Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Virtual Reality, 1979

Back in 1979 there was no such thing as “virtual reality.” Heck, there was no such thing as a personal computer, either. Or computer animation, unless you count Pong, Atari’s hot new game.

But that didn’t stop my inner Leonardo from daydreaming about how we might interact with CG alternate universes.

At the time I was an anthro major at UC Berkeley. According to my sophomoric prognostication, we would someday be able to enter “a world of pure illusion, utterly free from danger, into which one can actually walk and explore!”

Here, for your amusement, is “Vision Quest,” my 1979 prediction of what was supposed to come. Wasn’t the future fun back then? So why hasn’t it gotten here yet? Click to enlarge any page.

The headpiece unit:
Field size and sound:
Alternate reality:
Off a cliff:
Your friend the 8-ball:

Tomorrow: Mystery Artist


Erik Bongers said...

Very recognizable !
Sometimes when browsing through some old maps with drawings or so, I occasionally stumble upon some text or idea that I wrote long time ago.
While re-reading it, I often wonder why on earth I spend my time on writing that stuff.
Even worse : I used to be a programmer and wondered how 3d engines and program compilers worked. So I wrote my own compiler and 3d engine, both in Java.
Hey, I even have a (hidden) webpage with that stuff (check out the 3d engine demo).

Should have thrown away all of that stuff long time ago...
But somehome I can't get myself to do that...
And was it really that useless?
Did I waste time with it?
Or was it good 'brain-training'?
I could have watched late night shows instead...
Talk about a waste of time !

Anonymous said...

hi there,

I had a sci-fi story published in a german computer mag about enhanced reality technology once and found out that it had been built and tested a year later... seems my vision was rather near-future, LOL

check out the test games here (mind the gallery)

it has also been tested for architecture students for whom the data backpack and special glasses made the buildings in town look like they did back several hundred years ago... quite fascinating.

The only difference to my story is that I had people use implants - that might take another few years...:D

Anonymous said...

“a world of pure illusion, utterly free from danger, into which one can actually walk and explore!”

have you ever heard or do you ever experiance lucid dreaming...this is what i thought of when i read your quote above...

James Gurney said...

Yes, I have experienced lucid dreaming a couple of times, and I loved it. But it took me a lot of concentration and practice to be succeed in being conscious within my own dream.

I suppose the ultimate form of VR would be a simulation of lucid dreaming, combining movement through a virtual CG environment with some level of semi-conscious intentionality.

Not only that, there's nothing that says the VR world has to be fixed. It would really get interesting if the rendering of the world was tied to biofeedback based on varying brain states——so that flowers bloomed when you felt happy, for example.

Anonymous said...

Heh, made me think of a book I read a while back, about new inventions. Had an illustration of a person using a VR Helmet and fighting Dinosaurs.

After that I wanted one.

Jelter said...

i think the biggest problem would be how much space you would need to set up the VR like this. (since everyone would want to get one, but not everyone owns a basketball court) if someone were suspended, and wearing a tactile-feedback suit, they could be floating in space in a small chamber and feel like they were walking around.

a tactile feedback suit would also help bridge the disconnect you would feel when picking things up without feeling them. (of course, that pushes your idea even farther into the future) they could also just use videogame controls though.

i actually tried something just like you described in the mid 90s at the liberty science center. the only difference in how people were represented was that the head was a pyramid (and the controls were a joystick) i remember thinking that videogames were much more responsive.

James Gurney said...

Jelter, I think you're right that the effect of VR works fine without the necessity to move through real space, or even to have a wraparound helmet. I also tried a VR simulator at Disneyworld in the 90s, when they were first audience-testing it. There was the inevitable problem with moving bodies through the attraction. The video screen/joystick interface seems to work best for immersive/interactive environments for now.