Never say “game over”

Some technologies never take off. It’s the way of the world. Whatever happened, for example, to hovercrafts – the favourite transportation method of Sir Sean Connery’s James Bond? The technology world is full of inventions that never made it big, often because they were too ahead of their time. Take the example of the Leicester-manufactured Virtuality machine, a precursor of the Oculus Rift.

virtuality machineFor all the nostalgics out there, Simon Marston, Cressall’s program and improvement developer, has exceptional news: he has restored two Virtuality machines and made them available to the general public. They can be seen at the Snibston Discovery Museum during Easter weekend.

Here at Cressall, we love people who are passionate about what they do and we encourage our team to explore interests outside the work spectrum. Today, we share the story of retro game fan Simon Marston and how he managed to bring an almost-forgotten technology back to life.

In the early 90s, the main purpose of the Virtuality technology, was gaming; amazing, never-before-seen video games that allowed you to completely immerse yourself in a fictional universe. The machine completely captured Simon’s imagination during his days at college. In fact, he admits to going to the local arcade almost on a daily basis and playing Dactyl Nightmare on the VR 1000 series.

Years later, when Simon had the opportunity to purchase his own VR machine, he just couldn’t resist it. He spent months chasing long-lost information and invested significant financial resources to make his VR 1000 series functional again. At first, he tried to find the necessary information online, but to no avail. While some people seemed to remember the technology, none had insight about its internal workings.

The main problem was caused by the old screens, which were broken and couldn’t be replaced, because they were obsolete. Simon decided the best solution was to convert video signals from the VR machine into a new generation screen. His attempt was successful, meaning he could once again play some of his favourite arcade games.

But the quest didn’t stop here. Simon decided to help purchase and restore a second VR machine, which he then donated to the Retro computer museum in Leicester. During this year’s Easter weekend, Simon will attempt something that – most likely – hasn’t been done in two decades: connecting two Virtuality machines for a double game of Dactyl Nightmare.

Anyone visiting the retro game event at the Snibston Discovery Museum will have a chance to take a stroll down memory lane and try out the VR technology first hand.

So what is the purpose of this quest? Surely, new virtual reality technology is much more advanced, so what use would we have for the older generations?

Simon sees two main drivers behind his work. Firstly, it’s about knowledge. Few people are aware that Virtuality technology is very similar to the one used in today’s virtual reality machines. It is only the graphics that have evolved significantly over the last two decades, not the core principles. For anyone interested in the history of computing, this alone is an interesting fact.

But there’s more to it than knowledge. It’s about the feelings a Virtuality machine can stir in people. Simon has seen adults going all gooey eyed at the sight of one and explaining enthusiastically to their children what a huge part of their youth the gaming platform was. He has also seen children delighted at the capabilities of this unique piece of kit. Through his work, Simon has helped people from different generations share a moment of authentic joy and (re)discover a simpler way of gaming.

Simon’s love of retro technology and his understanding of how people react to it are only two of the reasons he refused to believe the game was over for Virtuality, when most people had all but forgotten about it. If you’d like to meet Simon and find out more about his work, just visit the Snibston Discovery Museum over the Easter weekend or the Retro Computer Museum every Sunday. Maybe you could even challenge Simon to a game of Dactyl Nightmare.


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