One thing I looked forward to during the heyday of the Megadrive was the constant promotion of the Sega Virtual Headset, often promoted alongside that octagonal infra red ‘detector’ that was to allow for hands free gaming. It was a time where Sega was pumping huge amounts of cash to bring the arcade experiences to the home to counter Nintendo’s IPs, yet this peculiar piece of hardware never made it from the promotional images to the store shelves.
With Nintendo rolling out the next hardware enhancement to their cartridges in the form of the Super FX coprocessor, boosting graphics capabilities and extending the lifespan of the console, while secretly working behind the scenes with Sony on the Playstation project (we all know what happened there..). Sega was hedging it’s bets on the CD format with the Mega-CD (Sega-CD in the US) while attempting to counter the Super FX with the SVP chip for it’s virtual titles, and 32x expansion to try and get the jump on the 32bit era.
Both companies tried to enter the upcoming and heavily hyped ‘Virtual’ Experience. Nintendo tried (and failed) to recreate the Gameboy success by producing the Virtual Boy, a 3D Gameboy experience with all the portability and co-op experiences removed, and to add further pain, a unique Red and Black colour palette.
Yet Sega’s ‘Sega VR’ experience never made it into production. Despite having a huge amount of research and design similarity with today’s headsets.
Rich Whitehouse, the head of digital conversation with The Video Game History Foundation, recounts, “Sega’s proposed headset shared a lot in terms of fundamental design with today’s VR headsets. The problem is that it was never released, so what little we do know about the hardware comes from patent documents, marketing material, first hand accounts and trade show appearances”.
With so little information around confirming how the hardware worked, it’s often viable to turn to the software for additional clues. “The software will tell you exactly what it expects of the hardware, and given those expectations, you might find that you have enough information to emulate the hardware,” Whitehouse said.
This is where the Video Game History Foundation were able to get in touch with Dylan Mansfield over at Gaming Alexandria, who reached out to Kenneth Hurley, co-founder of Futurescape Productions, who developed a Sega VR title called ‘Nuclear Rush’. Amazingly, Hurley still had retained a 26-year-old disc that contained the game’s complete source code as well as code and tools for another game he was working on at the time.
With all the missing details in place on how the hardware operated, it was only a matter of time before a workaround was made to have Sega VR emulated on a modern headset. Providing everyone with a glimpse of what could have been 1994’s missing gaming moment.
For more details on how Sega VR came back to life I recommend you check out Whitehouse’s blog, which goes into some incredible detail.