Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 139 / APRIL 1992 / PAGE 38

Step into my virtual parlor. (virtual reality computer games)
by Jill Champion

The folks at Spectrum HoloByte have entered into an agreement with W Industries of Leicester, England, and Horizon Entertainment of St. Louis, Missouri, to create software for W's Virtuality entertainment system. Horizon is the system's U.S. distributor. The newly formed enterprise, called Cyberstudio, will have exclusive rights to develop and distribute software for Virtuality systems in the U.S. and Mexico.

And what better company to tackle such an endeavor than Spectrum HoloByte? It's the simulation software developer that continues to produce topnotch entertainment packages like Falcon 3.0 and Flight of the Intruder.

Virtuality is actually more than an entertainment system. A better description would be a type of holodeck--one step beyond the Brainstorm headsets that took Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken to the outer limits yet much less sophisticated than the holodeck seen on the Enterprise in the TV program "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Still, Virtuality makes regular computer games look primitive by comparison. According to Spectrum HoloByte CEO Gilman Louie, "Virtuality represents a quantum leap in entertainment technology and should be considered the recreation vehicle of the 1990s and beyond. With this system, any world or fantasy can be created to totally immerse the user in an extraordinary sensual experience." Horizon president Andy Newman agrees, "Virtual reality is the ultimate entertainment adventure. Anything that can be imagined is possible. Once the Virtuality units are in place, videogame playing will never be the same."

If all this sounds pretty heady, it is. Equipped with special headsets, gloves, and joysticks, players either sit or stand inside the Virtuality deck, where they're thrust into a 3-D computer-generated world that tricks the senses through stereoscopic depth vision, full-color visuals, quadraphonic sound, and 360-degree action. The experience is so real that, according to one player, "the line between reality and illusion is dissolved."

While Cybervision will first modify and enhance some current Virtuality titles, the company will develop original titles as well, the first of which should be ready by early 1993. Also, Spectrum HoloByte's entire Electronic Battlefield series will be converted to Virtuality, beginning with the Falcon 3.0 flight simulator.

Virtuality systems were scheduled to begin appearing in malls last December. Game time costs a dollar per minute, with most games taking about three minutes to play. As the technology becomes more commonplace, the price will probably go down, but this is as close as most of us can get to true 3-D virtual reality today.

Since virtual reality is still in its infancy, you can expect to see some pretty fantastic upshots from this system once it's firmly grounded in the mall-arcade landscape. Expect to be able to star in your own interactive movie someday or to take a walk through time for a true history lesson. Talk about escapism!