Sega VR was manufactured, advertised, and pushed as Sega's next big thing, up until its unceremonious cancellation in 1994. Twenty-six years later, we finally get to see how it worked.
Enlarge / Sega VR was manufactured, marketed, and pushed as Sega’s subsequent large factor, up till its unceremonious cancellation in 1994. Twenty-six years later, we lastly get to see the way it labored.


Considered one of Sega’s most mysterious merchandise ever, the canceled Sega VR headset, lastly emerged in a “playable” type on Friday due to a group of recreation historical past preservationists. It is a story of a found ROM, a seek for its supply code, and efforts to not solely rebuild the sport but additionally adapt current Genesis and Mega Drive emulators to translate digital actuality calls from in the present day’s PC headsets.

The story, as posted on the Video Sport Historical past Basis’s website, begins with a ROM discovery by Dylan Mansfield at Gaming Alexandria. The sport in query, Nuclear Rush, was one in all 4 video games introduced for Sega VR, a headset system designed to plug into commonplace Genesis and Mega Drive consoles.

Not fairly 72Hz…

Players from that period doubtless heard about Sega VR, as the sport writer’s PR push included loads of mentions in gaming magazines, a public reveal at 1993’s Summer season CES, and even a phase on ABC’s Nightline. However the bold machine, slated to launch at a mere $199, was quietly canceled, and former Sega President Tom Kalinske finally confirmed why: researchers discovered the machine made an enormous share of testers sick with complications and dizziness.

In the present day’s discovery explains partially the place these illness signs doubtless stemmed from. By breaking down and understanding the way in which Sega VR video games communicated with a Genesis, and subsequently a Sega VR headset, VGHF digital conservation head Wealthy Whitehouse found the headset’s extreme limitations: a mere 15Hz refresh for its stereoscopic photos, versus the 72Hz minimal for Oculus Quest (not to mention the 90Hz commonplace established by firms like HTC and Valve). Moreover, Sega VR solely translated pitch and yaw motion for customers’ heads, not roll—and that is on prime of the system already being restricted as a three-degrees-of-freedom (3DOF) system, requiring that customers keep seated.

How did Whitehouse discover out a lot about Sega VR’s performance this a few years after the add-on vanished? Because it seems, Mansfield’s day-to-day seek for recreation historical past errata contains requests to numerous ’90s builders for no matter outdated prototypes or code they could have tucked away in a drawer. Within the case of Kenneth Hurley, who labored on Nuclear Rush as a part of Futurescape Productions, he went one increased and despatched Mansfield a CD-ROM dated August 6, 1994—which miraculously hadn’t succumbed to bit rot.

Whitehouse stepped in at this level to determine compile the leftover practically full code (dubbed “ultimate” however not “retail ultimate”), which required a mixture of C and meeting. Amongst Whitehouse’s discoveries: the code as written solely labored on sure Genesis and Mega Drive {hardware} revisions, primarily based on the way it handles horizontal and vertical scrolling of sprites and belongings, which required a minor repair. Additionally, metadata within the code hinted to a Winter CES 1994 displaying for Sega VR that by no means got here to move.

May have used an SVP

Although the found CD-ROM was lacking key Sega VR recordsdata (which Whitehouse says would have been named VR.DOC and VR.TXT), Whitehouse was nonetheless capable of work out how the system would have labored with 16-bit consoles. Sega VR IO would have revolved across the console’s second controller port—although Whitehouse’s clarification does not make clear whether or not the console’s video-out port would have been redirected to the Sega VR headset or how that might have labored. Moreover, the Sega VR headset would have been fed two 30Hz photos, which Nuclear Rush would have then divided additional with its 15fps refresh.

Whereas determining make Nuclear Rush work as a VR expertise in 2020, Whitehouse talked to the sport’s authentic lead programmer, Kevin McGrath, who confirmed that his group did a variety of work on Sega VR with out truly having a headset to check on—they usually invented a take a look at that had the sport’s video output flicker between two pc displays to see the way it would possibly do the identical with two headset photos. One other Sega VR-era recreation programmer, Alex Smith, confirmed that the group engaged on Outlaw Racing by no means even went hands-on with a headset prototype earlier than its undertaking was canned.

The remainder of Whitehouse’s work revolved round constructing OpenVR help right into a working Genesis emulator, which included, amongst different issues, doing critical guesswork about how Sega VR’s panels had been positioned and formed, then fixing 1994-era quirks to run extra effectively on trendy computer systems (partially to cut back potential movement illness from a Genesis-era recreation locked at 15fps). The ensuing emulator and a pair of compiled Nuclear Rush ROMs can be found for obtain and testing from the VGHF article.

Nuclear Rush working on an emulator, as introduced by Richard Whitehouse.

Ars Technica has examined this mixture of emulator and ROM on a Home windows 10 PC working an HP Reverb G2 headset, and I can verify that the sport performs about in addition to you would possibly anticipate: it is a rudimentary 3D tank recreation, as if Atari’s arcade traditional Battlezone had been rebuilt with Genesis-era sprites and palettes, but it surely’s all sprite-field trickery, not the rudimentary polygonal stuff of early ’90s fare like Star Fox or Virtua Fighter. (Sega VR video games clearly weren’t being bulked up with additional on-cartridge chips like Sega’s SVP, used within the Genesis model of Virtua Racing.)

The ensuing restored recreation is not a revolutionary gameplay expertise by any stretch. Nonetheless, the mixed efforts of everybody listed above introduced life again to a recreation whose authentic model would doubtless have made you sick. Fortunately, trendy {hardware} (and its enterprising customers) can revive canceled video games in ways in which will not make recreation historical past aficionados toss their cookies, and that is a testomony to the fashionable game-preservation motion as a complete.

Try the entire intriguing story, full with a ridiculous quantity of technical data, on the Video Sport Historical past Basis.


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