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atarilbc

Echos of the Jag VR - Hands On with the Takara Dynovisor HMD

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If the hype is to be believed, 2016 is the year of VR. Oculus, Samsung, HTC and Sony are all poised to launch projects that will take gaming and entertainment to new levels. Many consumers are eagerly awaiting the new tech while others dismiss modern VR as a gimmick. We'll just have to wait and see how this new phase of VR pans out but this isn't the first time we've been down this road. The early to mid-90s saw a rash of VR projects and peripherals promising a more interactive gaming experience. Most of these were utter failures. Atari, for their part, partnered with Virtuality, a firm specializing in immersive arcade games, to develop a consumer level head mounted display (HMD) for use with the Jaguar - Jaguar VR.

 

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The Jaguar VR was shown in '95 and one Jaguar game, Missile Command 3-D, was developed with the unit in mind. Two versions of the prototype were built; a low-res version and a high-res version. The tech was notable for its utilization of IR headtracking . Ultimately, Atari pulled the plug on the project as it was clear that the Jaguar was failing and the cost and quality of the VR platform left much to be desired. Of the handful of prototypes produced, only three are known to remain in existence today. However, the display technology that Virtuality developed for Atari was soon licensed and repackaged into two products that eventually made it to retail; the Philips SCUBA and Takara Dynovisor. Released in 1997 for about $300, the SCUBA and Dynovisor could be used with any composite video source. The units did not feature headtracking; instead, users used standard game controls to guide the action on screen. Worn on the head and supported by straps, both the SCUBA and Dynovisor are somewhat cumbersome and uncomfortable to wear. An automatic shutoff interrupts viewing every 30 minutes to help avoid eyestrain.

 

I recently received a Japanese market Takara Dynovisor in good working condition. Over the next week I am going to play some Jaguar games that I think may be suited for this kind of device and provide some notes on my experiences. These won't be full reviews, but just a summary of my impressions of the effectiveness of the Dynovisor in providing an enjoyable and immersive experience. I'm going to start with Missile Command 3D since that game was designed for HMD. Other games I'm considering are Tempest 2000, Zero 5, Doom, and Hoverstrike:UL. If you have other suggestions or want to share your own impressions of the Dynovisor or SCUBA, feel free to post here.

 

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Edited by atarilbc

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Keep in mind that the Takara and Philips Scuba used the lower-resolution displays unfortunately so this is true to the red version of the headset and you'll soon see why Atari wasn't happy with this version and wanted Virtuality to create a better version, which turned into the far heavier blue unit. I'm not sure if it was the optics used or if something truly was different or wrong with the Takara headset I had over the Philips version, but it definitely seemed much worse in regards to focus.

 

I was sincerely hoping that the PCBs used inside the units would have went unchanged and retained the same layout minus the hardware to actually connect the IR receivers but of course, this isn't the case. I disassembled a Philips version many years ago only to find out it's not.

 

I've had recent contact with the contractor that Virtuality used but they no longer had anything relating to the project due to switching company hands and most likely purging whatever old data and related materials they had. That only took about 5 years to confirm when I finally got ahold of the ex-owner of the company.

 

Look forward to hearing your impressions. I feel like without the vice-like head adjustment, it's harder to secure these things to your head.

Edited by Clint Thompson

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@Clint - I recall that you had a Takara unit from your FS post over at AA last year. As I understand it, the Philips and Takara units are supposedly identical. They appear to use the same molds for both the headset and connection unit.

 

I'd love to get my hands on a working SCUBA if only to do a quick comparison of the two.

 

@Lost Dragon - It will be interesting to see the consumer adoption rates in the coming wave of VR. I'm not typically an early adopter of entertainment technology these days, preferring instead to wait and see how well projects are supported. I guess it goes back to early disappointments with the Jaguar, Saturn and Dreamcast. It wouldn't surprise me if it did a bit better this time around. I think the display tech is finally matched to the promise of immersion and there is a lot of money involved.

 

Your suggestions are great. I can play IS/2 and AVP without glancing at the controller so those should be no problem. I haven't spent enough time with Towers 2 but it might be a good excuse to plug it in. I also think the cockpit view of WTR could be fun. Stay tuned!

