Sega Catalog.pdf1993 Sega Catalog.pdf1993 Sega Catalog.pdf

PDF
US trade catalogue

Magazine articles

Main article: Sega VR/Magazine articles.

Interviews

References

External Links


Sega VR Games
Sega Mega Drive
Nuclear Rush | Iron Hammer | Matrix Runner | Outlaw Racing
Sega Mega Drive
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