The infamous failure of Nintendo’s nausea-inducing Virtual Boy was responsible for stinking up what little reputation virtual reality products had in the mid 1990s, so it’s no wonder why a generation of gamers grew up feeling like competent VR gaming would never arrive.
The Virtual Boy console used stereoscopic graphics, which were marketed at the time as a form of “virtual reality”. Undeterred by its critical and commercial failure, Nintendo took another shot at this technology 15 years later with the Nintendo 3DS, a handheld console which performed miles better and was generally well received. Despite this, a vocal portion of its user base still opted to turn the 3D off due to the motion sickness it caused.
Arguably one of the video game industry’s biggest success stories was the launch of the Nintendo Wii in 2006. While not a virtual reality console, its intuitive motion controls certainly made gaming more interactive and can retrospectively be seen as a stepping stone to the VR games of today.
In the years since the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii, a handful of virtual reality headsets have been released: the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, the Playstation VR, and the Valve Index. But the cost of these VR headsets can often be more than that of next-gen consoles.
All of these headsets offer some benefits which the others don’t, but all of them have their limitations, both in terms of their features, and more importantly, the quality of their respective system’s games.
Valve sets the bar for what VR gaming should be
Things changed in 2020 when, after a thirteen years hiatus, Valve announced ‘Half-Life: Alyx’, the latest entry in its much lauded ‘Half-Life’ series. The massive amount of internet hype surrounding this was topped off by the fact that it would be Valve’s first game exclusively playable in VR.
Upon its release, ‘Half-Life: Alyx’ arguably set the bar for VR gaming higher than most had expected, combining top-notch graphics with an immersive world and intuitive gameplay features. Valve had recaptured the imagination of gamers everywhere, including those who were inhumanely subjected to the Virtual Boy back in 1995. Many agreed that Valve’s latest entry into the franchise was the future of VR gaming…
But is one AAA VR game enough to justify the comparatively expensive technology needed to play it? Unless you own a VR ready gaming PC, the best VR gaming equipment, and have enough playspace in your gaming room to swing your arms about like a maniac without breaking something, chances are you won’t be playing ‘Half-Life: Alyx’ or any other VR games for a while, if ever.
Are VR headsets the new 3D glasses?
The hype around VR gaming since the release of ‘Half-Life: Alyx’ in 2020 is reminiscent of the hype around 3D films after the release of ‘Avatar’ in 2009. The movie was critically praised and rejuvenated a format which had been popular decades before, before fading into obscurity as another fad.
Many film studios wanted to capitalize on the success of ‘Avatar’ and went about making sure that their films were watchable with a pair of thick black rimmed glasses too, even if the visual execution was far less impressive.
Will video game studios opt to make their games in VR to capitalise on the success of Valve’s technology-defining VR game, hoping to make a few extra dollars by emulating what’s currently trending?
The technology powering virtual reality games is still in its mid-infancy and will undoubtedly continue to improve and push boundaries as time goes on, but will the uptake of VR be enough to justify the investment?
Whether VR is the future of gaming or just a passing fad will depend on who you ask. But whatever your opinion is, at least we can all agree that even the worst virtual reality shovelware games of today are infinitely better than Mario Tennis on the Virtual Boy.
Angela is a senior editor at Dreniq News. She has written for many famous news agencies.