Preserving the dream of the '90s Virtuality VR game tech

Kotaku UK finds a VR preservationist at a U.K. games festival and shares his story of studying and maintaining some of the earliest VR game machines, including the magnet-based Virtuality 1000.
"I will never give up on keeping them going!"

- VR enthusiast and preservationist Simon Marston.

Do you remember Virtuality? Those big, VR game machines you could find in arcades and amusement parks in the early '90s?

Simon Marston does. The Leicester native has spent years restoring and preserving old VR game machines, especially Virtuality machines, and you can read about some of his pioneering work on his RetroVR site.

Marson brought a Virtuality 1000 unit to the recent Play Expo Blackpool event in England, and now Kotaku UK has published an interesting firsthand account (with comments from Simon) of what it's like to play early VR games on a machine that's nearly three decades old. It's a fun read, especially for VR game developers who are curious about how VR games tracked movement before motion controls became commonplace. (Spoiler: It's all about magnets.)

"I ask Simon what on earth magnets have to do with VR, and he patiently explains how this vintage Virtuality 1000 series actually works," recounts writer Lewis Packwood. "It’s one of the first generation of VR systems, dating from 1991, and it consists of a massive metal and fibreglass platform featuring a ring that encircles the player... A magnetic transmitter in the ring creates a 3D magnetic field that the player stands within, and receivers in the controller and Visette are used to work out what direction the player is looking and where they’re pointing the gun."

He goes on to note that Marston believes the two Virtuality 1000 machines he's restored (the other one is housed in the Retro Computer Museum in Leicester)  are among the last functioning units in the world -- he thinks roughly 350 were ever made. Transporting the one in his garage reportedly involves disassembling it and reassembling it on-site, which can lead to technical problems.

"Basically I'm wiggling connections and just hoping," Marston said as he worked to sort out a technical problem with the Virtuality 1000 unit he brought to Blackpool, which runs on an Amiga 3000 (though later V1000 models reportedly subbed in a 486 PC.) "They don't travel well."

He does eventually get the unit running again, and you can read a detailed account of how it works (and how it feels to play Dactyl Nightmare on a '90s VR machine) in the full Kotaku UK feature.

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