Edited by atarilbc

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Ok, first up on the Takara Dynovisor is Missile Command 3D. Released in the fall of 1995, Missile Command 3D was a "2000"-esque update to the classic arcade game Missile Command which saw releases on Atari's 2600, 5200, 8-bit line and the Lynx. The premise is simple: protect your cities against an onslaught of enemy missiles. In the 80s, we all knew that this meant the Russians but in the 90s - with the Cold War thawing out - this update goes with "aliens and foreign countries."

 

Missile Command 3D was developed by Virtuality, the company that designed the Jaguar VR headset and its progeny. The update includes three game modes: Original, 3D and Virtual. 3D and Virtual modes were designed to work with the Jag VR headset and its IR headtracking features. Unfortunately, neither the SCUBA or Dynovisor arrived to market with that feature intact. I played both the 3D and Virtual modes for the purposes of this review.

 

3D Missile Command: If you haven't played it before, the "3D" game in Missile Command 3D takes the concept of the original game and puts it in a pseudo 3D setting. For those familiar with the "2000" games, this would be equivalent to their plus modes. You defend your six cities from polygonal missiles, alien ships and meteorites in a playfield that seems to stretch vertically 120 degrees. There are power-ups and smart bombs that come in handy as the Reds...er...um..."aliens"....rain death from above.

 

With the Dynovisor I definitely noticed a depth and sort of roundness to the playfield that I don't get playing on a standard tv. Instead of just moving the screen to view the highest incoming missiles, I had the sensation of rolling my head upwards as if looking to the sky. I can only imagine how that would have felt with actual head tracking. The sound in the headset is excellent even if the "3D" game sticks to the same track, wave after wave. The visuals were low res compared to a tv but with a decent amount of fiddling I got a relatively sharp picture. Once adjusted, there was an added depth to the mountains and missiles.

 

Virtual Missile Command: Virtual Missile Command is essentially the "2000" mode for this game. It ups the ante and takes the Missile Command concept into a full 3D environment. The cities are arrayed in a circle with your gun turrets around them. You switch guns using the shoulder buttons of the pro-controller. Instead of using missiles to mount your defense, you use lasers that shoot with pinpoint accuracy and can be upgraded throughout the level. There are also cruise missiles, best reserved for alien ships, and bosses and smart bombs that come in handy when there are too many enemies to handle.

 

The feeling of depth that I experienced in 3D mode was even more pronounced in Virtual mode. Because Virtual game mode plays in a 360 degree world with attacks coming from all directions, I really felt surrounded in a way that I simply couldn't playing on a tv. The visual effects are quite good with great use of shading on the polygons. Again, I can only imagine how cool this might have been with headtracking. The soundtrack for this mode varies from world to world and effects are a little more varied here so it made much better use of the headset's built in speakers.

 

Overall, I enjoyed playing Missile Command 3D with the Dynovisor. The sound is terrific and the visuals are passable with a lot of adjustment. I only played for about an hour and frankly, I'm not sure I could use it for much longer than that. Between the straps and the thin padding on the mask face, comfort is definitley an issue. Maybe I'll get used to it with further play. The headset did seem to add a different dimension to the game play, particularly in Virtual mode. The 360 playfield coupled with the lighting and shading effects on the environment and enemies really provided a sense of immersion. I will definitely try this one out again. I don't think that Missile Command 3D is any better with the Dynovisor than on a standard tv but it is different, and after 20 years of playing the game a little something different is welcomed.

 

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Edited by atarilbc

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Well, if it's just that, it's one hell of a novelty.

 

@atarilbc - it's really too bad you can't play the JagVR version, it makes a world of difference with how fast the screen moves around with your head movement. You can tend to lose track of time rather quickly with the isolation of it and the actual interacting making a huge difference. Hopefully this can me remedied in the future at some point.

 

On the other hand, my friend played Doom for over an hour with this thing mounted on his head and it was just comical seeing the creases on his face remain for 20 minutes after taking it off. I remember him exclaiming a few curse words while playing due to being jolted from being attacked haha... but that was in the late 90s and we were younger then, so...

