We're using cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. More info

So, what was the thinking behind Nintendo’s Virtual Boy? Next Generation magazine talked to Nintendo’s hardware guru Gunpei Yokoi at the 1994 Shoshinkai show in Chiba, Japan, where his latest creation, the Virtual Boy, was quietly unveiled to a less than impressed game industry.

NG: “Just how important is the Virtual Boy product to Nintendo?”

GY: “It really is a very big project, partly because it will be the first product of its type to reach the market and uses very sophisticated technology. We are even telling the japanese press that we will achieve three million hardware sales in its first year on sale in Japan. At the moment we only have plans for its release in Japan.”

NG: “Is it Nintendo’s next Game Boy?”

GY: “Yes, in some ways. But we excepted the both Game Boy and Virtual Boy to coexist alongside each other rather than the Virtual Boy being a replacement.”

NG: “When did the development of the Virtual Boy begin and how many engineers are working on the project?”

GY: “There are four R&D groups within Nintendo, and my department (R&D1) has about 60 people working specifically on the Virtual Boy. Before this, we worked on numerous projects including the Game Boy, and also software for Famicom (NES) and Super Famicom (SNES) such as the Metroid series. Other Departments — R&D3, for example — are working on the Ultra 64.”

NG: “When was the deal with Reflection Technologies finally tied?”

GY: “They approached us about three years ago, but they didn’t have any specific end-product in mind. So we hit upon the idea of utilizing two separated screens to make a 3D display.”

NG: “Did you look at many other forms of technology before deciding on LED?”

GY: “Our first decision was to make use of virtual reality-type technology. From there, we thought about many concepts as display apparatus, including LCD devices.”

NG: “Most people who’ve seen the Virtual Boy are disappointed by its performance. Just how happy is Nintendo with the initial Virtual Boy lineup?”

GY: “I think that the most important point is to show the general public and third-party developers what kind of functions the Virtual Boy has. The initial lineup does that, although it’s worth pointing out that it’s not yet final.”

NG: “Some of the early Virtual Boy software looks distinctly 2D. Is it fully realizing the power of the 32bit processor?”

GY: “The machine is running two displays simultaneously, obviously with two different images, and they have to be synchronized. That’s why we need such a powerful Central Processing Unit — it’s effectively doing twice as much as a conventional videogame system.”

NG: “How many third-party licenses have you got signed up at this point?”

GY: “We haven’t been eager to show the technology to many third-parties. We’ve limited it to only a couple up until now, although every developer was shown the product at Shoshinkai, and any interested will be given full product specs and the tools they’ll need to develop for it. I believe that there will be a significant number of licensees interested in working on the Virtual Boy.”

NG: “Why have so few licensees been shown the technology before now?”

GY: “This particular strategy was dictated by Nintendo’s president, Hiroshi Yamauchi. The main reason is that if we are going to allow any software publisher to develop games for our platform, there’s a danger that poor-quality sofware will appear. So we want to limit that danger and maintain as much control as possible.”

NG: “Do you have any plans for polygon-based titles or games with other types of 3D environment?”

GY: “Yes, polygon-based games are included in our plans, although I can’t announce anything just yet. At Nintendo, we have been extensively testing polygon software on the system, and third parties will no doubt be using their own techniques to develop polygon games.”

NG: “What do you believe, in your opinion, will be the most common type of game to appear on the Virtual Boy?”

GY: “Personally, I think that it will be most suited to action and puzzle games, but in the future RPGs and simulations will become popular.”

NG: “What are your plans regarding further software releases?”

GY: “Approximately one title per month will be released immediately after the machine’s launch, but that will obviously increase as time goes on.”

NG: “Has Mr. Miyamoto been involved in any software development?”

GY: “Not at this stage, no.”

NG: “Is Nintendo worried about the potential physical dangers of true virtual reality, using head-mounted displays? Wasn’t the Virtual Boy originally going to use a head-mounted display…”

GY: “No, we didn’t think that a head-mounted would be necessary for a virtual reality system that doesn’t use any kind of motion tracking facility. We are worried about the possible danger of HMD technology, but we also considered the fact that if a woman wearing make-up was to use the head-mounted design, the next person might be hesitant in wearing it! So we changed the design so that you can just look into the viewing apparatus and still appreciate the 3D experience. The standard format was shown at the Shoshinkai show, but we have plans for a shoulder-mounted adapter so you won’t need a table or desktop to use the system.”

NG: “And this attachment will appear bundled with the machine…”

GY: “No, it will be brought separately.”

NG: “So what will buyers recieve with the system when it goes on sale?”

GY: “The stand, the main unit, the controller and the battery box that will be slotted with the controller.”

NG: “The demonstration machines at the Shoshinkai show were running from AC adapters. Will that be the machine’s primary prime’s source?”

GY: “No, it’s a battery-operated machine. It uses six AA batteries which last for around seven hours. An AC adapter will go on sale separately at the same time as the system.”

NG: “Since the Virtual Boy uses cartridges, what size will most of the games be?”

GY: “Eight MBits will be the initial standard for most games, although 16 MBit and 24 MBit titles are feasible and will most likely appear at a later date.”

NG: “Is there anything you can reveal to us about the hardware?”

GY: “Sorry, I’m not in position to give you details at the moment — only third party publishers that are currently signed up have that information.”

NG: “Are you currently doing any kind of work on other hardware projects at Nintendo — such as development for the Ultra 64, for example?”

GY: “At this stage I’m only working on Virtual Boy. We (R&D1) aren’t involved with the development of Ultra 64 hardware — that’s being handled in the US by Silicon Graphics and also R&D3.”

NG: “Isn’t Nintendo worried about the arrival of Sega and Sony in the market with what could be very successful machines? How do you feel about the Ultra 64 arriving almost a year later?”

GY: “When we initially started work on the Virtual Boy, it was at a time when the Super Famicom was really booming. But we still had doubts as to how long it would take before the general public would eventually get bored with a traditional display. So we came up with the idea of a 3D image project.

Now we are showing a product that coincides with the release of the PlayStation and Saturn. And I think that what we originally thought was right, because many people who have seen the demonstrations of these so-called next-generation machines have already said that they just can’t understand what the difference is between them and the 16Bit machines. Therefore, I think that the Virtual Boy will prove very important in this respect.”

2 Related Items