Digital Boy: The weird rise and fast fall of Nintendo’s enigmatic crimson console


A young kid using a Virtual Boy on a swing.
Ars Technica AI Reporter and tech historian Benj Edwards has co-written a ebook on the Digital Boy with Dr. Jose Zagal. On this unique excerpt, Benj and Jose take you again to Nintendo of the early ’90s, the place a novel 3D show know-how captured the creativeness of legendary designer Gunpei Yokoi and set the stage for a daring, if finally ill-fated, foray into the world of stereoscopic gaming.

Seeing Pink: Nintendo’s Digital Boy is now accessible for buy in print and e book codecs.

A full checklist of references will be discovered within the ebook.

Practically 30 years after the launch of the Digital Boy, not a lot is publicly identified about how, precisely, Nintendo got here to be keen on growing what would finally turn out to be its ill-fated console. Was Nintendo dedicated to VR as a future for video video games and searching for technological options that made enterprise sense? Or was the Digital Boy primarily the results of Nintendo going “off script” and seizing a novel, and probably dangerous, alternative that introduced itself? The reply might be a bit of little bit of each.

Because it seems, the Digital Boy was not an anomaly in Nintendo’s historical past with online game platforms. Slightly, it was the results of a deliberate technique that was in line with Nintendo’s approach of doing issues and knowledgeable by its lead creator Gunpei Yokoi’s design philosophy.

Dabbling in digital actuality?

A 1995 Japanese ad for the Nintendo Virtual Boy.
Enlarge / A 1995 Japanese advert for the Nintendo Digital Boy.

Nintendo

The late Eighties and Nineteen Nineties have been a heady time for digital actuality, and, when it got here to producing public curiosity, Japan was arguably main the cost. In Might 1991, Hattori Katsura’s Jinkō genjitsukan no sekai (The world of the sensation of synthetic actuality) was printed. It was the primary best-selling basic viewers ebook on VR, beating Howard Rheingold’s watershed Digital Actuality by just a few months. Japan can be “the place VR was first repackaged as a client know-how” and, by 1991, it had extra VR programs than wherever else on the planet.

Nevertheless, VR was neither introduced nor perceived in the identical approach in Japan because it was in the USA. First, whereas VR analysis in the USA was largely developed and pushed by army pursuits, in Japan, it got here out of a telecommunications context. Second, within the mid-Nineteen Nineties a minimum of, Japanese VR analysis had an engineering emphasis relatively than laptop science like in the USA. Thus, the Japanese public’s notion of VR was formed by the extra availability, by way of public demonstrations for instance, of VR units and experiences totally different from these proven elsewhere. These units and experiences have been characterised in the USA as “cool devices” and “unusual experiments” however would, maybe taken collectively, present different highlights of VR’s potential as a medium.

You're reading an excerpt of <em>Seeing Red: Nintendo's Virtual Boy</em> by Jose Zagal and Benj Edwards.
Enlarge / You are studying an excerpt of Seeing Pink: Nintendo’s Digital Boy by Jose Zagal and Benj Edwards.

Previous to the discharge of the Digital Boy, Nintendo designers and engineers expressed a minimum of some curiosity in digital actuality. For instance, when interviewed by Satoru Iwata concerning the growth of the Nintendo’s autostereoscopic handheld Nintendo 3DS, Shigeru Miyamoto commented, “To begin at first, on the time [just before the creation of the Virtual Boy], I used to be keen on digital actuality, and was one of many workers that went on and on about how we should always do one thing with 3D goggles. I didn’t precisely twist his arm, however I might discuss with Yokoi-san about how [3D] goggles could be fascinating.”

Nevertheless, not a lot is understood exterior of Nintendo if this curiosity led to in-house experiments or the event of prototype digital actuality programs. Some experiences, largely secondhand, do exist that there was some analysis going down. For instance, whereas researching an article concerning the Digital Boy for FastCompany, Benj Edwards interviewed Takefumi Makino, the biographer of Gunpei Yokoi and a good friend of Yokoi’s for a interval close to Yokoi’s loss of life in 1997. In line with Makino, Nintendo experimented with digital actuality previous to creating the Digital Boy, but it surely discovered the expertise unsatisfactory.

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