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I played DOOM on the Dynovisor tonight. No time to write it up now but I wanted to share my wife's observation. Now, my wife doesn't share my enthusiasm for gaming or retro life but she generally tolerates it. Upon walking in the living room she announced, "I can't believe this. This is the most ridiculous thing you've ever brought into the house. No one can know about this." So, in my overall analysis of the Dynovisor, I'll have to take into account spousal reaction. I haven't decided whether it will count as a positive or negative. :)

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I played DOOM on the Dynovisor tonight. No time to write it up now but I wanted to share my wife's observation. Now, my wife doesn't share my enthusiasm for gaming or retro life but she generally tolerates it. Upon walking in the living room she announced, "I can't believe this. This is the most ridiculous thing you've ever brought into the house. No one can know about this." So, in my overall analysis of the Dynovisor, I'll have to take into account spousal reaction. I haven't decided whether it will count as a positive or negative. :)

 

:rofl: :D

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What can be said about id Software's Jaguar port of DOOM that hasn't already been said? Famous for being the best console port available upon its release in late '94, the game features full screen action, 24 maps, great use of color and textures and full weapons access via that wacky Jaguar gamepad overlay.

 

I spent about 40 minutes tooling around the world of DOOM using the Takara Dynovisor. I played the game in a darkened room so no light crept into the helmet from the bottom of the facemask. This enhanced the Dynovisor's isolating effect and I'll probably use it like this moving forward. The sound effects, particularly the growls and gurgles of the monsters around you were much more pronounced and impressive than when run through a TV. In fact, this has been the case for the few games I've played with the helmet. I think Takara really nailed the audio. Visuals on the other hand were less impressive due to the helmet's low-res display. That said, once my eyes adjusted it wasn't much of an issue. The helmet prevents you from referencing the overlay so if you're not familiar with the keypad's button layout, this could cause some fumbling. I did get a little queasy from the speed of the game but I've had this issue before with both DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D so I don't want to pin it on the Dynovisor. I'll have to see how I do with other games.

 

Because this is DOOM, the game was as fun and frenetic as ever. What the Dynovisor added to the experience was a sense of immersion. With the outside world blocked from view, I did feel a little more connected to the game. Unlike Missile Command 3D, DOOM was not designed with the HMD in mind. Still, the game's first person perspective lends itself well to the technology and it's no surprise that John Carmack is onboard for the Oculus project. For me, the Dynovisor was a fun way to play DOOM. Gimmicky? You bet. But the kitsch of using the Dynovisor is part of the appeal.

 

Next up: Hover Strike UL

Edited by atarilbc

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:-) Look out, this has set me right off....

 

Looking at what has been said about the VR Headset does to enhance audio, and what rebellion said they'd of liked to of done had they more time with AVP (include more Predator voice samples...over here..etc) and Darryl still's claims of him envisaging AVP using the VR Headset on Jaguar...

 

I'd of loved to of seen a S.E version of AVP running on Jaguar VR, possiblt a CD game, let Rebellion add everything they'd originally planned, loads of extra samples, Alien viewed from side on, shutters on level 4 opening to reveal starfield etc etc and just make it the most atmospheric (and scary) AVP ever.

 

I never even gave much thought to the possibility of an AVP VR game but that would've been intense!

 

@atarilbc - I'm sure the lack of music in Doom helped a bit as well, since you can certainly hear and focus on the demons creeping up behind you! =)

 

So after HS:UL - you can always go for something a little more vomit inducing ;-) Checkered Flag in cockpit seating lol

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Truth be told, the Jaguar didn't need games texture mapped to death gaming - it just needed the VR headset released with some solid, fast-paced polygon/gouraud shading goodness going on and I still think it would have had something to truly set it apart from the rest of the consoles at the time.

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So, the Takara Dynovisor HMD is compatible with the Jag. Cool! Are there any other VR systems from a third-party that can do this with the Jag? Sorry, I am not keen on VR yet. I am just excited that there is at least one VR system that works with our venerated Atari platform here.

Edited by BlackCatz40

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