In this weekly feature, CheatCC contributing writer Steve Haske explores the rich history of video games, from notable and memorable games to important events in the industry, as viewed through the lens of gaming's contemporary standards, design, and culture.
Out of all the innovative hits and misses that have populated the video game industry throughout its time, arguably few have been as divisive as the usage of 3D. We're all extremely familiar with the tech at this point. A holdover novelty originally used for movie theater patrons in the 1950s, 3D is experiencing a resurgence in today's pop culture, thanks largely in part to its resurrection and new technological advancements seen in films like Avatar. Gaming itself is obviously no exception, either: Nintendo's 3DS system has finally been released in North America; Sony is applying careful, if not entirely zealous, pressure towards its more high-profile first party releases in addition to their line of 3D-ready televisions; the 360 is 3D compatible, even if the feature isn't being used my many developers; and of course, 3D monitors have been available for PC gaming for at least the past year.
For those of us who have already played games in 3D, we're aware of what this means. Excepting the 3DS, the cost of gaming in 3D isn't exactly cheap—especially if you're playing console games that require one to shell out for a new 3D-capable HD set. The effects, as best I can describe them, are a sort of hyper-visualized exercise in depth perception, although currently the tech available (at least in use) for most 3D-compatible games is little more than window dressing, allowing you to increase your awareness of the visual horizon line while allowing things to "pop out" at you from the foreground. (This is coupled as well with an inescapable layered artifice that lends 3D an almost other-worldly texture that forces a rarely visual paradigm on both our eyes and brains.)
Though the variations on its methodology have changed as time has passed, 3D gaming—to the extent that the sporadic experiments with it have cropped up over the years—has largely remained the same. Gaming's infancy saw 3D add-ons for the Vectrex and Sega's Master System, a precursor to Nintendo's first foray into 3D tech. This isn't the Virtual Boy, actually, but a headgear set originally released for the Famicom called the Famicom 3D System. Basically the thing looked like a VR headset—that most popular of iconographies that we all clung to for a few decades when technological innovations of the time had the world believing our primitive notions of virtual reality were going to be the next step in technology immersion. Few people have likely played or even remember the Famicom 3D System, which never came to the U.S. and only saw seven compatible games released in Japan.
The Virtual Boy is what Nintendo is generally remembered for when it came to 3D. Once again adapting the idea of VR headgear, the Virtual Boy was essentially a console embedded in its heavy plastic goggles. The system is famous for only being able to support two colors, red and black (and who knows how Nintendo thought this was going to be viable for the length of a real console), and was known to give immense headaches, given that it completely blocked your vision to any and all outside stimuli. The 3D effects on a few of the games were impressive for their time, but it was no surprise when the system was discontinued after less than a year.