In the early ’90s, four odd-looking arcade games appeared at a rented-out store in my local mall. For about seven dollars, anyone could stop in and play three minutes of a new virtual reality game called Dactyl Nightmare. I paid up, put on the massive helmet… and then the game was over before I’d even figured out what I was doing in the blocky, chessboard-like environment. The whole experience left a lot to be desired and I never went back. It certainly wasn’t the first VR experience (or the most advanced) made available for public consumption, but it sums up how many felt about the ill-fated, first wave of consumer-facing VR projects: all hype and not enough substance. The times and technology have changed, though, and it’s finally time for round two. VR systems are being developed and promoted at a rate that outstrips the previous era, with better graphics and games (and far less queasiness) than ever before. VR, it seems, is just about ready for prime time. So to commemorate its second coming, let’s take a look at virtual reality’s bumpy road to mainstream recognition.
[Image: AP Photo/Mark Cowan]