Monday, December 10, 2007

In the Dog House #2: Virtual Boy Done Right?

It's been a long time since I posted the first of these entries, but here goes:

I think one of Nintendo's greatest failures might be able to succeed today, if it's done right: The Virtual Boy. I actually have one. (At the time, I was thinking about collecting Nintendo failures to evaluate them for myself) I got it several years ago in exchange for a stack of mediocre Magic: The Gathering cards. Got it with Mario Tennis and Telero Boxer. I kind of liked the latter, even though it's a pretty short game.

Problems with the system were myriad, and a lot of them are accurately covered into the linked Wikipedia entry, and here's some ideas, observations, and so forth to hopefully deal with them:

1. Portability. The VB most definitely suffered from a lack of portability, but given miniaturization since then, I think many issues can be dealt with. Since the VB got so many aspects of portability wrong, though, this requires a fair bit of discussion for some of the people who don't know the extensive nature of the wrongness.

a. Weight: The VB weighed as much as a brick. That, combined with its sheer bulk cuts deeply into how easily you could move it about. Up-to-date technology would make a better version easier.

b. Parts: You had the big eye part, the controller, the power supply (more on that, later), the stand, and appropriate wires. If I were to redesign the thing, it'd probably have a decent battery built in and a small wireless controller you could snap on somewhere for portability and recharging its battery. A charger cord would be available, but it'd be optional during gameplay.

c. The stand: The stand that came with the VB couldn't be adjusted vertically, which left me searching for a surface/chair combo that got it right for me. I'd replace that cursed thing with a strap to keep it on your head, like all the other virtual reality things were supposed to be like during that craze. Include some testing to maximize the number of heads it can fit on via adjustments.

2. Lack of social gaming: Two video outputs built for one person's set of two eyes. That was it. "Hey, I'm fighting the last boss, and winning!" "If you say so." I think the best solutions for that would be online multiplayer and some TV connection that'd let other players view the game world.

3. Controller issues: Some people thought the VB controller was weird, having two directional pads, and a pair of underside buttons. One idea I have in mind for my hypothetical improvement: Have Wiimotes as the controller, and see about including motion sensing as a part of the system. Problem with this is that it could lead to 'kitchen sinking' the whole thing, and adding all that weight I don't want back onto the system.

So, anyone else have ideas or Virtual Boy trauma to share?


Joshua said...

Honestly, the big thing I've always thought about the Virtual Boy is that it should never have been envisioned as a portable device. Granted, the fact that it has integrated video does suggest portability, but while I can walk around outside with a DS and probably not run into stuff, i just can't do that with a Virtual Boy-type device.

It also definitely needs a motion sensor mounted on the head. If you're going to wear some crap on your head, it needs to be part of the game mechanic and not just a display device.

But actually, I think the best solution would be to invent a mechanism to encode 3D on a standard display, eliminating the bulky headgear altogether. Just make the Wii capable of showing 3D, like with a standard pair of polarised 3D glasses or something similar. This probably had no hope of being feasible in the CRT era, but hopefully the age of HD LCDs and plasma TVs brings the idea into the realm of possibility. Or maybe not. I really don't know enough about 3D display technology to say.

Anyway, you're absolutely correct that motion sensing will have to be a key part of the game mechanic. Like I said, the head has to have motion sensing in it, and a motion sensing Wiimote-style control would help as well. You couldn't exactly get the fine aiming control that the Wiimote has due to the sensor bar system, because there's no place to put a sensor bar in an integrated system like that, but sensitive enough accelerometers might be able to approximate the effect.

Tom Foss said...

You know what I'd add to the Virtual Boy? Color. Or more specifically, colors, as in, more than one. These days, 3-D can be accomplished any number of ways without resorting to monochrome.

Bronze Dog said...

Oops. Got distracted by other aspects and didn't finish the entry. Was also going to do a little rant about the fact that it normally runs on 6 AA batteries, too.

Should be needless to say, but yeah, color is good.

Don said...

Well, I only played it once, at a demo kiosk in a Toys R Us, and it gave me insane vertigo and almost caused me to white out. I'd have to say I'm not behind a new one of these unless they fix the proto-Pokemon issues that plagued the original machine. I don't even have epilepsy (or any chronic illness that should react in such a way to the VB), so the thing was a huge no for me.

Laser Potato said...

For what it's worth, I still love Virtual Boy Wario Land.

FourTwenty said...

If it was just black and white, it wouldn't have been too bad. Unfortunately, someone thought a monochrome red was a good idea, tiring your eyes very quickly and blinding a person with a sea of green when they remove their eyes from the device, and making sure you couldn't (or didn't want to) play more than 15 minutes at a time. They had one at the blockbuster. Seriously, I hope they fired anyone involved in that machine's creation.

Alfonso Crawford said...

What if a parallax screen-cover was pressed against a portable device's screen like a film? Spectacles'd have more effect, but think of the player's appearance.

Bronze Dog said...

They picked red LEDs to cut down on costs, and white ones hadn't even been invented yet, to my knowledge.

The chief designer was Gunpei Yokoi, the guy best known for giving us Game Boy and Metroid. He was forced to release it quickly, against his wishes.