Monday, May 4, 2009
Is it time for a new Virtual Boy?
We all know some version of this story: Nintendo's only failed console. (I think the expression "epic fail" would be appropriate here.) The brainchild of Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi, the Virtual Boy spent so much time and money in research and development that Nintendo grew impatient and released the unit prematurely, before it could be perfected. As a result we ended up with a bulky, delicate machine with a single color monitor and a short battery life. What's worse, the cost of developing the system resulted in a $180 price tag, $50 more than any other Nintendo portable prior or since (excluding the recently released DSi, which started at $170).
The Virtual Boy's problem mostly stemmed from technology of the time. The system was powered by a 32-bit processor, which were still relatively new. Stereoscopic vision required two screens, and in order for those screens to be visible inside the dark visor, each needed to be lit; and since color displays were expensive, Nintendo, probably pointing to the Game Boy's monochromatic success, opted for a single color display. Red was chosen because it was cheaper and less harmful to the eyes over extended periods of time than other colors. With all this cutting edge technology inside, it needed a much larger shell, which made the Virtual Boy less portable than Nintendo had hoped, and the 9 volts of power needed to run the system required 6 AAs, which lasted only a few hours.
That was then…
Today we can fit a 64-bit processor into a device the size of a calculator. LCD screens can display millions of colors in high-definition, while backlight panels are cheap and reliable. Several gigabytes of data can be stored on a card smaller than a penny. Lithium Ion batteries are steadily dropping in price and can handle a lot of power for dozens of hours before recharging. 3D replication is now popular and commonplace in the media, and Nintendo has already produced a portable with two independent screens capable of 3D polygonal graphics. What I am trying to say is it is high time for the Big N to bring us a fully realized successor to the ill-fated Virtual Boy, and this time they can do it right.
Imagine Star Fox or Mario Kart in full 3D. We may never see another GoldenEye, but I'm sure Metroid Prime developer Retro Studios could bring us an amazing first person shooter. And you know Miyamoto would have some mind-blowing concept to sell the system right off the bat. A video out port could make the games a little more social by allowing spectators to follow the action on a TV, and Wi-Fi would make multiplay a snap.
Just thinking about it gets me excited for the potential future of gaming. I love my Virtual Boy, but it is a novelty item at best. Nintendo has proven they can build innovative, market dominating systems. Let's see this pioneering spirit applied to a new frontier of gaming, and finally bring honor to the late Yokoi-san, and his final major project for Nintendo, the Virtual Boy!