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Virtual Boy

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The Virtual Boy (Development Name: VR-32) was a video game console released by Nintendo in 1995. It simulated three dimensional graphics by using stereoscopic display that required the player to look into the device as though it were a large pair of binoculars on a stand. A battery pack was released, and it could function as a portable, albeit a rather large one. The console was not very well received and support for the system dropped off very quickly, and was completely abandoned one year after its release. It was one of the final inventions by Gunpei Yokoi.

Since then, it's stood as an example of how Nintendo innovation can fail. During the announcement of the unique Nintendo DS and the mysterious Nintendo Revolution, many critics brought up the Virtual Boy as a historic example that could repeat itself.

Technical information

The system does not have a full 384×224 array of LEDs as a display. It uses a pair of 1×224 linear arrays (one per eye) and rapidly scans the array across the eye's field of view using flat oscilating mirrors. These mirrors vibrate back and forth at very high speed (they are what produce the mechanical humming noise from inside the unit) and can be damaged if the Virtual Boy is hit, knocked over, or used while in rough motion (such as in a car). A full-size display, while mechanically simpler, would have increased the Virtual Boy's physical size and unit cost to the point where the system would become uneconomical. Every Virtual Boy game has the option to pause automatically every 15-30 minutes to remind the player to take a break, to prevent undue eye strain and possible headaches. Because the warning label had stated the biased symptoms of too-long game-play, it never had any shred of info that it causes nausea.

Monochrome display

The Virtual Boy is iconic for its monochromatic use of red LED lights. The use of the red LED lights was chosen for being the least expensive, the lowest drain on batteries, and for being the most striking color to see. The use of other LED colors proved to be too cost prohibitive and would have forced the system to retail for over US$500. It would not be until 1996 that high-efficiency indium gallium nitride (InGaN) blue and green LEDs would become available from Nichia. During development, a color LCD was experimented with but was found to just cause users to see double instead of creating the illusion of depth.

The Virtual Boy, which uses an oscillating mirror to transform a single line of dots into a full field of dots, requires high-performance LEDs in order to function properly. Because each pixel is only in use for a tiny fraction of a second (384 pixels wide, 50.2 Hz scan rate = approximately 52 µs per scanline), high peak brightness is needed to make the virtual display bright and be comfortable for the user to view. The two-screen system demanded a fast refresh rate, unlike the original Game Boy which had blurry motion, so using an LCD was not an option.


The Virtual Boy, being a system with heavy emphasis on three-dimensional movement, needed a controller that could operate along a Z-Axis. The Virtual Boy's controller was an attempt to implement dual digital "D-pads" to control elements in the aforementioned 3D environment. The controller bears a fairly noticeable resemblance to the Nintendo GameCube controller.

The controller itself is shaped like an 'M'. One holds onto either side of the controller and the part that dips down in the middle contains the battery pack. There are six buttons on the controller (A, B, Start, Select, L and R), the two D-pads, and the system's 'on\off' switch. The two directional pads are located on either side of the controller at the top. The 'A' and 'B' buttons are located below the pad on the right side and the 'Start' and 'Select' buttons are located in the same spot on the left side. What would normally be called 'shoulder buttons' ('L' and 'R') are located behind the area where the pads are, on the back of the controller, functioning more as triggers.

In most games for Virtual Boy, like Mario Clash or Jack Bros, the directional pads are interchangeable; both do the same thing. For others with a more 3D environment, like Red Alarm or Teleroboxer, each pad controlled a different feature. For Red Alarm one directional pad controls pitch and direction of the protagonists' ship, while the other controls forward, back and strafe movement. For Teleroboxer, each control pad, in conjunction with the trigger\shoulder buttons, controlled the position of the corresponding fist of the character. Notably, the game Vertical Force featured the option to mirror-image the controls to help left-handed people feel more comfortable playing. This is made possible by the Virtual Boy's symmetrical controller. This kind of concession to left-handed people was repeated with Nintendo 's Wii console.

One of the most unusual features of the controller is the extendable power supply that slid onto the back. It housed the 6 AA batteries required to power the system. This could be substituted with a wall adapter, though a 'slide on' attachment was required to accomplish this. Once the slide on adapter was installed, a power adapter could be attached to provide constant power.

EXTension Port

The system's EXT port, located on the underside of the system near the controller port, was never officially supported since no official multiplayer games were ever published, nor was an official link cable released.

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